Connecting Small-Scale Producers and Consumers
Exploring the Feasibility of Online Food Hubs in Low-Income Communities
Keywords:Community Food Security, Sustainable Agriculture, Alternative Food Network, Food Access, Local Food, Online Food Hub, Low-Income Community
Sustainable agriculture and community food security (CFS) are frameworks commonly used, but often separately, within the broader alternative food movement. Sustainable agriculture is production-centered, with a focus on environmental degradation and family farm viability, whereas CFS shifts research from household-level measures of food security to consider larger geographic areas in terms of equitable healthy food access and social justice. The challenge of both movements continues to be the intersection of these ideals to create a sustainable situation in which the needs of producers and consumers can be met simultaneously. We explored the underlying values of local, small-scale producers and consumers living within an impoverished neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio, a large Midwestern city, as they related to participation in an online food hub. Twenty-one consumers participated in three focus groups, and interviews were conducted with eight producers. Our interest was primarily in whether and how these articulated values fit into sustainable agriculture and CFS frameworks, and if there was any evidence of commonalities or intersections between producers and consumers in the context of these frameworks. We hypothesized that producers would be oriented toward the economic viability of their small-scale operations, while consumers would be oriented toward improved food access that was convenient and affordable. We identified three prominent themes from both the consumers’ and producers’ articulated values. We found that an online food hub appealed to some producers and consumers, but that the barriers identified were more prominent than the benefits, and the desire for the proposed online food hub was not sufficient to pursue moving forward with a full-scale version of an online food hub at the time.
Authors' Note re: COVID-19
Our research was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic. An addendum at the end of the paper provides relevant updates to the research as of late April 2020.
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