In industrialized nations, local food networks have generally been analyzed through alternative food systems, in spite of the fact that they are much more diverse than this would imply. In France, ‘short food chains’ are both a continuation of a long tradition and a recent trend which now extends beyond activists, to consumers and producers as well. This paper will explore the conditions under which these chains can change the practices and knowledge of ordinary actors in urban food systems, from producers to urban consumers and policy-makers, in the area of agriculture and sustainability. It will consider the case study of the creation and development of an urban open-air market which has been analyzed using intervention research with input from economic sociology. We will highlight how personal relations, which are encouraged by a participatory context, support the evolution of practices and knowledge. We will also illustrate how a system of produce labelling has emerged as a mediation resource, and has increased changes as well as participation within the re-territorialization of the urban food system. By describing a concrete expression of food democracy which is spreading in France via a free collective trademark, and by showing its role in the transition of ‘ordinary’ actors towards a more sustainable agriculture, this paper will shine new light onto local food chains as well as traditional short food chains, and will call for more research on the subject.
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