What Are The Greatest Challenges To The Local Food Movement

At Willamette University Dr. Chambers’ Sustainable Agriculture in the 21st Century class studied current challenges to food production and access and investigated the local food movement as a viable solution. Using three different perspectives of sustainability (economic, environment, and equity) as lenses to interpret peer-reviewed research on the local food movement and relevant data on the Willamette Valley the class determined the greatest challenges to the local food movement in this region.

Brief summaries from each of their perspectives are provided below. To read the students full analysis and recommendations for future research click on the associated links.

An Economic Perspective

Summary of Economic Challenges to the Local Food Movement in the Willamette Valley

  • Current Agroeconomics: the local food movement appears to have a more communal focus than increasingly centralized industrial agriculture. In addition there is the challenge of consumers mentality of a right to cheap food. Challenges in trying to focus both on profit and the more holistic goals of the local food movement.
  • Economics of Exports: exports reduce the availability of local food yet provide greater profits for local farmers. Challenges of the opportunity costs of switching existing profitable, often non-edible, export crop production to local food production.
  • Economies of Scales: large commercial production benefits from subsidies that may deter a switch to local food production. In addition large farms do not appear to be conducive to the goals of the local food movement as expressed in the literature. Large farms also appear to have a comparative advantage in production at both a global and local level as well as benefiting from corporate marketing connections.

To read the full report go to: If Not Here, Where? Analyzing the Economics of the Willamette Valley’s Local Food Movement

An Environmental Perspective

Summary of Environmental Challenges to the Local Food Movement in the Willamette Valley

  • Food Miles are not a good definition of environmental sustainability: varies based on study area, crop, quantity of goods transported, form of transport, and method of analysis. There are inconsistencies in the literature on whether or not local food is more environmentally sustainable.
  • Agrobiogeography, defined as the regional ability to produce agricultural products based on climate, geology, and site-specific conditions –water, soil, temperature, current and future land use (urbanization). In particular, the Willamette Valley’s ability to meet production needs of staple crops such as wheat. What are the environmental costs of off-season or environmentally enhanced production (such as greenhouses) and food preservation infrastructure? Globally it may be more environmentally sustainable to produce for exports to other regions and import what cannot ‘easily’ be grow in the Willamette Valley.
  • Climate Change: the predicted impacts of climate change in the Willamette Valley may result in not only a change in the variety of crops that could be produced but also a decrease in yields as a result of a loss of water for irrigation and increased pests. Thus converting more food in the Willamette Valley to a local focus may result in increased future food.

To read the full report go to: Environmental Challenges to the Local Food Movement in the Willamette Valley

An Equity Perspective

Summary of Equity Challenges to the Local Food Movement in the Willamette Valley

  • Consumers: access for everyone – beyond the ‘whiteness’ that the local food movement has been labeled with including socioeconomic and geographic access. Increasing consumer awareness about food including education, interest, community connections, and caring about where food comes from and what it is: typically consumers are not aware of what is local when, what is available, and why prices are different. Another challenge is the ability to produce culturally appropriate foods in the Willamette Valley.
  • Farmers: based on the literature there is an assumption that local food should come from small farms yet definitions of ‘small’ are inconsistent. The ability to make a profit and compete with larger producers if only selling locally (whether small or large). A focus on local sales results in increased risk because of the small consumer base: consumers can go to other farmers but farmers do not have other buyers to turn to. Distributing the financial burden of local food production evenly. Another important challenge is attracting new farmers into agriculture
  • Farmworkers: working conditions and wages/compensation. The goals of the local food movement include community sustainability – farm workers are part of that community. Much of local food production is organic and done on small farms resulting in a need for extensive manual labour which may result in challenges of appropriate wages, physical impacts of work, availability of housing, and health care benefits. Because the work is seasonal and small scale farmworkers are at an increased risk of not finding full employment or experiencing layoffs. Farmworkers may also experience greater cultural isolation on small farms. Because farmworker wages are low they may not be able to access the local foods they are producing and these foods may not reflect cultural preferences of the workers.

To read the full report go to: Equity Challenges for Consumers, Farmers, and Farmworkers in the Willamette Valley

In conclusion

The students felt that perhaps the greatest challenge to the local food movement may come from an inability to mesh these three perspectives. The local food movement when interpreted through the lenses of economic, environmental, and equity sustainability has varied definitions and different methods of looking at the issues. The greatest challenge may come from trying to make the local food movement economically, environmentally, and equitably sustainable.

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