“We are indeed much more than what we eat,
but what we eat can nevertheless help us to be much more than what we are.”
Adelle Davis (1904 – 1974)
We’ll keep updating this page with more information and links as we continue with our work.
Want a little something to watch to get your brain going on the subject? Try this, courtesy of the Kindle Project in Manchester:
To start with I want to present some information I’ve copied some research I wrote a few years ago. It explains what an alternative food network is, what forms they come in, and how best (in my view) they may thrive. Please do comment, and I will respond. I will also improve the readability in the next few weeks!
What are Alternative Agro Food Networks
These networks are the chains and linkages between farmers, producers, shops, suppliers and consumers. The main food-network is often called the ‘productionist’ model, and originated in the 1950s and 1960s in the so-called ‘Green Revolution’. This saw the world meet challenges of feeding a larger population by intensifying farming, using fossil-fuels to make fertiliser and to power vehicles to replace the hard work , concentrating on mono-culture and larger fields.
Some research by researcher Lucy Jarosz makes a useful set of criteria for distinguishing alternative Agro Food Networks:
λ by shorter distances between producers and consumers;
λ by small farm size and scale and organic or holistic farming methods, which are contrasted with large scale, industrial agribusiness;
λ by the existence of food purchasing venues such as food cooperatives, farmers markets, and Community Supported Agriculture and local food-to-school linkages;
λ by a commitment to the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable food production, distribution and consumption.
Source: Jarosz 2000, p.232 . Jarosz, L., 2008. The city in the country: Growing alternative food networks in Metropolitan areas . Journal of Rural Studies, 24, 231–244.
So what are some key alternative AFNs:
λ Direct Access Markets (DAMs), incorporating Farmers Markets (FMs)
λ Organic/Ecological production
λ Community/social sustainability – incorporating Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
Why the fuss about moving away from this so-called Productionist model?
Aside from ideological and socio-economic reasons, there is a genuine need to move towards more sustainable lifestyles, particularly in the area of food provision. Our current food system is blamed for, amongst other things, “[o]verfishing, intensive cattle farming, deforestation to support food production for cattle, intensive crop production and the damming of waterways to provide irrigation” (Independent, 2006). To this list one might add dwindling stocks and rising prices of – (the primary inputs in industrialised farming), climate change (both affects and effected by AFNs) and widespread environmental degradation and biodiversity loss (Sangar et al. 2008, p.2). The key issue then for many alternative AFNs is sustainability across different measures.
A further important ‘reaction’ to Productionist models and all they entail, is the issue of food quality and nutritional worth. The products of the dominant agri-food networks are ascribed to being causally linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer (Lang & Heasman 2004, p.48; Independent 2006). This has lead to movements such as NotInMyBody (NIMB) (DePuis, 2000). The emergence of high-profile food scares such as BSE (otherwise dubbed ‘MadCow Disease’) in the 1990s, and growing concern over the potential impacts of Genetically Modified (GM) food has shifted public and individual focus on the quality and health aspects of the dominant food systems (Lang & Heasman 2004, p.135).
The EC define Organic farming as having the following principles:
- Wide crop rotation as a prerequisite for an efficient use of on site
- Very strict limits on chemical synthetic pesticide and synthetic fertiliser use, livestock antibiotics, food additives and processing aids and other inputs
- Absolute prohibition of the use of genetically modified organisms
- Taking advantage of on site resources, such as livestock manure for fertiliser or feed produced on the farm
- Choosing plant and animal species that are resistant to disease and adapted to local conditions
- Raising livestock in free-range, open-air systems and providing them with organic feed
- Using animal husbandry practices appropriate to different livestock species
Source: EC, n.d.
In the European Union as a whole, Organic farming standards are derived from EC Council Regulation 2092/911, whilst in the UK, the Soil Association sets generally more ‘robust’ standards in order for products and processes to gain Organic certification (SA, n.d. b). In the US there are guidelines for sustainable farming as a whole which is defined in 1990 US Farm Bill as “an integrated, site specific system of plant and animal production practices that will meet food needs, protect and enhance the environment and contribute to their communities’ quality of life” (US Congress, cited in Jarosz 2000, p.279). Organic schemes should be GM free, in most cases should uphold human and labour rights, but do not specify minimum prices (unlike Fair Trade schemes) (Raynolds 2000, p.300).
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
The Soil Association defines CSA as “a relationship of mutual support between a farmer and those who eat the food they produce. It is a partnership between farmers and consumers where the responsibilities and rewards of farming are shared” (SA, n.d. a). The format of CSAs differs widely. The concept originated in Japan in the 1960s, where it was known as ‘Teikei’, and has since grown considerably worldwide, with CSAs numbering in the 1000s in the US at the turn of the millennium (Wells &
Gradwell 2001, p.107). It is regional or local in its very nature, and relies on both consumers and producers to create the optimum spaces and frameworks (politically, socially, culturally and environmentally) for sustainability and viability (Feenstra 2002, p.99). It can integrate or accommodate regional produce classification, organic modes of production and DAMs.
