Local Food, Food Democracy, and Food Hubs
Keywords:Food Democracy, Food Hubs, Local Food, Social Movements, Technological Fix, Western North Carolina
In western North Carolina, where we and others have been working to build local food systems for the last 15 years, food hubs are part of an expanding network of local food distribution infrastructure intended to help the region's smaller local farms access larger, more mainstream market outlets. The impact of food hubs on the region's evolving food system, however, is contradictory. At the same time that food hubs further the development of local food supply chains and create market opportunities for farms, they can also run contrary to the bigger and longer-term goals of the local food movement. In this viewpoint article, we look critically at the role of nonprofit food hubs in efforts to build local food systems. Speaking from our experiences in the local food movement in western North Carolina and drawing from social movements and food systems scholarship, we argue that food hubs, when used as primary mechanisms of local food system building, can deprive the movement of its capacity to activate broad participation in the food system. We argue that efforts to build local food systems need a foundation of work that engages people (such as farmers, citizens, people who work in the food industry) in processes that can shape the practices, values, and impacts of systems of food production and distribution. While they can mitigate the mismatch between the smaller scale typical of local food and larger mainstream markets, food hubs alone cannot challenge industry norms and practices, and they can even aid the food industry in maintaining the status quo.
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