Date of Award
Master of Science
Geography and Environmental Resources
The purpose of this qualitative study is to explore a local food movement from the perspectives of small-scale, sustainable farmers in rural Jackson and Union Counties in Southern Illinois. This research applies three tenets of bioregionalism: (1) bioregional place identity, (2) foodshed ecology, and (3) community resilience as a thematic framework to examine the dimensions of a local food movement. Nine self-identified sustainable local food producers were individually interviewed and guided by four primary research questions derived from the bioregional thematic framework. The researcher seeks to understand the farmers’ perceptions of the (1) drivers, barriers, and limitations of the southern Illinois local food movement, (2) bioregional place identity and characteristics of the southern Illinois foodshed, (3) ecological integrity of the local food movement, and (4) local food access and community resiliency within the farmers’ bioregion. The interviews were transcribed and analyzed using qualitative data methodologies. Key findings emerge from the data that respond to the four primary research questions: (1a) Farmers are driven by ecological and social values, as well as personal fulfillment to provide an alternative food system; (1b) Farmers face a barrage of economic, political, social, and ecological barriers that challenge the local food movement; (1c) The market-based, profit-driven economic system is the cause of most barriers and limitations in the southern Illinois food movement; (2) The farmers’ sense of place and the bioregion’s terrier indicate a strong and cohesive bioregional place identity for the farmers within the southern Illinois local food movement; (3) Farmers do not conflate scale with sustainability and are critical of the ecological impact of their work; (4) Farmers acknowledge bioregional food to be largely inaccessible in their bioregion, however, this consideration extends beyond most farmers’ capabilities. The significance of these findings indicate that the where of food matters beyond the conflation that scale determines the ecological and social integrity of food production. This further suggests that bioregionalism is a useful paradigm to analyze the dimensions of local food movements, to deepen the understanding of the place of local food.
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