When we talk about local food systems, it is all to easy for us to focus on just the portion of the food system that is closest to us while ignoring the rest. Any by “we” and “us” I might mean:
- A small market grower, looking for the best retail outlets for their business model, who might focus on farmer’s markets and co-op opportunities like CSA’s.
- Regional leadership, looking for economic resilience, who might focus on supporting small and mid sized businesses like food processors, retailers and restaurants.
- Major chain groceries, looking to tap into a growing market that prioritizes local food, who may focus on local distribution hubs.
- Local food activists, who may be have priorities ranging from economics to health and nutrition to simply better tasting food.
…or many other points of view. Each point of view is accurate, but may be limited in focus.
Local food systems can be as simple as a backyard gardener growing a tomato, processing (washing it), distributing it (handing it to a neighbor over the fence), who then becomes to the consumer. At the far end of the extreme, wheat may be grown on a large farm where the crop is tracked and optimized using satellite uplinks developed in the space program, uses third party harvesters and processors whose place of business may be thousands of miles away. The wheat is then perhaps ground into flour, distributed and sold to a bakery that in turn sells it to a locally owned restaurant that serves it to a customer.
Defining what a healthy local food system is, and developing strategies to support it, first requires that we acknowledge the scope of the entire food system. My diagram, “Stakeholders in a Food System” is no doubt incomplete, but it is a representation of the size, spread and interconnectedness of our modern food system. Each facet affects the products ultimately used by the consumer to nourish their bodies.
You can download Stakeholders-in-a-Food-System here to view full size. Your comments, disagreements and additions are welcome.