Navigating the Fault Lines in Civic Food Networks


  • Colin Ray Anderson University of Manitoba
  • Wayne McDonald The Harvest Moon Society
  • Jo-Lene Gardiner The Harvest Moon Society
  • Stéphane M. McLachlan University of Manitoba



Alternative Food Networks, Civic Agriculture, Civic Food Networks, Community Development, Conflict, Cooperatives, Local Food, Participatory Action Research, Quality Standards, Social Embeddedness


Civic 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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Author Biographies

Colin Ray Anderson, University of Manitoba

Environmental Conservation Lab, University of Manitoba.

Colin R. Anderson is now at the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience. Coventry University; Priory Street, Coventry CV1 5FB UK; +44 (0) 24 7688 7688.

Wayne McDonald, The Harvest Moon Society

The Harvest Moon Society; Box 106; Clearwater, Manitoba R0K 0M0 Canada; +1-204-873-385.

Jo-Lene Gardiner, The Harvest Moon Society

The Harvest Moon Society; Box 106; Clearwater, Manitoba R0K 0M0 Canada; +1-204-873-3858.

Stéphane M. McLachlan, University of Manitoba

University of Manitoba, Environmental Conservation Lab; Clayton H Riddell Faculty of Environment, Earth, and Resources; Winnipeg, Manitoba R3T 2N2 Canada; +1-204-474-9316.



How to Cite

Anderson, C. R., McDonald, W., Gardiner, J.-L., & McLachlan, S. M. (2014). Navigating the Fault Lines in Civic Food Networks. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 4(3), 79–99.



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