Scaling Up Local Food

Concern for local food has transformed the lives of many households and neighbourhoods. Can we realize such a transformation at a much greater scale - at the level of communities or regions? The answer to this question is proving very tricky.

In part, the problem is the apparent irreconcilability of scale and values. Too often, the achievement of scale in local food seems to come at the cost of the values associated with it: equitable access across income groups, and enthusiasm, initiative, and solidarity among consumers and producers. By addressing the problem of scale from a business standpoint, local food initiatives like the Edmonton Good Food Box and Vancouver's New City Market risk replicating the mainstream food system they are supposed to replace. Alternatively, splendid ideas like organic agriculture get "harvested," "washed" of all values, and then "repackaged" for mass consumption by mainstream food giants.

Values are not sufficient to a vibrant local food system; they are critical, however. As Japan's Seikatsu Consumers Co-operative demonstrates, the "soft" infrastructure of social values and community-based capacity is just as important as the "hard" infrastructure of processing, storage, and delivery equipment and premises. As we scale up local food initiatives, investments in one must be matched by investments in the other.

Connelly, Sean
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