Collaborative Marketing Enterprises: Local Food Exchange and the Promise of Sustainability
Type of Degreethesis
Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology
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Direct marketing by small-scale, organically-oriented farmers in the United States has risen in popularity in recent decades in the form of farmers markets, Community Supported Agriculture, roadside stands and U-pick operations. Yet, some farmers in the rural southeastern United States struggle to find enough demand in their local communities for these high-value organic or natural products. Since marketing to urban areas where demand is higher requires more time and money, some farmers have initiated marketing and distribution businesses that connect local farmers’ products with urban customers through online shopping and correspondence. Using interviews, documents and observations gathered from three marketing networks in northeastern Alabama and western Georgia, this study examines the social and economic functions of these businesses. This study explores the impact that the political structure of each business has on the levels of importance given to economic and non-economic concerns. This study uses the conceptual tools of social embeddedness, marketness and instrumentalism to understand the relationship between social ties, economic motivation and non-economic values among farmers and market managers. Although many scholars privilege the democratic organization of economic institutions as the only way for community-based concerns to compete with economic goals, this study finds that community-based values and concerns are often more effectively included by the leadership within these small businesses. Indeed, legal arrangements were often secondary to the goals and leadership skills of the market managers in fostering communication, farmer involvement and relationships of trust.