Something that my undermine the economic viability of certain alternative AFNs is seasonality. This will be geographically context dependent, but it can be seen already that in the absence of large-scale imports and large energy inputs, growing
seasons in many areas may not allow farms to generate sufficient income for the year. This may manifest itself differently depending on the economic system such AFNs are embedded in. In addition to seasonality there is an additional problem affecting economic sustainability. In terms of assessing the survival of alternative AFNs in a food market or other transaction/economic system, the dominant force of modern Western Economies is specialisation. Specialisation in agriculture came be interpreted in two ways. Firstly, a farmer or region can specialise in certifiably unique products/variations, or they can resort to monoculture (or just a few crops) to ensure quantity of crops/goods to provide economic margins.
By selling direct in a market, farmers are still competing in a market economy, but can set the price to a fair-level for them and reduce overheads on marketing, distribution and reduce insecurity of supply. The practical benefits of this system are reducing the scale of the chain between farm and consumer. Supermarkets tend not to internalise costs, rather they pass them on to producers such as farmers, and as such reductions in prices in wholesale terms mean reduced margins for farmers, sometimes to the point where the unit selling price of consumables is below the cost of production (Independent 2005). Supermarkets have, amongst other bad practices, also been indicted in creating Just-in-Time systems which promote their own efficiency and flexibility, but pass on a great deal of insecurity to producers.
(Competition Commission, 2000). Importantly Organic labeling avoids contravening European and World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules on quantitative restrictions as they do not discriminate by area or country (Raynolds 2000, p.300).
Organic AFNs per se, are eminently viable, as the foodstuffs from this regime can be incorporated into the corporate retailers in the productionist model, or sold through CSA and DAMs. If incorporated within dominant contemporary power structures Organic standards will face intense pressure to be reduced, particularly in light of the aforementioned economic crisis and the reduced disposable income it will entail. Currently though, despite huge increases in Organic sales, as of 2002, only 1.5 million (0.25% of total available) hectares of agricultural land in the developed world was being managed organically (Lang & Heasman 2004, p.175). This can be contrasted with 58.6 million hectares being managed for GM crops worldwide (Lang & Heasman 2004, p.179).
Organic vegetable producers in the UK face a number of potential routes to reaching consumers, with home delivery box schemes increasingly popular. Such schemes encounter tensions with the original ethics of the Organic movement when they seek to expand, and thus expand-without-expanding”, via routes such as cooperatives and national networks (Clarke et al. 2008, p.222). Indeed to become a national name in Organics would threaten the value of the ‘local’ concept many of these producers and schemes trade on.
Thus, by trading off of the values, and maybe not for these values, such schemes encounter natural limits to growth before they lose their perceived value in the eyes of the consumer. However, retaining smaller scale farms may not be a problem as Jarosz notes that “small farms can be equally …productive…[as] large scale agribusiness, are better stewards of natural resources, and contribute more to local community and economic development” (Jarosz 2000, p.280).
References and further reading:
BBC, 2005. “British organic food sales soar “. British Broadcasting Corporation. Accessed 24/10/08 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4551304.stm.
BBC, 2008. “UK downturn is mirrored globally”. Andrew Walker, British Broadcasting Corporation. Accessed 24/10/08 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/7686819.stm.
Block, F., 1990. Postindustrial Possibilities: A Critique of Economic Discourse. University of California Press, Berkeley.
Competition Commission, 2000. Supermarkets: A report on the supply of groceries from multiple stores in the United Kingdom. Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry by Command of Her Majesty October 2000. Accessed 25/10/08 http://www.competitioncommission.org.uk/rep_pub/reports/2000/446super.htm .
Clarke, N., Cloke, P., Barnett, C., and Malpass, A., 2008. The spaces and ethics of organic food. Journal of Rural Studies, 24, 219–230.
Drewnowski, A., 2003. Fat and sugar: an economic analysis. Journal of Nutrition, 133(3), 838S840S.
DuPuis, E., M., 2000. Not in my body: rBGH and the rise of organic milk. Agriculture and Human Values, 17, 285–295.
EC, n.d. “What is organic farming?”. European Commission. Accessed 25/10/08
Ekopia. n.d. Eko Community Currency. Accessed 25/10/98 http://www.ekopia.findhorn.com/eko.html.
Fagan, B., 2004. The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization. Basic Books, New York.
Feenstra, G., 2002. Creating space for sustainable food systems: Lessons from the field. Agriculture and Human Values, 19, 99–106.
