This article reports on a contestation around the meaning of ‘local food’, between a group engaged in ‘alternativizing’ food exchanges building on a vision of cooperative knowledge-sharing and opportunity-sharing, and one engaged in ‘reform’ of the conventional system. The latter envisions the formation of individual entrepreneurs and a top-down provision of commercial and production knowledges, emphasizing ‘innovation’ in food products as the way to gain access to the global system. The contestation is ongoing in a single space, where the two visions of advancing the local food project coexist and are found within separate but overlapping networks. The paper suggests that the struggle between them is not only over strategies to improve economic returns to such producers, but also over the social forms and relations of production seen as appropriate for ‘rural development’ in the Irish context. The ‘ambiguities’ of the relations of power across space, while not affecting the market discourse of local food, work to disorganise and destablise relations within the alternative network and to make the project of an alternative local food system vulnerable to transition into forms more compatible with capitalist development policy.
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