a1 Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, Armsby Building, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA.
There is growing recognition that the direct marketing initiatives favored by many local food activists and proponents often lack the capacity to meet rapidly expanding consumer demand for local food. To address these needs, some food systems researchers have identified a role for ‘transitional’ food systems that piggyback on the pre-existing, conventional local food system infrastructure, while moving toward the social and economic benefits of direct marketing. This paper uses a value chain model (based on business management studies and adapted to the context of agrifood enterprises) as a framework for investigating how actors who are accustomed to working within the logic of the traditional produce industry incorporate local food into their overall operations. Using a qualitative comparative case study approach, the paper examines how features of the value chain structure and governance mechanisms operate in two food distribution networks that are transitioning toward localization in a rural and an urban region of Pennsylvania, respectively. Case study analysis focuses on conventional wholesale produce distributors as the link between local producers and local buyers. Interviews with the distributors, producers and buyers reveal the sources and outcomes of challenges affecting how the distributors organize their purchasing and selling of local produce. Network practices, in turn, have equity implications as distributors struggle to pay producers enough to maintain their economic viability, while still making local produce accessible to a wide range of consumers. Policy-makers and practitioners seeking to support the ‘scaling up’ of local and regional food systems should consider targeted development of technical infrastructure in processing and distribution, as well as outreach on appropriate shared ownership models. Future research should be longitudinal to determine the longer-term role and contribution of the conventional food system infrastructure in transitioning to more sustainable local and regional food systems.
(Accepted July 15 2010)
(Online publication September 16 2010)