Date Approved


Graduate Degree Type


Degree Name

Social Innovation (M.A.)

Degree Program

Integrative, Religious, and Intercultural Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Amy McFarland

Second Advisor

Dr. Sarah King

Academic Year



Alternative food systems have become a popular response to conventional food systems both agri-business and emergency food assistance charities. Common alternative food systems, like farmers markets, food co-ops, and community supported agriculture, are market-based strategies which emphasize environmental concerns. They are often dominated by white people who deem their emphasis on “local, healthy food” to be universal. While food justice issues are incorporated into some alternative food organizations, not all organizations seek input or engagement with the local BIPOC, Indigenous, and low-income people they serve. This study conducts an analysis of the efficacy of the growing food justice movement’s alternative food systems, and how incorporating these new systems into conventional regional food systems in mid-sized American cities can help alleviate food insecurity.

Four expert food activists in Grand Rapids, MI were interviewed for this paper and four common themes were discovered: building an equitable local food system, food knowledge education, ending reliance on emergency food assistance, and encouraging urban farming. Local food activists see a need for alternative food systems, especially as a means to stop relying on emergency food assistance to provide adequate food to the community. Education on cooking and gardening, along promoting urban farming initiatives, were presented are ways to include community members in alternative food systems. To build a truly equitable local food system, community partnerships between rural farmers, farm workers, health organizations, schools, farmers markets, emergency food assistance programs, small businesses, faith organizations, homeowners, and consumers need to be constructed. The ways BIPOC communities view local food and farming through a racial justice lens of self-determination and self-sufficiency must be respected by a white community which puts more emphasis on the environmental justice aspects of local food. The solution to making adequate, healthy food available to everyone requires large-scale systematic societal changes to fair labor practices, a minimum living wage, affordable housing, and a reliance on large corporations for food all of which impact low-income and communities the most.

Included in

Food Studies Commons