Much is being made of local food. It is at once a social movement, a diet, and an economic strategy—a popular solution—to a global food system in great distress. Yet, despite its popularity or perhaps because of it, local food (especially in the US) is also something of a chimera if not a tool of the status quo. This paper reflects on and contrasts aspects of current local food rhetoric with Dalhberg’s notion of a regenerative food system. It identifies three (...) problematic emphases—the locavore emphasis, the Wal-Mart emphasis, and the Pollan emphasis—and argues that they are shifting local food (as a concept and a social movement) away from the deeper concerns of equity, citizenship, place-building, and sustainability. It is suggested that local food activists and advocates might consider the use of multiple methodologies and forms of expression to explore the integration and reintegration of local food into diverse and redundant place-based practice. A short case study of a low-income, urban neighborhood in Lansing, Michigan, illustrates the value of contextual analysis for more fully enabling the local food movement and a regenerative food system. (shrink)
``Civic agriculture'' identifies adiverse and growing body of food and farmingenterprises fitted to the needs of localgrowers, consumers, rural economies, andcommunities. The term lends shape andlegitimacy to development paradigms that existin opposition to the global,corporately-dominated food system. Civicagriculture also widens the scope of ag-relatedconcerns, moving away from a strictlymechanistic focus on production and capitalefficiency, and toward the more holisticreintegration of people in place. To date,researchers and practitioners have attendedclosely to the economic benefits of newmarketing arrangements and institutions (e.g.,value-added co-ops, CSAs, (...) and farmer'smarkets). Local food and farming has a criticalrole to play in the development of analternative commerce. At the same time, this isonly half the promise of civic agriculture.Civic agriculture can (and should) promotecitizenship and environmentalism within bothrural and urban settings not only throughmarket-based models of economic behavior, butthrough common ties to place and physicalengagement with that place. (shrink)
The 2006 outbreak of E. coli O157:H7, traced to bagged spinach from California, illustrates a number of contradictions. The solutions sought by many politicians and popular food analysts have been to create a centralized federal agency and a uniform set of production standards modeled after those of the animal industry. Such an approach would disproportionately harm smaller-scale producers, whose operations were not responsible for the epidemic, as well as reduce the agroecological diversity that is essential for maintaining healthy human beings (...) and ecosystems. Why should responses that only reinforce the problem be proffered? We use the framework of accumulation and legitimation to suggest corporate and government motives for concealing underlying problems and reinforcing powerful ideologies of individualism, scientism, and centralizing authority. Food safety (or the illusion of safety) is being positioned to secure capital rather than public welfare. We propose implementing the principle of subsidiarity as a more democratic and decentralized alternative. Because full implementation of this principle will be resisted by powerful interests, some promising intermediate steps include peer production or mass collaboration as currently applied to disease prevention and surveillance, as well as studying nascent movements resisting current food safety regulations. (shrink)
In the US, an increasingly popular local food movement is propelled along by structural arguments that highlight the inequity and unsustainablity of the current agri-food system and by individually based arguments that highlight personal health and well-being. Despite clear differences in their foci, the deeper values contained in each argument tend to be neglected or lost, while local innovations assume instrumental and largely market-based forms. By narrowing their focus to the rational and the economic, movement activists tend to overlook (or (...) marginalize) the role of the sensual, the emotional, the expressive for maintaining layered sets of embodied relationships to food and to place. This paper seeks to show that cultural and nonrational elements are fundamental to local food discussions. It proceeds from the assumption that, without them as full partners, the movement cannot be sustained in any felt, practiced, or committed way. To this end, it discusses the concept of place and bodies in place, as well as the connections between the ecological and the cultural, the sensual and the scientific. It offers a new set of questions and conceptual tools with which advocates and activists may “ground,” and thereby revalue and restore, the promise and practice of local food. (shrink)
This essay tells a story. It is a story of the author's experience with community supported agriculture (CSA). It is also a story that depicts the difficulties of academic activism and grass-roots engagement. As an academic and an activist, the author argues that it is important to admit and share experiences that are “less than perfect,” since they are the basis for a more complete knowledge and a more organic existence, individually, collectively, sensually, and intellectually.
