Focusing on various sites of an international farmer exchange program, this research examines the geographic, socioeconomic, and cultural relevance of Northern-based alternative food networks in the context of a less developed country, specifically Peru. In theory, alternative food networks (AFNs) revalorize small-scale farmers, rebuild local food systems, and strengthen ties between consumers and producers. Efforts to promote AFNs and scholarship exploring these efforts are largely confined to the global North, despite the common challenges facing small-scale farmers in both more and less developed countries. In an attempt to bridge the scholastic and geographic gap between North and South, this dissertation examines AFNs from a global perspective, focusing on the mechanisms best suited to facilitating the diffusion of ideas and practices associated with AFNs, and revealing how initiatives like farmers’ markets and community gardens may serve similar functions in diverse settings.
This research promotes the internationalization of AFNs in three distinct case studies, each corresponding to a separate chapter. The first case study, based on research conducted with Peruvian and Ecuadorian exchange participants in the U.S, explores perceptions of transferability regarding organic farming systems. I argue that the most valuable elements of this international agricultural exchange reside not with the diffusion of agricultural innovations, but with how cross-cultural experiential learning promotes critical reflection on place-appropriate production. In the second case study, I argue that an organic farmers’ market in Lima, Peru, despite replicating many of the troubling exclusionary characteristics of similar markets in the U.S., demonstrates the potential to improve rural livelihoods while raising consumer awareness about the benefits of organic agriculture. Here I suggest that expanding the scope of analysis to encompass the global South requires reconceptualizing the workings and implications of AFNs in a global context. In the third and final case study I argue that three key factors have influenced the emergence of what I refer to as “organic subjects” in a community garden (CG) in rural Northern Peru: increased conventional farming practices; the influence of a garden organizer as the agent of an organic ideology; and the material practices associated with participating in the garden. The actions taken by the women of the Club de Madres that created this garden reinforce the idea that CGs produce subjects, and that such subjects may well be oriented towards an agenda of agrarian change that promotes environmental awareness and ecological farming practices, key elements of emerging alternative food networks in the global North and South. As the three case studies together show, examining AFNs in a Southern context presents opportunities to “theorize back” to the North to consider the historical contexts from which AFNs have emerged; how so-called “developing world issues” of poverty and inequality can be transformed into globally relevant issues; and how AFNs North and South can address global and increasingly acute issues like food insecurity and food justice.