Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Belinda Dodson


This thesis examines two local direct-selling AFNs: one in the Global North, in Toronto, Canada, and the other in the Global South, in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. It considers the experiences and roles of farmers within these two AFNs, using the findings to assess the potential and limitations of these two networks in what are two very different geographical locations. A comparative case study approach was taken, using a qualitative methodology. To the researcher’s knowledge, the comparison of a Northern AFN to a Southern AFN has not been documented, and thus this study provides a unique opportunity to observe how the AFNs are similar and how they are different in these two distinct locations. Data was collected primarily through qualitative interviews with farmers in each AFN case study, together with direct observations at points of sale. The findings from this thesis demonstrate that common assumed narratives about AFN farmers, that they are small scale, environmentally sustainable and socially just, are more complex than the literature suggests when held up to the varied reality of farmers’ experiences and livelihoods. The valuation or devaluation of local food shapes farmers’ successes at market, along with the economic, political, and physical spaces for farmers within each city. In Toronto, farmers both benefit from, and co-construct, narratives that value local food, as they cater to predominantly elite consumers. In Belo Horizonte, farmers attempt to divorce their food from its local origins by ‘sterilizing’ it to relate it to supermarket food. Each AFN model privileges certain groups to the disadvantage of others. The Toronto case study AFN focused on the participating farmers to the exclusion of low-income consumers, and the Belo Horizonte case study AFN focused on the low- income urban consumer to the detriment of participating farmers. This thesis makes a contribution to the AFN literature by providing a Southern perspective to a literature that has been predominantly Northern-based, including demonstrating that assumptions about valuation of the ‘local’ and of an elite class of consumer within AFNs do not hold true in the case of Belo Horizonte.