Food Glorious Food : an investigation into the processes of learning, network building and articulation of expectations at The Food Assembly in London, UK
Abstract: Society has become locked into an unsustainable agri-food system based on resource intensive industrial agriculture and a globalized supply chain producing food that is damaging to the environment and society. In London, United Kingdom a network of alternative food initiatives exists challenging this agri-food system and bring about a transition to one that is more sustainable. However so far the unsustainable food consumption and production practices remain dominant and these alternative food initiatives remain on the fringes of society. In order to better understand the processes that influence the success of alternative food initiatives The Food Assembly, an initiative promoting local food purchased directly from producers online and distributed at local venues or Assemblies, was studied using the internal processes of learning, networking and articulation of expectations as an analytical framework. Contribution of an intermediary role of The Food Assembly headquarters (HQ) to these internal processes was also investigated. Semi-structured interviews were conducted of Assembly hosts and producers and a survey was conducted of members. The study found that existing learning processes could be improved for hosts through training on a range of topics including in particular marketing and for both hosts and producers through sharing sales analytics data. Existing networking processes would benefit from regular meetings between hosts and through increased collaboration with local cafes, restaurants and offices. Existing expectations regarding time commitment of hosts may be made more credible with a formalized volunteering system. Finally it was found that HQ could play a greater intermediary role through creating generalized knowledge from host, producer and member feedback, creating a forum for exchange of this knowledge with the aim to produce updated guidelines based on this feedback. The use of the processes of learning, networking and articulation of expectations proved helpful as a framework and enabled key issues within The Food Assembly to be highlighted. The findings of this study may prove helpful for other niche initiatives and intermediary actors in achieving success.
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