Qualities of a Robust Local Food System

There are the ‘hard’ qualities of a strong local food system, including adequate redundancies, efficient supply chain, profitable prices for farmers, fair wages for workers, sustainable farming practices, adequate supplies of fresh, healthy, unprocessed food, humane treatment of animals and workers, fair prices and widespread availability. This is what local foods activists and their supporters tell me after traveling throughout the state for the last year and a half. From the inner city of Minneapolis to the most remote rural counties, people agree on the positive attributes of this emergent food system.

There are also ‘soft’ qualities that speak to the strength of a local food system. Are there multiple, active relationships among many nodes and players? Are these relationships leveraged to strengthen and improve the ‘hard’ qualities? Is it well-integrated across sectors, communities, systems and institutions? Is there room for innovation to emerge, stable structures to develop, and outmoded aspects to atrophy? Is the type of knowledge used to build and sustain the local food system diversified – from agricultural to business to vision and concept? Are there processes for learning and adjustment built into the system?

These ‘soft’ qualities are the characteristics that embed intelligence into local food systems. Knowledge that is needed to strengthen local food systems is not just the ‘hard’ knowledge associated with growing, harvesting, processing, distributing and preparing food. The ‘soft’ knowledge includes relating, networking, leveraging, learning, integrating and adjusting. Those too are critical components to building a robust food system.

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