wicked problems, food innovation district, food access, gentrification, food systems, food hub


Food-oriented markets, such as food innovation districts (FIDs), have been touted as potential methods to address complex societal issues involving the environment, poverty, and health. On this front the Grand Rapids Downtown Market (DTM) was created in 2013, envisioned as a vibrant public space for local food, entrepreneurship, community health, and jobs. An innovative, collective response to the interconnected and urgent problems of poverty, access, health, diet, and environment, the DTM can serve as a case study through which the value and necessity of a wicked problems framework become apparent. Wicked problems literature demonstrates that collaborative and iterative processes are essential to effective and inclusive transformational change of food systems, while also emphasizing that there can be no final, ideal solution. On the other hand, as an FID intentionally located in a low-income neighborhood, the DTM has been subject to criticism about top-down, expensive, and exclusionary practices aimed at gentrification. In the end, this analysis suggests that while FIDs can address local problems resulting from dominant food systems and practices, they can also function as a gentrifying force. Efforts more directly aimed at bottom-up, participatory engagement are essential to making collectively systemic, equitable changes in current food systems and practices. Emphasizing the need for bridge institutions, we argue that it is essential to value actively a wider array of knowledge cultures.


Original Citation: Lake, D., Sisson, L., & Jaskiewicz, L. (2015). Local food innovation in a world of wicked problems: The pitfalls and the potential. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 5(3), 13–26.