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Labor and alternative food networks: challenges for farmers and consumers

  • Analena B. Bruce (a1) and Rebecca L. Som Castellano (a2)

Although alternative food networks (AFNs) have made strides in modeling socially just and environmentally sound agrifood system practices, the next step is to make these innovations available to more people, or to increase participation in AFNs. However, there are several barriers to expanding the impact of AFNs. The labor intensity of producing and consuming foods in AFNs is sometimes overlooked but poses a significant challenge to alternative agrifood systems’ long-term viability. This paper brings together two independently conducted empirical research studies, one focused on sustainable food production and one focused on food provisioning in the sphere of consumption. Farmers engaged in small-scale alternative food production are investing significantly more time in maintaining the health of their soils by practicing crop rotation, growing a greater diversity of crops and building organic matter with cover crops and compost. Because much of this work is unpaid, the added labor requirements pose an obstacle to the financial viability and social sustainability of alternative production methods. On the consumption side, the labor intensity of food provisioning for women engaged in AFNs, combined with other socio-demographic factors, at times, constrains AFN participation. By identifying the ways in which labor may limit the ability of AFNs to expand to a larger portion of the population, this paper helps shed light on ways of increasing the environmental, social and health benefits of AFNs.

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