Learning and Engagement in the Local Food Movement

Open Access
Bailey-davis, Lisa
Graduate Program:
Adult Education
Doctor of Education
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
May 06, 2013
Committee Members:
  • Edward W Taylor, Dissertation Advisor
  • Edward W Taylor, Committee Chair
  • Elizabeth Jean Tisdell, Committee Member
  • Kenneth Brian Cunningham, Committee Member
  • Cynthia Clare Hinrichs, Committee Member
  • Situated learning
  • social change
  • collective action
  • community supported agriculture
The local food movement relates to the local food system that offers an alternative to the dominant industrialized food system. The hope of the local food movement is that through engagement with the local food system, participants will develop a deeper connection with the food beyond commodity perspectives, develop a social consciousness about the dominant food system, and remain committed to foregoing the dominant food system and opting for the alternative. Some local food participants come to the local food system already holding these perspectives, while for others engagement with the local food system may be a learning process that gradually shifts how participants think about food. Little was known about the learning process within the local food system and whether this learning or the practice of eating locally constituted social action. The purpose of this study was two-fold: (a) to examine how Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shareholders learn to eat locally grown foods and (b) to explore how this learning explains engagement, a social consciousness about the food system, and related activism. This study was theoretically informed by situated learning in adult education and collective action from social movement literature. A mixed methods study design was employed in Pennsylvania to explore these issues. Local food eaters were identified through their CSA farm, considered an entry point to the local food movement. The qualitative phase consisted of interviews with participants (N = 11) and identified food centric and social change orientations. These findings were confirmed through a cross-sectional survey that also identified significant differences in social change orientations among participants (N = 121) that were associated with identifying as a local food movement member. This study offers theoretical implications for learning and social change as well as practical implications for strengthening local in the food system.