Michigan Harvest Gathering is a popular and nationally acclaimed antihunger campaign. It represents a state-sponsored partnership among public, private, and nonprofit institutions “to improve conditions for Michigan's citizens in need". This paper reviews the program, and in the process, critically examines its underlying assumptions about the nature of hunger and helping, about those who are hungry, and about the relationship of agriculture to the remediation of hunger throughout the state. It argues that, in keeping with Michigan's corporatist orientation, the program (...) valorizes the agrofood industry at the expense of sustained public welfare. An alternative approach based on the development of greater local food autonomy provides a programmatic contrast to the elaboration of a “helping” industry designed to deliver emergency food assistance. (shrink)
A grassroots protest against a large-scale confinement swine facility in Jackson Country, Michigan resulted in an out-of-court settlement that redressed the concerns of local residents. At the same time, the protest was instrumental in modifying state-level legislation to secure greater legal protection for intensive animal agriculture. The paper traces this ironic turn of events. Original efforts to regulate industrial agriculture were publicly reinterpreted by agribusiness as an assault on the "right to farm" of all farmers, regardless of scale and organizational (...) management. Responding to this perception and informed by agricultural science, the state instituted voluntary "right to farm" guidelines. These guidelines based on state-of-the-art techniques and technologies now shield conforming operations from local complaints and "nuisance suits." By contrast, the rights of smaller farmers and rural residents are selectively disadvantaged. (shrink)
Michigan's approach to sustainability does not conflict with its efforts to reindustrialize state agriculture. As currently applied, agricultural sustainability remains a one-dimensional concept tightly focused on the condition of production resources and the larger physical environment. The social and political dimensions of sustainability, by contrast, are conspicuously absent. Using Michigan's ‘livestock initiative’ as a case in point, it is argued that this conceptualization conforms to and reinforces the reindustrialization of agriculture and the existing structure of power within the industry.
The deepening U.S. farm crisis has been accompanied by numerous benefit fund raisers, individual donations and volunteer programs—all an expression of cooperation and concern on the part of U.S. citizens, farmer and non-farmer alike. These responses have received wide media attention and much public praise. A sense of patriotism and self-reliance underlies their popularity. Nevertheless, such efforts work to undermine their own ultimate objective—that of improving the economic circumstances of the family farm and farm family.This irony, it is argued, arises (...) from the fact that these charitable responses typically depoliticize the nature of the U.S. farm crisis. First, they deflect public attention away from the larger economic context and the structural inequities within it. Second they revitalize agrarian-based myths which serve to rationalize and to reproduce the ‘independent’ behavior of small, commercial farmers. Finally, it is argued that the depoliticization of the farm crisis is itself a political strategy, one which supports and legitimizes ‘business as usual’ and is compatible with the interests of corporate agriculture. (shrink)
The current crisis in U.S. agriculture has broadcast a rather simplex message. It is that the traditional family farm is in serious trouble. This message is apparent in the agricultural programs that have emerged in direct response to the farm crisis. Using Michigan's experience as illustration, these programs are shown to share similar objectives supported by a singular policy orientation. They utilize a ‘farm as firm’ model and treat the small farm operation as the unit of problem analysis and remedial (...) action. They focus attention inward upon the ‘victim’ and attempt to change the victim's behavior through improved farm and farmer management.The paper considers the limitations inherent in this prevailing orientation. At the same time, it argues for the utility of an alternative perspective—one that places the farm in a wider context and considers the relationships between the farmer/victim and those who are more powerful—locally, nationally, and internationally. It advocates the need for research and programs that question these extra-farm relationships and their implications for farmer behavior. If agricultural programs are to assist the family farm, on any but a short-term basis, it is these relationships, and not the farmer, that must be changed. (shrink)