How Local Food System Development Affects the Sustainability of Agriculture: The Impact of Farmer-Consumer Interactions on Production Practices

Project Overview

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2015: $34,830.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Charlie Jackson
Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems


    This research project investigated the dynamics of personal(izing) market relationships in Western North Carolina, the location of a long-running local food campaign. Research activities analyzed 10 years of farmer production data and studied farmer-customer interactions at farmers markets around growing practices. Findings show the importance of sustainable growing methods to farmers market shoppers and the need for farmers to clearly communicate their practices to customers. Other findings allude to the impact market experiences can have on larger food purchasing patterns and to the relationship farmers markets have to the ongoing formation of region’s local food system.


    The purpose of this project was to look at the impact of local food system development on the production practices of farmers. Across movement and academic literature, local food system building is conceived as a means to change the food system and create triple bottom line sustainability. With regard to environmental sustainability, the small farms typically producing for local food systems are thought to use more ecologically sound production practices (e.g., Goodman & Goodman, 2007; Lockie & Halpin, 2005; Norberg-Hodge, Merrifield, & Gorelick, 2002; Pirog, 2004). The close production-consumption relationships possible in local food systems are theorized to create market transparency and through the development of engaged consumers and personal market relationships directly impact farmer practices (e.g., Allen, FitzSimmons, Goodman, & Warner, 2003; Allen & Hinrichs, 2007; Johnston, Biro, & MacKendrick, 2009; Kloppenburg, Hendrickson, & Stevenson, 1996; Perrett 2013). But, as has been argued by Allen and Hinrichs (2007), Born and Purcell (2006), Johnston et al. (2009), and others, supporters and advocates of local food attribute intrinsic qualities to local food and close market relationships do not automatically lead to more sustainable food systems. The claims of local food supporters and advocates have not been substantiated (Allen & Hinrichs 2007).

    This research project studied the effect of personal(izing) market relationships on farmer production practices and on the assumptions and choices of local food consumers. At a high level, the research focused on investigating the impact of localizing markets on agricultural production practices. Are farmers producing for local markets using or moving toward practices that are environmentally sustainable? More specifically, what do farmer-consumer interactions play? Little research has looked at how localizing food and farm market relationships impact food production practices. If a goal is to build systems of food production and distribution that are environmentally sound, then we need to understand how the dynamics in localizing food systems, specifically the interactions between farmers and consumers, are shaping and can shape production practices.

    Allen, P., FitzSimmons, M., Goodman, M., & Warner, K. (2003). Shifting plates in the agrifood landscape: The tectonics of alternative agrifood initiatives in California. Journal of Rural Studies, 19(1), 61-75.

    Allen, P., & Hinrichs, C. (2007). Buying into ‘buy local’: Engagements of United States local food initiatives. In D. Maye, M. Kneafsey & L. Holloway (Eds.), Alternative Food Geographies (pp. 255-272). Oxford: Elsevier Publications.

    Born, B., & Purcell, M. (2006). Avoiding the local trap. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 26(2), 195-207.

    Goodman, D., & Goodman, M. (2007). Localism, livelihoods and the ‘post-organic’: Changing perspectives on alternative food networks in the United States. In D. Maye, M. Kneafsey & L. Holloway (Eds.), Alternative Food Geographies (pp. 23-36). Oxford: Emerald Publishing Group.

    Johnston, J., Biro, A., & MacKendrick, N. (2009). Lost in the supermarket: The corporate-organic foodscape and the struggle for food democracy. Antipode, 41(3), 509-532.

    Kloppenburg, J., Hendrickson, J., & Stevenson, G. W. (1996). Coming into the foodshed. Agriculture and Human Values, 13(3), 33-42.

    Lockie, S., & Halpin, D. (2005). The ‘conventionalisation’ thesis reconsidered: Structural and ideological transformation of Australian organic agriculture. Sociologia Ruralis, 45(4), 284-307.

    Norberg-Hodge, H., Merrifield, T., & Gorelick, S. (2002). Bringing the food economy home: Local alternatives to global agribusiness. London: Zed Books.

    Perrett, A. (2013). Cultivating Local: Building a Local Food System in Western North Carolina (Doctoral dissertation). University of South Florida, Tampa.

    Pirog, R. (2004). Food miles: A simple metaphor to contrast local and global food systems. Ames: Leopold Center For Sustainable Agriculture.

    Project objectives:

    1. Review literature that pertains to the impacts of farmer-consumer interactions on farmer practices and consumer knowledge/expectations/choices.
    2. Conduct research with farmers growing for/selling to local markets to find out about their interactions with local customers. What kinds of interactions are they having with customers about production practices? How/what do they communicate with their customers about production practices? What have they learned from these interactions in terms of what customers want to know and what their concerns are? (How) have these interactions affected their production practice decisions and what/how they are communicating to the public?
    3. Conduct research with consumers of local food to find out about their interactions with local farmers around how food is being produced. Specifically, what are consumers’ assumptions about local food and the way it is produced? What kinds of interactions are they having with farmers about how food is being produced? What are they learning from farmers, what are they communicating to farmers? How is this interaction influencing their perceptions and actions around local food?
    4. Study trends in farmer production practices in the project region to understand how agricultural practices in the region have evolved in relation to local food movement activities.
    5. Disseminate project findings (to farmers and farmers markets, local food practitioners, and the public).  
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.