Topic: The role of food value chains in local food systems: A case from Ontario, Canada
Local food systems are increasingly examined as a means of challenging and addressing the issues posed by the industrial food system. Direct marketing is largely promoted as a means of distributing local food. Direct marketing allows producers to deliver agricultural products directly to consumers through a variety of marketing channels such as roadside stands, farmers markets and community shared agriculture. However, direct marketing requires a set of skills, such as social media skills or people skills that many farmers may not have and a set of practices in which many farmers may not wish to partake, such as going to farmers’ markets. In addition to various criticisms, some claim direct marketing works most effectively for small farmers and are not always suitable for mid-scale farmers. Market opportunities that are capable of providing the scale and price point that allow mid-scale farmers in North America to remain viable are decreasing. This makes it difficult for mid-size farmers to find a market and stay competitive. The loss of mid-scale farms will not only result in the decline of what is often perceived as an idealized icon of rural North America, but it will also impact other rural industries as large industrial farms are more likely to source their inputs from outside local and regional communities as well as result in more soil erosion and less crop diversity. Values-based food supply chains or food value chains provide a third option not only for mid-size farmers, but for all farm sizes. Food value chains can play an important role in meeting the increasing demand for local, regional, sustainable and other value added products in North America. Food value chains have been increasing in Canada. Online distribution channels, grocery stores and mobile markets have sprouted to meet the demand of local and ecological food while handling high volumes of quality food and aiming to build sustainable local food systems. Can food value chains meet the increasing demand for local food? What are the opportunities and challenges that farmers face with food value chains? Do farmers believe food value chains can contribute to a more sustainable and resilient food system? This study will explore the role of food value chains in local food systems in Ontario, Canada via the perspectives and experiences of farmers who are partaking in food value chains.