Date of Award

9-2012

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Sociology

First Advisor

Joya Misra

Second Advisor

Jennifer Lundquist

Third Advisor

Ryan M. Acton

Subject Categories

Sociology

Abstract

Locally oriented food has recently gained considerable popularity as an alternative to the industrial food system. Current scholarship on local food has typically focused on direct-to-consumer (DTC) arrangements, such as farmers' markets or CSAs. Yet other players besides producers and consumers engage with locally-oriented food. Food vendors (restaurants, retailers and grocers, and value-added food processors) have recently entered the scene and locally-oriented farm-to-vendor arrangements constitute one of the cutting edges of the development of local food systems. This dissertation studies one such local food system in southern New England. Utilizing a mixed methods approach entailing social network analysis, in-depth interviews, fieldwork observations, and GIS analysis, this study interrogates how direct-to-vendor (DTV) local food systems operate. I show through the literature review that though local food systems hold considerable promise, they are not inherent mechanisms of sustainability. Next I turn to the question of what "counts" as local, examining the range of distances farms and vendors within this region travel to sell or purchase food, and asking what are the forces and conditions that influence this range of travel? The greatest influences are number of ties to other local food entities, what type of farm or food-vendor they are, size, and urban proximity. I then focus on key participants in the area of study. What are the challenges and constraints around developing a vibrant locally-based food system? These participants face continual pressure to expand their size and markets, emulating the dominant food system and thereby undercutting their sustainable potential. However, these participants also find ways to overcome what are sometimes contradictory interests to forge a functional locally-based food system based on reciprocity and trust. Due in part to price premiums on local food many local food participants tend to be white and have high incomes and levels of education. In the final empirical chapter I ask: in what ways do these inequalities manifest systematically? By geospatially mapping the locations of local food outlets against census data on race, income, and education, I show that racial and class advantages are perpetuated in terms of people's proximal access to these local food outlets.

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