Navigating the Fault Lines in Civic Food Networks
AbstractCivic food networks have emerged as a civil society–driven response to the social, economic, and environmental shortcomings of the industrial food system. They are differentiated from other forms of alternative food networks in that they emphasize cooperation over independence, focus on participatory democratic governance over hierarchy, and serve both social and economic functions for participants. Yet there is little understanding of the processes of cooperation, particularly among farmers, in civic food networks. In this five-year action research project we documented the development of a farmer-driven civic food network in southern Manitoba on the Canadian Prairies. We explore the relations among farmers to better understand the potential of civic food networks to contribute to a more resilient and locally controlled food system. Our findings highlight the tensions and power dynamics that arise through the processes of re-embedding farmers in more interdependent relations. Fractures occurred in the group when negotiating the diverse needs and values of participants, which manifested in disputes over the balance of economic and extra-economic organizational pursuits, over the nature of the cooperative distribution model, and over quality standards. Asymmetrical power relations also emerged related to gender and generational differences. Although social embeddedness and civic governance did lead to enhanced relations and trust, these positive outcomes were unevenly distributed and coexisted with feelings of distrust and acrimony. In order to realize their full potential, proponents of civic food networks must confront difference in order to embrace the strength that comes from diversity in the process of building more resilient, and civic, food networks.
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