Skip to main content Accessibility help

Moving local food through conventional food system infrastructure: Value chain framework comparisons and insights

  • J. Dara Bloom (a1) and C. Clare Hinrichs (a1)


There is growing recognition that the direct marketing initiatives favored by many local food activists and proponents often lack the capacity to meet rapidly expanding consumer demand for local food. To address these needs, some food systems researchers have identified a role for ‘transitional’ food systems that piggyback on the pre-existing, conventional local food system infrastructure, while moving toward the social and economic benefits of direct marketing. This paper uses a value chain model (based on business management studies and adapted to the context of agrifood enterprises) as a framework for investigating how actors who are accustomed to working within the logic of the traditional produce industry incorporate local food into their overall operations. Using a qualitative comparative case study approach, the paper examines how features of the value chain structure and governance mechanisms operate in two food distribution networks that are transitioning toward localization in a rural and an urban region of Pennsylvania, respectively. Case study analysis focuses on conventional wholesale produce distributors as the link between local producers and local buyers. Interviews with the distributors, producers and buyers reveal the sources and outcomes of challenges affecting how the distributors organize their purchasing and selling of local produce. Network practices, in turn, have equity implications as distributors struggle to pay producers enough to maintain their economic viability, while still making local produce accessible to a wide range of consumers. Policy-makers and practitioners seeking to support the ‘scaling up’ of local and regional food systems should consider targeted development of technical infrastructure in processing and distribution, as well as outreach on appropriate shared ownership models. Future research should be longitudinal to determine the longer-term role and contribution of the conventional food system infrastructure in transitioning to more sustainable local and regional food systems.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author:


Hide All
1USDA. 2009. News Release 0595.09 [online]. Agriculture Deputy Secretary Merrigan announces partnership with fair food network [cited January 26, 2009]. Available at Web site (accessed 4 September 2010).
2Clancy, K. 2009. What are we talking about when we talk about local and regional food systems? In Proceedings of the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Developments' Enhancing Local and Regional Food Systems: Exploring the Research, What Works, and What We Need to Learn. Kerhonkson, NY, May 19–20, 2009.
3Stevenson, G.W. and Pirog, R. 2008. Values-based supply chains: strategies for agrifood enterprises-of-the-middle. In Lyson, T., Stevenson, G.W., and Welsh, R. (eds). Food and the Mid-Level Farm. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA. p. 119143.
4Agriculture of the Middle [online cited January 26, 2009]. Available at Web site (accessed 4 September 2010).
5Archer, D.W., Dawson, J., Kreuter, U.P., Hendrickson, M., and Halloran, J.M. 2008. Social and political influences on agricultural systems. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 23(4):272284.
6Renting, H., Marsden, T.K., and Banks, J. 2003. Understanding alternative food networks: exploring the role of short food supply chains in rural development. Environment and Planning A 35:393411.
7Marsden, T., Banks, J., and Bristow, G. 2000. Food supply chain approaches: exploring their role in rural development. Sociologia Ruralis 40(4):425438.
8Martinez, S., Hand, M., Da Pra, M., Pollack, S., Ralston, K., Smith, T., Vogel, S., Clark, S., Lohr, L., Low, S., and Newman, C. 2010. Local Food Systems: Concepts, Impacts, and Issues. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, ERR-97.
9King, R.P., Hand, M.S., DiGiacomo, G., Clancy, K., Gómez, M.I., Hardesty, S.D., Lev, L., and McLaughlin, E.W. 2010. Comparing the Structure, Size, and Performance of Local and Mainstream Food Supply Chains. USDA Economic Research Service, ERR-99.
10Doel, C. 1999. Towards a supply-chain community? Insights from governance processes in the food industry. Environment and Planning A 31:6985.
11Uzzi, B. 1996. The sources and consequences of embeddedness for the economic performance of organizations: the network effect. American Sociological Review 61(4):674698.
12Painter, K. 2008. An Analysis of Food-Chain Demand for Differentiated Farm Commodities: Implications for the Farm Sector. USDA Rural Development Cooperative Research Report 215.
13DeLind, L. 2006. Of bodies, place, and culture: re-situating local food. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 19:121146.
14Winter, M. 2003. Embeddedness, the new food economy and defensive localism. Journal of Rural Studies 19:2332.
15Ilbery, B. and Maye, D. 2005. Alternative (shorter) food supply chains and specialist livestock products in the Scottish–English borders. Environment and Planning A 37:823844.
16Hinrichs, C.C. 2000. Embeddedness and local food systems: notes on two types of direct agricultural market. Journal of Rural Studies 16:295303.
17Hinrichs, C.C. 2003. The practice and politics of food system localization. Journal of Rural Studies 19:3345.
18DuPuis, M. and Goodman, D. 2005. Should we go ‘home’ to eat?: towards a reflexive politics of localism. Journal of Rural Studies 21:359371.
19Lyson, T., Stevenson, G.W., and Welsh, R. 2008. Preface. In Lyson, T., Stevenson, G.W., and Welsh, R. (eds). Food and the Mid-Level Farm. MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. p. xixvii.
20Hinrichs, C. and Schafft, K. 2008. Farm to school programs in Pennsylvania[online]. Center for Rural Pennsylvania [cited January 3, 2009]. Available at Web site (accessed 4 September 2010).
21. Senate Bill No. 1209. 2006. Healthy Farms and Healthy Schools Act. The General Assembly of Pennsylvania [cited February 23, 2007]. Available at Web site (accessed 4 September 2010).
22Izumi, B.T., Wright, D.W., and Hamm, M.W. 2009. Farm to school programs: Exploring the role of regionally-based food distributors in alternative agrifood networks. Agriculture and Human Values 27(3):335350.
23Granovetter, M. 1985. Economic action and social structure: the problem of embeddedness. American Journal of Sociology 91(3):481510.
24Raub, W. and Weesie, J. 1990. Reputation and efficiency in social interactions: an example of network effects. American Journal of Sociology 96(3):626654.
25Friedmann, H. 2007. Scaling up: bringing public institutions and food service corporations in the project for a local, sustainable food system in Ontario. Agriculture and Human Values 24:389398.
26Bloom, J.D. 2009. Conceptualizing ‘hybrid’ food networks: engaging conventional food system infrastructure to build local food systems. Unpublished M.S. thesis. ThePennsylvania State University, University Park, PA.
27Brasier, K.J., Goetz, S., Smith, L., Ames, M., Green, J., Kelsey, T., Rangarajan, A., and Whitmer, W. 2007. Small farm clusters and pathways to rural community sustainability. Community Development 38(3):822.
28Welsh, R. 2009. Farm and market structure, industrial regulation and rural community welfare: conceptual and methodological issues. Agriculture and Human Values 26:2128.
29Stevenson, S. 2009. Mid-scale food value chains case study: Organic Valley. Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Available at Web site (accessed July 7, 2010).


Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Moving local food through conventional food system infrastructure: Value chain framework comparisons and insights

  • J. Dara Bloom (a1) and C. Clare Hinrichs (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.