ALTERNATIVE food networks—those outside of the established international agribusiness model—are gaining momentum as more and more consumers become interested in where and how their food is produced.
The growing popularity of alternative networks can be partly attributed to the rise of food citizenry—consumers looking for ethical and sustainably produced food—and the slow food movement in Australia.
The benefits of alternative food networks move beyond the strictly nutritional with researchers suggesting a range of social and environmental positives coming out of the movement.
A 2010 VicHealth report stated that overall local food systems and those that participate in them report enhanced levels of community participation, community wellbeing and social gains from the experience.
Murdoch University sustainable development lecturer Nicole Hodgson says there a number of different reasons people are looking towards alternative networks.
She says that for some consumers the health implications drive their interest, while to others concerns about environmental issues like the amount of water, chemical based inputs and food miles have fueled their search for alternatives.
While there is a range of reasons behind the push Hodgson says there is a commonality of concerns about current conventional agriculture.
“As the conventional food production system becomes more industrialised, as food becomes more processed, people are becoming more and more concerned about it and are looking to develop alternatives,” she says.
Community gardens and farmers markets can provide social benefits to growers and consumers by offering a more community driven feel and locally grown produce.
“Consumers are wanting a different experience. Both in the produce they buy and the experience of purchasing their food,” Hodgson says.
“The whole idea of buying from the person who has produced your food and buying it in a situation that is not in [artificial] lights is what consumers are looking for.”
Recent moves towards clearer labeling the origins of food shows that consumers want to be able to make more informed choices when purchasing.
Markets offer the chance for the consumers to talk with the growers and become better educated about where and how their food is produced.
Growers also appear to be benefiting beyond the economical from the growing trend.
The VicHealth report showed that farmers markets provide a good networking chance for growers and others in the industry in what is usually an isolated occupation and can also provided respite from the pressures associated with bushfires and drought.
For a list of WA farmers markets click here.