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«CREATING ALTERNATIVES: A PARTICIPANT OBSERVER’S REFLECTIONS ON THE EMERGING LOCAL FOOD SYSTEM IN KANSAS CITY* MARY HENDRICKSON UN IVERSIT Y OF M ...»

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The Kansas City Food Circle helped establish a new vision of what the food system in the Kansas City area could be by focusing on “eaters” (consumers) and highlighting the importance of establishing personal relationships between themselves and other people in the food system. As with other social movements, the Food Circle looked to consumption and exposing eaters to the big changes they could make in the food system simply by changing their consumption patterns, which included building new social relationships in the food system. While focused 7 This was a coalition of sustainable agriculture, environmental, and anti-hunger groups that the Kellogg foundation funded to come up with clear policy goals on sustainable food systems for the 2008 Farm Bill.

THE EMERGING LOCAL FOOD SYSTEM IN KANSAS CITY 185

on the praxis of everyday life—everyone eats, every day if they can—this was an explicitly political vision in that it tried to create strong social relationships in the personal sphere that could resist the dominant economic and political forces in the food system. These were personal habits and relationships that eaters were asked to change, with the idea that such changes could have large impacts outside the personal sphere.

On the other hand, farmer groups like Ozark Mountain Pork cooperative and Good Natured Family Farms started in the economic arena by trying new business models. However, they relied on the informed eaters created by the Kansas City Food Circle and other movements for a market for their products, a market based on the belief that supporting these farmers was good for the local economy, the local environment and local communities. With their livelihoods at stake, farmer groups are under more pressure from the current economic arena to pursue a business model that makes money, and are less able to venture into the social and political arenas.

With the creation of the local food policy coalition under the auspices of KC Healthy Kids, actors in the food system in Kansas City are again explicitly in the political arena because we are pursuing policy changes at the local, state, and federal levels that could change the structure of agriculture and food systems. This partnership brings together (and is spearheaded by) eaters, including a focus on institutional consumers, farmers, policy makers, academics, and advocates. The subtle influences of the Missouri School can be seen here in that advocates grasp the larger picture—just as the Kansas City Food Circle did—that the agrifood system as currently organized has been harmful to the land, the environment and farmers, and by extension to eaters (children and families), workers, and the communities, rural and urban, in which we live. Because we have used the framework of the organization of the global agrifood system, we can help explain the changes taking place and what kinds of interventions may be necessary.

In the end, there are many cracks, many vulnerabilities and spaces within the current structure of the agrifood system in which to locate and position alternatives.

The pragmatic approach that Bill Heffernan and I have adopted demands that we help farmers, workers, and eaters find the opportunities that are apparent in Table 2, and help them achieve those opportunities. As we move toward Alternative Food Systems that are personal, fair, and sustainable, the movement will hit some bumps.

Eaters will buy locally-produced food from farmers who are not out to change the structure of agriculture; some consumers will decide to buy local or organic food simply because it tastes better or because they believe it is healthier rather than 186 SOUTHERN RURAL SOCIOLOGY because it is a political statement. However, there are opportunities here to help farmers, eaters, and workers to move from the idea of what makes money or is convenient to the explicit political and economic ideas of change. Because food is something that we engage with every day, people around the world are creating something different in the food system simply by their acts of everyday praxis.

Every new relationship created in these spaces may not lead to change. Creating these new relationships and using our agency to change the food system may fail.

The cracks and spaces that we see for action may be overwhelmed by the power accumulated by dominant actors in the food system over the last few decades. The point is that in Kansas City, like many places across the world, we are moving in fits and starts toward something that could be transformational—socially, economically, and ecologically. It is not guaranteed this transformation will happen, but the essence of the Missouri School is the belief that change is possible. To paraphrase Cornel West, we may not be optimistic that change in the food system will happen in the next five years, but we hope real transformation will come because hope is about being part of the struggle, about working toward change.

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