Academic journal article Journal of Rural Social Sciences

The Social Architecture of Local Food Tourism: Challenges and Opportunities for Community Economic Development*

Academic journal article Journal of Rural Social Sciences

The Social Architecture of Local Food Tourism: Challenges and Opportunities for Community Economic Development*

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Local food tourism-culinary tourism with an explicit emphasis on local food systems-is emerging as a "green" model for community economic development. However, do local food tourism networks constitute a net gain to community economies in all contexts? This article explores that question through surveys and interviews with farmers, restaurateurs, and food tourists in three Wisconsin counties. Framing our discussion using the community capitals framework, we argue that economic benefits do accrue to communities from participation in these networks, but the net gains are ambiguous. Specifically, involvement in local food tourism networks increases stocks of social and human capital, deepens marketing opportunities for participating enterprises, and confers a price premium for food marketed as local. However, there can be significant transaction costs associated with participation, certain types of natural and cultural capital must prefigure successful execution, and restaurateurs levy significant power over farmers within the local food network. These tradeoffs demonstrate that growth in particular community capitals may not always be unequivocally good for communities.

Since the 1990s, concern over the industrialization and internationalization of food production and distribution systems has facilitated significant agriculture and local food movements. Generally, writers and activists have advocated local food and alternative agriculture for their positive effects on human health and the natural environment. Increasingly, but less often, local food advocates have explored the link between local food systems and community economic development. Yet the economic vitality of many rural areas in the United States has waned since the 1970s (Longworth 2008), and evidence suggests that localizing food systems can serve rural community economic development (Feenstra 1997; Wells, Gradwell, and Yoder 1999). This article builds upon previous research and deepens the connections between local food systems and community development by exploring culinary tourism and the concept of local food tourism networks. We frame our analysis with the community capitals framework and argue that local food tourism can enhance stocks of human and social capital, but we caution that there are tradeoffs, which make gains from local food tourism ambiguous. In particular, higher transaction costs for restaurateurs may temper economic gains. Further, we describe barriers to establishing local food tourism networks. In particular, the cultural and natural capital necessary to establish geographical indications must prefigure local food tourism. Finally, inequitable distribution of political capital within the local food network can be a barrier to establishing local food tourism networks and/or distributing the gains equitably once established. These tradeoffs demonstrate that growth in stocks of certain community capitals in certain circumstances may not be an unambiguous boon for communities, but can, in fact, privilege certain groups over others.

RURAL TOURISM AND COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT

Tourism is the world's largest industry and has flourished in recent decades with increasing concentrations of affluence within the leisure class and increasing ease of travel for many (Honey 2008). Experiential types of tourism such as ecotourism, adventure tourism, and agricultural tourism-that typically take place in amenity-rich rural settings-offer urban visitors an opportunity to experience reassuring representations of pastoral rurality, both as culture and landscape (Bessiere 1998). Demand for experiential types of tourism has increased in recent years, presenting rural communities with a novel and promising source of additional income and job creation (Honey 2008). These economic gains, however, may represent cultural costs to host communities (Dana 1999; King and Stewart 1996). Furthermore, the institutional structures that facilitate these economic gains do not exist in the same proportions in all places, which may complicate replicability and make gains uneven across communities (Dougherty and Green 2011; Pollock et al. …

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