Exploring the Different Types of Food Systems

Local & alternative food systems are becoming increasingly popular as people look for ways to address negative consequences perpetuated by conventional agriculture & support sustainable practices.

Exploring the Different Types of Food Systems

Local food systems around the world are incredibly diverse and unique to each location. Alternative food systems are being hailed today as a way to address the many negative consequences that perpetuate conventional food systems. However, this term is somewhat misleading. Approaches that are now being touted as novel alternatives, such as local and organic food production, direct sales from farmers to consumers, and farmers' cooperatives, were actually traditional ways of producing food in many parts of the world long before European colonialism. While there is no universal definition of what constitutes a local food system, the term generally refers to the distribution of food by small farmers who sell directly to consumers or to nearby restaurants and grocery stores.

These farms produce a range of products for direct human consumption instead of bulk products for processing or corn for animal feed. Farmer owners have a direct interest in the health of their land and can avoid contract farming structures that encourage the extraction of the highest possible value from land without thinking about the impacts. Sales to local retailers or direct sales to end consumers also suppress some of the intermediate steps in the supply chain, where large food companies tend to capture profits, leaving more wealth in the hands of farmers. Local food systems can be attractive to consumers who want to support farmers who prioritize high animal welfare standards and preserve local landscapes and resources. In the United States, local food systems include farmers markets, community gardens, and farms where the public can choose their own products.

Community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs are also becoming increasingly popular. Originally developed by African-American farmers, CSAs allow consumers to purchase shares for a portion of a farm's expected harvest, helping the farm maintain financial stability. Farm-to-school programs deliver fresh food to school canteens to replace otherwise highly processed meals. As the environmental and health impacts of conventional agriculture become better understood, public demand for cleaner, more sustainably produced food continues to increase. Organic food systems describe the production, processing, and distribution of food in which farmers and people who handle food avoid the use of certain artificial agrochemical inputs, including pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, and certain synthetic food ingredients. On the other hand, organic production favors less toxic mineral and biological alternatives that minimize ecological impact. Under the right circumstances, organic production can improve environmental health and crop yields over time.

Organic principles can also often be applied to the processing stages of the system. Because organic production is about practices rather than size, organic food systems can have a local or even international reach. In the US, standards for organic production are established by the USDA National Organic Program. Nearly a hundred countries have some type of legislation that protects organic food production. Fair trade systems attempt to rectify global trade relations that favor transnational corporations and higher-income countries.

The advent of globalization benefited heavily subsidized agro-industrial companies that were able to surpass producers in lower-income countries. Speculation in financial markets also caused unstable prices for food products, making it difficult for farmers to maintain livelihoods. When combined, these factors caused millions of farmers to lose the ability to earn a sustainable income with their land and, in many cases, unable to feed themselves. While there are a variety of fair trade certifications with a variety of mandates, fair trade certifications generally seek to correct the energy differences that characterize conventional food supply chains, leading to poor purchase prices for farmers. Rather than looking for the lowest supplier price, Fairtrade Purchasing sets higher minimum prices that allow for both environmental sustainability and economic justice.

Certification mandates may require traders to pay prices that allow for decent living conditions for farmers, pay a premium for organic products, or enter into long-term contracts with farmers to provide them with stability. While fair trade is not a panacea for the power imbalances affecting modern food systems, it demonstrates an approach to food production based on social and environmental values rather than on purely lucrative motives. However, fair trade is not a perfect solution. In some cases, social and economic benefits may be more successful than environmental objectives. Fairtrade also remains a minority market segment plagued by free charging. Despite continued widespread support for the values that underpin fair trade, food buyers and importers are not legally required to obtain third-party verified fair trade certifications allowing them to continue the historical power dynamic that generates poverty, environmental degradation and human rights abuses.

When active even well-designed fair trade certifications may not fully deliver on their promises leaving some farmers with fair trade certifications still unable to earn a sustainable living from their work. Multinational food companies that operate without fair trade rules of conduct have recently been sued for perpetuating human rights violations in the global chocolate supply chain including human trafficking and forced child labor. In a globalized world of capitalist agriculture built on colonialism's foundation food systems can be extractive and exploitative. However growing popularity and diversity of alternative food systems offer hope for the future. By learning from conventional agriculture's mistakes tomorrow's food systems can restructure food production ensuring animal protection economic stability improved accessibility and abundance of plant-based foods produced with respect for environment.

Supporting local farmers who grow food for human consumption ensuring fair prices in supply chains embracing innovation can bring global food system closer to solving malnutrition and environmental degradation that unfortunately continue define food production today. There are two major categories of local food systems: one is farm-to-retail model whereby farmers and ranchers have markets (often within radius about hundred miles) for their products form grocery stores institutions such as schools or government agencies restaurants because food can travel outside city or immediate area this model sometimes be referred....