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Visualizing the social and geographical embeddedness of local food systems


Re-localizing food distribution is expected to geographically concentrate social and economic capital toward values that are beneficial to both consumers and producers. Yet, both the theory of how communities benefit from purchasing local food and the practice of promoting local food lack foundational empiric evidence that makes spatially explicit the procurement typologies and the communities that are connected. This research pilots a method for understanding the geographic patterns of local food supply chains in relation to the social networks formed through farm tours, byproduct sales, farm-to-farm collaboration, and donations to the local food bank. This method is expected to improve both the theory and practice of re-localizing food systems, thereby helping scholars and policymakers to identify and correct for inequities while also recognizing successful practices and opportunities in situ. Findings are based on a novel dataset from Chester County, Pennsylvania encompassing 1089 connections between 117 farms and 637 locations. Farms primarily engage with one marketing typology. The most common marketing practices are wholesale distribution and direct-marketing to consumers through farmers’ markets; both market typologies have an average reach of over 50 km. Central to the social network, is a third typology characterized by sales to restaurants, collaboration amongst farms and participation with local food bank programming. Interviews with policymakers and market managers ground-truth and relate findings to state and local regulations.

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