Our understanding of community and regional food systems continues to evolve, as we talk with practitioners involved in all aspects of the food system.
The Community and Regional Food Systems framework(note: click on the hyperlink to open up the graphic for the current version of the framework) illustrates how components of the food system supply chain (inside ring, circle to the left) are related to the food system environment – or endogenous environment (outside ring, circle to the left) and the natural environment – or exogenous environment (this is currently missing from the graphic). Activities within the food system supply chain are driven by values (inside ring, circle on right). Values are related to community based outcome objectives (outside ring, circle on the right).
The supply chain is useful in understanding the various systems level components that are necessary to get food from field to plate. Not all the steps are necessary. For example, direct farm to consumer sales may skip several steps (aggregation, food processing). Each component can be described or analyzed in relation to the each of the components of the food system environment. The food system supply chain is a ‘dial’ that moves and overlaps onto the different components of the food system environment.
Many food system advocates and businesses utilize a diagram of the supply chain to indicate the various components that are involved. There are variations in how these are depicted. We’ve added a few categories that are important in urban agricultural systems: ‘land access & suitability’ and ‘resource & waste recovery’ (composting, vermiculture, water conservation).
The category ‘distribution and aggregation’ is a broad one, that includes transportation from production to aggregation or processing, and from aggregation/processing to marketing. We use the term ‘distribution’ to capture transportation. Aggregation captures innovative work happening with food hubs, produce auctions, and other cooperative models to aggregate supply.
The supply chain is an important descriptive tool, but it misses important structures that influence/affect the actual workings of various enterprises and structures.
These categories capture what could be called the ‘food system environment’ (or endogenous environment): these categories capture the workings of the economic, social, and cultural arenas. For each aspect of the food system supply chain, there is an overlapping relationship with these aspects of the food system environment.
The food system environment presents conditions (opportunities, barriers, and cultural context) that affect food system activities. These are not immutable structures, but are culturally determined and often very fixed. Take, for example, economic structures and policies in a profit driven economy: the rules of these structures drive competition and present barriers to entry for enterprises that operate on other, alternative premises. Similarly, food and agricultural policy impacts food system practices – either by the design of the policy or the absence of a policy. A social change goal for many food systems organizations is to change these structures in ways that would be more just, equitable, and sustainable.
The descriptive framework can be connected to a values framework, which is more ‘prescriptive’ in determining the types of work that activists, advocates, and entrepreneurs are involved with.
Values are personal – we can’t determine the values that are important for any actor or entity in the food system. What is presented here is one conception of driving values – these are the values that most often emerge from ‘values statements’ of food system organizations. They are also similar to the values identified in the Community Food Security Coalition’s “Whole Measures for Community Food Systems: Values-based planning and evaluation” . ‘Place-based’ was suggested by the Wisconsin Food Systems team, and allows for outcome objectives such as community economic development, social capital, community connections, etc.