Fine, B., and Leopold, E., 1993. The World of Consumption. Routledge, London.
Guardian 2008. “Drought resistant GM crops ready ‘in four years’”. James Randerson, Guardian Newsand Media Limited, Wednesday October 08 2008. Accessed 27/10/08 http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/oct/07/gmcrops.food .
Hinrichs, C. C., 2000. Embeddedness and local food systems: notes on two types of direct agricultural market . Journal of Rural Studies, 16 , 295-303
Hole, D.G., Perkins, A.J., Wilson, J.D., Alexander, I.H., Grice, P.V., and Evans, A.D., 2005. Doesorganic farming benefit biodiversity? Biological Conservation, 122, 113–130.
Independent, 2005. “Dairy farmers strike over low prices paid by supermarkets”. Martin Hickman, Independent News & Media, Wednesday, 2 November 2005. Accessed 25/10/08 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/thisbritain/dairyfarmersstrikeoverlowpricespaidbysupermarkets513577.html .
Independent, 2006. “Organic food: Unnatural growth”. Wendy Fogarty, Independent News & Media,Sunday, 12 November 2006. Accessed 24/10/08 http://www.independent.co.uk/lifestyle/foodanddrink/features/organicfoodunnaturalgrowth423647.html .
Jarosz, L., 2000. Understanding agrifood networks as social relations. Agriculture and Human Values, 17, 279–283.
Jarosz, L., 2008. The city in the country: Growing alternative food networks in Metropolitan areas . Journal of Rural Studies, 24, 231–244.
Kiple, K., 2007. A Moveable Feast: Ten Millennia of Food Globalization. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 368 pp.
Lang, T., and Heasman, M., 2004. Food Wars. The Global Battle for Mouths, Minds and Markets. Earthscan, London, 350pp.
National Statistics, 2008. “Retail Sales Index : 1986”. National Statistics, HM Government (UK). Customised data set. Accessed 24/10/08 http://www.statistics.gov.uk/STATBASE/tsdataset.asp? vlnk=706&More=Y .
Raynolds, L. T., 2000. Re- embedding global agriculture: The international organic and fair trade movements . Agriculture and Human Values, 17, 297–309.
Rösl, G., 2006. Regional currencies in Germany – local competition for the Euro? Discussion Paper Series 1: Economic Studies No 43/2006 . Deutsche Bundesbank.
Sage, C., 2001. Embeddedness and the Geography of Regard: Good (Agro)
Food Networks in South West Ireland. International Perspectives on Alternative AgroFood Networks: Quality, Embeddedness, BioPolitics. University Of California, Santa Cruz, October 1213, 2001
SA, n.d. a. “Soil Association standards”. Soil Association Certification Limited, UK. Accessed 25/10/08 http://www.soilassociation.org/web/sa/psweb.nsf/A2/index.html .
SA n.d. b. “Standards online”. Soil Association Certification Limited, UK. Accessed 25/10/08 http://www.soilassociation.org/web/sacert/sacertweb.nsf/e8c12cf77637ec6c80256a6900374463/4d7054
SA 2000. The Biodiversity Benefits of Organic Farming. Soil Association Certification Limited, UK.
Sangar, S., Vasudev, S. and Abrol , I. P., 2008. Combating land degradation for sustainable agriculture – Is conservation agriculture the way forward for India? . Meeting Report, Current Science (Professional Alliance for Conservation Agriculture , India), 95 (6), 25 September 2008 p711-712.
Selfa, T., Jussaume Jr, R. A., and Winter, M., 2008. Envisioning agricultural sustainability from field to plate: Comparing producer and consumer attitudes and practices toward ‘environmentally friendly’ food and farming in Washington State, USA . Journal of Rural Studies, 24, 262–276.
Steptoe, A., Pollard, T. M., and Wardle J., 1995. Development of a Measure of the Motives Underlying the Selection of Food: the Food Choice Questionnaire. Appetite, 25, 267-284.
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Treaty establishing the European Community, 2001. Treaty establishing the European Community as amended by the Treaty of Nice of 26 February 2001. Consolidated version of the Treaty establishing the European Community, in Official Journal of the European Communities (OJEC), 24th December 2002, No C 325, now consolidated text for the EU at Official Journal of the European Communities (OJEC),29 December 2006. No C 321E.
US Congress, 1990. Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990. Public Law 101–624. H11129. Congressional Record.
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Vos, T., 2000. Visions of the middle landscape: Organic farming and the politics of nature. Agriculture and Human Values, 17, 245–256.
Wells, B. L., and Gradwell, S., 2001. Gender and resource management: Community supported agriculture as caring practice.Agriculture and Human Values, 18, 107–119.
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