The Conventionalization of Local Food: Farm Reflections on Local, Alternative Beef Marketing Groups
Across North America, the local food market has been peddled as an alternative or value-added production and marketing niche for small and midscale family farms. Many former commodity farmers are now selling product to local consumers — either on their own, with groups of farmers, as cooperatives, or through intermediaries with active distribution chains.
The literature on the conventionalization of organic suggests that larger farm scale and an intermediary-controlled chain may produce unintended effects for producers in these local markets. The same literature also questions the role of farm scale in shaping motivations. Reflections from first-adopters on their experiences in local food marketing channels — both direct-to-consumer and through intermediaries — could provide insight into the effects of "scaling up" and a potential move toward the conventionalization of local food.
In this paper we investigate two models of "local beef" groups that operate in the province of Ontario: one organized by farmers and reliant on direct marketing, and a second, larger-scale model, led by intermediaries that purchase and market the product from farmers. Through an analysis of interviews with farmers, and borrowing from adoption of innovation frameworks, we present — in the farmers' words — some of the factors and motivations that attract commodity producers to these two types of marketing innovation, and try to expose the gap between expectations and outcomes. The findings help to gauge how scale of farm and group operation influences results, how this relates to processes of conventionalization, and what this means for the future of these local marketing groups.
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