Effective policy making for establishing sustainable local food systems : the East Riding of Yorkshire and the Abruzzo region, Italy.

O'Neill, Kirstie

March 2012

Thesis or dissertation

© 2012 Kirstie O'Neill. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

This thesis investigates the ways in which local food has increasingly been seen as an integral part of rural development, and explored the increasing interest in local food from academics, policy-makers, businesses and consumers. The overall question which the research attempts to address is what steps can policy makers take to establish sustainable local food networks, particularly in areas with a traditional background in intensive agriculture specialising in commodity production? These issues were investigated in two case study areas of the East Riding of Yorkshire, UK and the Abruzzo region, Italy using in-depth interviews with policy makers, businesses and focus groups with consumers. The East Riding of Yorkshire is an intensive commodity producing area, the type of area often assumed to be devoid of local food initiatives, while the Abruzzo is largely mountainous and remote, the type of area often assumed to be ideal for local food networks. Both areas are engaged in the EU’s LEADER rural development programme and are working to support local food networks.

Theorisations of policy processes and policy making as rational and logical have been supplanted by conceptualisations which aim to adopt a more nuanced approach that accounts for the messy and chaotic worlds described by research participants. This research contributes to the corpus of work which sees policy makers act subjectively, drawing on their own interests and beliefs in driving forward some policy goals whilst ‘ignoring’ other themes. A new ‘model’ of policy making is proposed in response to earlier models which present policy as rational, linear and ordered. This new ‘model’ represents policy processes as complex, non-linear and messy. Policy practices are fluid and elusive, further complicated by the absorption and loss of ideas and initiatives through processes of policy transfer, translation, ‘leaching’, negotiation and implementation. As such, this research has produced an alternative, and perhaps more effective, representation of policy making.

Furthermore, the research suggests that notions of the ‘rural’ as being ‘idyllic’ are renegotiated and reproduced contemporaneously. The rural idyll influenced the imaginings of the role played by different rural areas in producing ‘local’ food. Policy makers, businesses and consumers all talked about the ‘rural’ as idyllic. This was not only in comparison to urban areas but contrasts were also identified between different rural areas. As a result, this research indicates that the concept of the rural idyll needs to be further fragmented to take account of the relational nature of rural areas.

The research concludes that ‘effectiveness’ is an intangible concept, for it suggests an approach to policy-making that can be universally applied to all places, and which will result in ideal policy outcomes. In practice, for many people even talking about policy is complex and contested. More realistically policies need to be customised to suit specific local circumstances. ‘Policy/ies’ are in a constant state of churn, and cannot be easily ‘measured’ or ‘benchmarked’. This complexity of ‘policy’ itself is overlain by the opacity of concepts of ‘local’ food and rural development. Specificity and situatedness are important in understanding the ways that different areas and different people understand and apply these terms. The research thus challenges some of the assumptions frequently made about the ‘success’, or otherwise, of local food systems and rural development.

The research was undertaken as part of an ESRC-CASE studentship in partnership with the East Riding of Yorkshire Council.

Department of Geography, The University of Hull
Holloway, Lewis; Gibbs, D. C. (David C.), 1955-; Atkinson, David, 1969-
Sponsor (Organisation)
Economic and Social Research Council (Great Britain)
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