Relocalizing Food Systems

In the last modules, you learned about the rapid globalization of food systems, the loss of local control over food, seeds and land, and the immense consolidation of power by big agri-business. You’ve also seen how our globalized food system favors export commodities and corporate interests.

We’ve already heard from grassroots social movements like La Via Campesina, using broad-based coalitions to challenge corporate, globalized power and to fight against unfair trade policies. More and more however, in the face of these challenges, local communities and farmers are working to regain control through “relocalizing” their food systems.

In this module, you will get an overview of some of the popular community-based marketing strategies that small-farmers can use to keep their food and food dollars in the hands of their communities.

Direct Marketing: Selling a product directly to the end user

CSA: Community Supported Agriculture

The Community Supported Agriculture model is simple: the farmer sets a price for a share of the year’s produce from his/her farm, then recruits a group of participants who purchase a membership in the farm and receive a weekly supply of fresh-picked produce. CSA members have the satisfaction of knowing where their food comes from and the farmer who grows it. The farmer has a guaranteed market in place – often before the growing season begins – coupled with up-front cash from member payments that can eliminate the need to borrow start-up capital. Farmers also benefit by developing a long-term community interest in the viability of their farm. Reconnecting people with the land and the farmers that support them is an important part of Community Supported Agriculture (Source: CASFS).

It also works to prevent farmers from becoming indebted to predatory banks, keeps money in communities, and provides a community service, through affordable, healthy vegetables. Read more about the history of and how to start your own CSA here.

Farmer’s Markets

Farmers markets provide a wealth of benefits to communities.While farmer’s markets tend to take more time compared to some other marketing methods, they are an invaluable space for farmers to connect with their customers and develop relationships and loyalty. They allow producers to develop direct relationships with their consumers, and provide a great space for communities to gather. At a farmer’s market, a farmer or producer sells their goods directly to their customers, and usually the farmer is expected to have a variety of goods to sell. Farmers’ markets and places to buy food that are completely separate form the large industries are a key part of relocalizing the food system. These kinds of places foster relationships between people that grow food any people that buy the food.

Restaurant or Grocery Sales | from “Teaching Direct Marketing” by CASFS

Selling to restaurants and retail establishments is not necessarily direct to consumer marketing. It is considered intermediate marketing—where the farmer is selling to a specific buyer who will re-sell the product. However, selling to restaurants and retail establishments is direct in the sense that the farmer needs to have personal relationships with the buyer, who is an end user, and market themselves more actively than with a distributor or wholesaler.

Marketing to restaurants and marketing to retail outlets have many things in common, including conducting research, initiating and maintaining good relationships with the chef/buyer, and careful crop planning to meet the quality, reliability, and consistency needed to serve these markets.

Food Hubs

In many cases a restaurant or grocery store will need a consistent delivery schedule, and someone to communicate with them about prices and availability, making it challenging for small farmers. A creative way to address this challenge, are food hubs. A regional food hub is a business or organization that actively manages the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified food products primarily from local and regional producers to strengthen their ability to satisfy wholesale, retail, and institutional demand. The video below was produced by a food hub called Red Tomato, which gives a good overview of how they work.

Original source

Cooperative Marketing

Excerpt from UC Cooperative Extension:

A marketing cooperative is an organization owned and operated by a group of farmers who produce similar products. Farmers join a marketing cooperative to gain more control in marketing their products so they can: increase the price they receive for their products; reduce the costs of marketing their produce and of obtaining agricultural inputs such as seed and fertilizer; and make the market for their goods more secure.

By performing some of the marketing functions now done by middlemen, the co-op may be able to earn a profit which can be distributed to farmer-members. The net result may be a higher price to farmers for their produce.

Excerpt from Greenhorn Guidebook on Cooperatives:

A cooperative business is defined by three major standards:

• It is owned by its members, those participating in the business, not by outside shareholders or investors.

• It is governed by its members. Each member of the business has a vote in major business decisions and in electing representatives or officers.

• It exists for member benefit, not profit for outside shareholders. Any profits are distributed equitably among members.


Note: MESA is in the process of building out this section to include more on the practical side of business and marketing for small farmers – stay tuned for more! For great resources in the meantime, get the free download of “Teaching Direct Marketing and Small Farm Viability” here!