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Title: The Small World of the Alternative Food Network
This research offers the first use of graph theory mathematics in social network analysis to explore relationships built through an alternative food network. The local food system is visualized using geo-social data from 110 farms and 224 markets around Baltimore County, Maryland, with 699 connections between them. Network behavior is explored through policy document review and interviews. The findings revealed a small-world architecture, with system resiliency built-in by diversified marketing practices at central nodes. This robust network design helps to explain the long-term survival of local food systems despite the meteoric rise of global industrial food supply chains. Modern alternative food networks are an example of a movement that seeks to reorient economic power structures in response to a variety of food system-related issues not limited to consumer health but including environmental impacts. Uncovering the underlying network architecture of this sustainability-oriented social movement helps reveal how it weaves systemic change more broadly. The methods used in this study demonstrate how social values, social networks, markets, and governance systems embed to transform both physical landscapes and human bodies. Network actors crafted informal policy reports, which were directly incorporated in state and local official land-use and economic planning documents. Community governance over more » land-use policy suggests a powerful mechanism for further localizing food systems. « less
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National Science Foundation
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