Initiatives intended to create alternatives to the conventional, industrialized, global food system are now emerging. Conceptual framings of alternative food systems have been based principally on the reflections of academics and policy specialists rather than on the views of the producers and eaters who constitute the bulk of the food localization movement. At a conference hosted by the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, we explored the attributes of food system sustainability with 125 persons representing a broad cross section of the alternative farm/food community. Dividing into five discussion groups, participants were asked what the characteristics of a sustainable food system would be. From their statements we abstracted a set of attributes. Participants envisioned a sustainable food system as relational, proximate, diverse, ecologically sustainable, economically sustaining, just/ethical, sacred, knowledgeable/communicative, seasonal/temporal, healthful, participatory, culturally nourishing, and sustainably regulated. We explain these attributes and note their complementarities and tensions.

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