Influences of social capital and resource efficiency on the resilience of local food supply networks

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2021: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 11/15/2022
Grant Recipient: Cornell University
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Kieran Donaghy
Cornell University


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, networking
  • Farm Business Management: community-supported agriculture, cooperatives, farm-to-institution, farm-to-restaurant, farmers' markets/farm stands, marketing management
  • Sustainable Communities: food hubs, local and regional food systems, social capital, social networks, values-based supply chains

    Proposal abstract:

    Food supply disruptions caused by economic shocks like COVID-19 are being met with renewed efforts to increase the resilience and viability of local food networks. Local food supply chains are typically shorter, more spatially concentrated, and influenced by social arrangements of stakeholders in the network. This social capital - which takes various forms such as farmer relations, marketing cooperatives, producer-consumer relations, or institutional connections – creates interdependencies in the agricultural community which forms a critical resource that helps them adapt during times of economic upheaval. Using the pandemic as a natural experiment, this project firstly examines the influence of social capital to the production and marketing adaptations of diversified vegetable farmers in three counties of Upstate New York; and secondly, translates the effects of individual practices to the functioning of overall local vegetable supply using a networks approach. An extension estimates the potential for increasing resource efficiency through cooperative arrangements between stakeholders. Data collected through a mixed-method approach that surveys farmers and interviews supply chain actors, is then organized into networks models that are simulated using social network analysis and econometrics techniques to evaluate supply chain resilience under different scenarios. Research findings can advance scholarship in areas of agribusiness management and social sciences including supply chain vulnerability, food security, agricultural cooperation, community resilience, and low-carbon food supply. Findings will be of interest to broad audiences and will be conveyed directly to participants through the outreach activities of Cornell Cooperative Extension, and articles for popular media and academic journals.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Three hypotheses on the resilience of local food supply serve as the point of departure for this research and frame the research objectives: Firstly, small farm establishments have greater product diversity and access to social capital which enable them to better respond to systemic shocks as compared to large-scale monocultures. Secondly, resilience is an interplay of proximity and redundancy. Proximity between actors in the food system suggests fewer disruptions compared to longer supply chains which increases resilience; but correspondingly such a system supports fewer actors, has fewer redundancies and results in overreliance on nodal actors, which lowers resilience. Thirdly, product diversity and spatial proximity create opportunities for local food to realize higher resilience by adopting socially cooperative, closed loop, and resource efficient practices – such as that advocated by the Circular Economy - which have the added benefit of lower carbon emissions.

    Accordingly, this study states the following objectives:

    Objective 1.      Understand the nature of production and marketing shocks that vegetable farmers in Upstate New York have incurred due to the pandemic. Identify the forms of social capital that these farmers have access to and the ways in which this access influences their adaptive strategies.


    Objective 2.      Assess the implications of individual choices/adaptations on the functioning of the overall food supply chain. Measure the resulting performance of typical food supply networks relative to baseline levels before the pandemic. Suggest social and operational interventions predicted by the models to build resilience in cases of economic shock.


    Objective 3.      Evaluate the capacity for stakeholders in local food systems to adopt resource efficient, closed loop practices such as those advocated by the Circular Economy.

    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.