alternative food networks and new peasantry

There has arguably been a “relentless assault” on small farming throughout the world as a result of neoliberal policy that has enabled the globalization and industrialization of food production. Corporate regimes have been able to gain a stronghold over agricultural markets, which undermines local stewardship, dispossess rural inhabitants, and depresses both wages and prices via supply and labor surpluses.

New peasantry offers a form of resistance to corporate globalization through the act of “reasserting the right to farm as a social act of stewardship of the land and food redistribution against the destabilizing and exclusionary impacts of the neoliberal model”. These actions are based on practices that are more socially, rather than financially, productive.

Through the capitalistic lens, those engaged in these practices are considered “petty commodity producers” because they do not contribute to the global agricultural circuit, which is the aim of such efforts. Specifically, the objective of those engaged in new peasantry farming is production for themselves and their communities with the exclusion from the neoliberal model serving as a uniting factor.

Practices that align with the ideals of new peasantry can be understood as alternative food networks (AFNs). AFNs are means of reconfiguring values, governance structures for everyday food provisioning, and time-space relations in the context of the global food system via innovative organizational structures . These structures serve to address how producers and consumers interact and encompass several conceptual themes, with the first being reflexivity.

Reflexivity in this respect refers to more pragmatic compromise, openness to non-standard worldviews, and more negotiation. In doing so “communities of practice” are established. These communities serve as new spaces for food provisioning where actors within the can articulate their criticisms of conventional food systems.

The second is the concept of shared knowledge practices, which provides consumers with the opportunity to know what they are eating and producers the ability to share what they grow. In doing so, a better understanding of the relationship between the materiality of the food and the food itself.

Finally, alterity, or the idea of being different, contributes also to this assertedly new form of consumer-producer interactions. These interactions, while disparate, are not necessarily oppositional and they often depend on existing infrastructure and they do not attempt to subvert the capitalistic system. Instead, they coexist with the current system and work to bring change from within often through their divergent value systems and operational philosophies, e.g. practices supporting personalized exchange, social justice, or ecological sustainability, which counter the established productivist agricultural economy.

In doing so, AFNs become socially embedded, meaning that they are based on the principles of trust and community. This is, on the one hand, supports their intentions and, on the other hand, limits their strategic options and abilities within a market.

Functionally speaking, AFNs can be classified into five categories. The first category is producers-as-consumers, meaning that those who produce the food also consume the food they produce. These actions demonstrate the individual’s or group’s interest in developing solutions to issues related to food access by participating actively in the production process. In turn, they are able to assert a certain amount of control in their food paradigms.

The second category is producer-consumer partnerships, where a partnership between the food producer, i.e. the farmer, and the consumer is established. In this relationship, the risks and rewards are shared. The standard model of producer-consumer partnerships is community supported agriculture (CSAs).

Direct sell initiatives, where products are by the producer to the consumer. With this form, there is a single point of contact, which may supports closer producer-consumer relationships when contact reoccurs over time, e.g. at a weekly market or it may be a one-time interaction.

The fourth type of AFN can be categorized as direct seller initiatives, which are part of shortened food supply chains. In direct seller initiatives, intermediaries sell goods that are considered “alternative”, e.g. locally produced or biodynamic, and provide consumers with a chance to have more information about where their food comes from. This in turn helps to instill feelings of connection. However, it is not a direct connect between the producer and the consumer.

The fifth category of AFN does not include actual participants in the food production process, rather it includes the advocates for alternative production. They are known as non-governmental or campaign organizations and may also offer training or financial assistance for activities related to AFNs.

Hybrids of these categorizations exist, with new peasantry serving as an example of a form of AFN that, at the most basic level, combines producer-as-consumer and producer-consumer relationships and could incorporate also direct sell and seller initiatives as well as advocate for alternative food production.

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