The following is extracted from an article by Margarita Fernandez, Katherine Goodall, Meryl Olson a & V. Ernesto Méndez in the current edition of Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (January 2013)
“Across the United States, there is a growth in food policy councils, food sovereignty ordinances, new farmers, the urban food justice movement, and educational institutions offering agroecology-based programs. Collectively, this reflects a growing influence of transformational and transdisciplinary approaches in alternative agri-food movements both within society and academia (Allen 2004). The growing links between the environment, health, food security, poverty, and social justice reflect an emerging systemic under- standing of agriculture as a social and ecological activity in addition to an economic one.
The challenge to creating sustainable agri-food systems is to connect progressive local actions to a larger political agenda in order to remove structural barriers to the scaling-up of these systems (Holt-Gimenez and Shattuck 2011; Mares and Alkon 2011). Federal policy that perpetuates the agro-industrial model, market concentration, and the orientation of research and extension toward these sectors, are central barriers to the scaling-up of sustainable agri-food systems (Reganold et al. 2011). Alternative agricul- ture receives comparatively little state support for extension services, storage, distribution and processing facilities, affordable credit and insurance policies (Carolan 2005). Furthermore, land values in the United States are divorced from their productive uses (USDA Economic Research Service 2011) and over half of U.S. cropland is rented, often on single-year leases where incentives are low for agroecological innovation (Carolan 2005). Until producers have access to land and infrastructure and are consistently paid a better price for both their product and the environmental services they steward, sustainable agri-food systems will be on tenuous footing (Robertson and Swinton 2005).
On the consumer side, economic justice is a challenge for the movement. With nearly 15% of Americans on food stamps, purchasing power in low- and middle-income communities is often insufficient to purchase enough food, much less food from alternative networks (Food Research and Action Center 2011). Although food justice movements are making strides to increase accessibility to sustainable products, systemic change in federal policy is necessary to reorient monies that currently support the production of abundant, cheap and nutritiously deficient food toward diversified farming systems that produce diverse, nutritious diets at an affordable price.
Food policy councils, community food assessments, food sovereignty, urban agriculture, and the growth of new small farmers are crucial to the advancement of alternative agri-food systems. Agroecology can contribute to this process by partnering with social movements and local food system actors through participatory action research. As Allen (2004, 2008) points out, there is a dearth of studies of alternative agri-food movements and great potential for further collaboration between academia and agri-food move- ments. Agroecology can complement other research and action frameworks (e.g., rural sociology, political ecology) in order to better understand and analyze strengths and weaknesses of agri-food system strategies and identify solutions for ecological, social, and political action. Because agroecology espouses participatory and transdisciplinary approaches it dovetails with the democratic, multistakeholder, systems-based approaches embraced by many agri-food movements (Mares and Alkon 2011). Furthermore, with its use of participatory action research it aims to empower people to become well- informed agents of change for themselves and their communities. Likewise, agri-food movement actors can enrich agroecology students and researchers by helping them remain grounded in analysis of real problems and real solutions. Social, economic, and political changes needed to address issues of food justice, food sovereignty, and food security cannot happen without ecological change. Likewise, ecological change cannot happen without social, economic, and political change. Agroecology provides the technological, scientific, and methodological basis to facilitate this change (Altieri 2012). We believe that a deeper interaction between agroecology and agri-food movements in the United States can contribute to the creation and scaling up of sustainable agri-food systems.”
The full article can be found here: