Between Imitation and Embeddedness: Three Types of Polish Alternative Food Networks
1.1. Development of Alternative Food Networks in Poland
1.2. Originality and Imitation in the AFN Model
- Imitated AFNs: These AFNs refer to the idea, organisation and implementation of sustainable food systems from Western Europe or the USA. Imitated AFNs are a more or less accurate copy of the initiatives typical for other countries. Examples of such AFNs are CSA, urban gardening and some food cooperatives.
- Mixed AFNs: These are networks in which copied and traditional patterns are more or less equally balanced. Mixed AFNs often rely on local, rooted products but their distribution is based on imported models. Examples of such networks are local brands where new certification schemes support local farmers.
- Embedded AFNs: These initiatives are based on everyday customs, traditions and consumption/production patterns. Tradition and locality do not refer only to food but also the way the network is organised. Examples of such networks typical for Poland or CEE countries include allotment gardens, informal exchange networks, or markets where daily food purchases are made.
2. Materials and Methods
- Network ideas: Values, motivations and knowledge that influenced the shape and structure of the examined networks.
- Materiality: Physical objects, places and infrastructure that enabled or resulted from the network. In this point, we analysed food, packaging, production/sales/consumption spaces.
- Activities: Specific actions of individuals involved in the investigated AFNs—methods of production, sales, consumption or the organisation of the network itself.
3.1. Network Ideas: Imitated, Mixed and Embedded
It all started quite long ago… some 30 years. I am an architect by profession and designed wineries in France and Germany, that’s where I met this setting, and then it was a hobby of a kind that kept on growing. I started to focus, not just on Western, but rather on Central Europe–Czech Republic, Hungary and so on, and finally decided that, basically, we can attempt something like this in Poland.
Honestly, you can’t build stronger relations when you collect your parcel because it all goes so fast. You go there to pick it up. I usually go with my children, so one kid goes one way, the other goes the other way… Some people keep coming whom I recognise but do not know by name, most faces are familiar, we exchange friendly greetings and brief platitudes. On the other hand, there are hardly any deeper relationships here.
A form of consumer organisation similar to ours was common in pre-war Poland and is still popular in Western Europe and Northern America. We attempt to derive inspiration and make reference to the great traditions of the pre-war cooperative movement. We are a part of a resurging Polish movement, with similar cooperatives mushrooming in every city.
I was inspired by the very idea of cooperativism... and the first book I came across was Abramowski’s treatise on cooperatives where he described the activities of English food cooperatives... the state was greatly outpaced by the cooperatives, as they were a thing ahead of their times, forming something entirely new, and this idea of creating something new and independent, both from private institutions and charities and from state mechanisms, is what appeals to me as an anarchist, so a cooperative could be a means to put these utopias, these theories, into practice.
Well, last Christmas I made dumplings, decorated the Christmas tree, and sang Christmas carols with my brother’s children and all the rest; so it is surely very important. We also read passages from the Bible before the Christmas Eve supper; we shared the wafer. It’s all about tradition. Family, tradition is people’s ethical framework.
My parents in general, they farmed a plot of land, or perhaps it was an entire field. A field where we grew vegetables. We went there to help with the growing… it was somewhat tiring. I believe it was a positive thing, because we had some healthy food… I was living with my grandparents who occupied the house’s upper floor, and my grandpa had this mystical connection to nature. This rubbed off on me too.
It was that admiration which your generation does not remember. Back then I had to raise a small child in a countryside, which had to eat something, and we had to as well. One day they put some sweets for some, like those formerly only seen in American films, and now they are in our local store. So we wanted to taste them… but then our admiration waned and we started to reflect—hey, our dumplings are the best. Grandpa’s sausage was supreme and so we started to look for those tastes and aromas.
3.2. Materiality in the Network
When we compare ecological products which are dirty, with offshoots, these apples, these malformed carrots, we realise that quality is more than skin deep.
3.3. Activity in the Network
As for the Nowicki street market—I always call it that, because we never called it anything other at home—for many years I had been coming there from Czernikowo with my parents, later when I moved to Toruń I was there less frequently, but… for some six months I have been visiting it once per week, buying fruits, vegetables, and the like… and they have not just fresh supplies but much cheaper too.
I believe they find it more advantageous to purchase at stores. Right now, we don’t serve rich customers anymore, it’s usually the poorer classes that shop here—or we just don’t know if they are rich, the quantities they purchase do not reflect that. Customers used to drive here in the afternoon, but because they have to pay for parking, they are not that interested now. They go and visit stores with free parking spaces. When parking fees were introduced a few years ago, we saw a considerable drop in the number of customers.
I don’t like to associate. For me, associating sounds kind of artificial. When associated, we would be acting too formally, and not naturally. Being an active citizen is very important for me—I mean if I didn’t vote in elections, and it did happen on occasion, I’d have a bad conscience, even though I know there is no party I would like to cast my vote for. So in the electoral booth I have to consider whom should I support. Therefore, my choice of local—not Polish, but specifically local—products is important for me. This is how I am an active citizen.
No, we don’t usually make friends with customers, they would like us to, but we only engage in routine seller–customer relations that, while friendly and so on, are somewhat limited.
A cooperative is an amazing crash course in democracy and an important thing. Each discussion we had there and all those disputes and difficulties are truly a great experience teaching how to organise a group activity, act together, make decisions, and participate.
So… mostly I thought that was great… that people do something for themselves, but together, that this is a huge challenge, to collect a group of people… of course, they profit from that, but the profits are unevenly split and so is work, but there you have a group where mutual trust is necessary, and so open too, even though there are many risks of various kinds, people have the courage to make something like this, of course, food is important, is a safe pretext, but there is something more. Of course, it’s not always about food, because I can go to the marketplace and buy myself some, and that would be quicker too, don’t know if cheaper, however, the important thing is that a group is formed. And that it is some form of a community.
I want to change the world. I’m not doing that because I want to get rich. If it was just for money, I would be doing something else, because this work is quite a drudgery.
Conflicts of Interest
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|Case||Dates of Research||Network Features||Research Features|
|Slow Food Convivium in Gruczno||2012–2014||A network bringing together consumers and producers interested in local, traditional high-quality food. An elitist, tradition-focused initiative.||Researches were conducted mostly at homes or outlets (restaurants/stores) of the Convivium members.|
|The Free Toruń Marketplace||2012–2014||A regular event organised by Toruń activists, combining the traditional marketplace formula with new content. An egalitarian and progressive initiative (leaders).||Field researches at the marketplace and interviews at homes of consumers and farms of food suppliers.|
|Eco-Museum of the Noteć Valley||2012–2014||A local brand bringing together high-quality food producers. An egalitarian, tradition-focused initiative.||Interviews and observations of producers (of honey, fudge, local products) on site plus researches of consumers met during sales.|
|The Toruń Fruit and Vegetable Market||2012–2014||A typical marketplace supplying food to Toruń inhabitants.||Interviews with consumers (at their homes) plus interviews with sellers and farmers. Additional observation rounds at the marketplace itself.|
|Community-Supported Agriculture ‘Dobrzyń nad Wisłą’||2012–2014||Community-supported agriculture, a system of relationships and food contracts between farmers and consumers.||Interviews with consumers (at their homes) plus observations during CSA activities.|
|Consumer Cooperatives||2011–2016 and 2019||Non-formal organisations based on radical ideas, located mostly in large cities, whose objective is to establish direct relations between local farmers/small producers and consumers. Healthy Bytów is a newly established cooperative in a non-typical small-town setting.||Interviews with producers and consumers. Observations during multiple meetings and events.|
|Malopolski Przełom Doliny Wisły Wine Growers Association||2019||An organisation with about 20 members in a specific geographical location (south-eastern Poland), established to promote and enhance the competences of members and, indirectly, their products.||Interviews with producers, consumers and local society. Observation during promotional events.|
|Models of Alternative Food Networks in Poland|
|Nature of the product||Elitist||Elitist, rarely egalitarian||Egalitarian|
|Food type||Unique||Simulating uniqueness||Traditional|
|Network organisation||Somewhat formalised||Strongly formalised||Weakly formalised|
|Network activity level||High, but not focused on a specific group||Low||Average, family-focused|
|Support from the public sector||Weak||Strong||Weak|
|Values||Looking for new experiences, taste, health||Local character, family, health||Family, health|
|Scope||Niche||Common, but not used for everyday provisioning||Common, used daily|
|Our cases:||Malopolski Przełom Doliny Wisły Wine Growers Association|
Community supported agriculture ’Dobrzyń nad Wisłą’
(in some aspects)
Eco-Museum of the Noteć Valley
Slow Food Convivium in Gruczno
The Free Toruń Marketplace
|The Toruń open-air market|
© 2019 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Goszczyński, W.; Śpiewak, R.; Bilewicz, A.; Wróblewski, M. Between Imitation and Embeddedness: Three Types of Polish Alternative Food Networks. Sustainability 2019, 11, 7059. https://doi.org/10.3390/su11247059
Goszczyński W, Śpiewak R, Bilewicz A, Wróblewski M. Between Imitation and Embeddedness: Three Types of Polish Alternative Food Networks. Sustainability. 2019; 11(24):7059. https://doi.org/10.3390/su11247059Chicago/Turabian Style
Goszczyński, Wojciech, Ruta Śpiewak, Aleksandra Bilewicz, and Michał Wróblewski. 2019. "Between Imitation and Embeddedness: Three Types of Polish Alternative Food Networks" Sustainability 11, no. 24: 7059. https://doi.org/10.3390/su11247059