Local Food System Development in Hungary
[Paper rst received, 4 September 2012; in nal form, 29 October 2012]
Abstract. This article examines local food system (LFS) development pathways in
the context of recent regulatory reforms in Hungary implemented to promote lo-
cal product sales and short food supply chains (SFSCs). Taking a SFSC approach,
two case studies demonstrate how new types of local food systems initiated by
non-farmers attempt to shorten the distance between consumers and producers.
The ndings are based on qualitative key informant interviews and aconsumer
attitude survey data that seek to identify how LFSs promote or enact sustainable
food supply and how consumers perceive the nature of the relationships between
consumers and producers. The results from the ‘Gödöllő Local Food Council’ and
the ‘Szekszárd local food system’ show various specicities and challenges of new
types of emerging urban civic food networks. The article concludes by pointing
to critical factors and tools for developing LFSs, as well as reecting on the role of
original research to facilitate change for a more sustainable food system.
In the context of an increasingly globalized food system, recent critical assessments
in sustainability science noted that only a sharp decrease in per capita consumption
and resource use by the wealthy and developed world could successfully contribute
to a more sustainable and equitable world (MEA, 2005; IFPRI, 2009; Rockström et al.,
2009; Government Oce for Science, 2011; SCAR, 2011; United Nations, 2011). When
policymakers, researchers and CSOs analyse, plan and implement tangible sustain-
ability strategies or policies they increasingly express societal concerns about the
ways in which global forces and disproportionate consumption patterns are shaping
Bálint Balázs is Research Fellow and Lecturer of Environmental Sociology at the Environmen-
tal Social Science Research Group, Institute of Environmental and Landscape Management,
Department of Environmental Economics, St István University, Gödöllő, Hungary; e-mail:
<email@example.com>. He has international research experience in EU-projects on the eld
of human-nature interactions, sustainable agri-food systems and policy analysis. I gratefully
acknowledge two EU-funded projects (CONVERGE and FAAN) for shaping research ques-
tions and analytical approaches as well as providing the funding at various phases of this
research. I am also thankful to two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and
suggestions on an earlier version of this article and to the editors, who provided assistance
during the review process. I also beneted a lot from discussions with the team of ESSRG,
and the especially helpful insights from Eszter Kovács-Krasznai. Last but not least, I would
like to thank the generosity of the leaders of the LFSs in Gödöllő and Szekszárd, who created
meaningful spaces for my personal research contributions. Errors and omissions remain of
course the sole responsibility of the author.
Int. Jrnl. of Soc. of Agr. & Food, Vol. 19, No. 3, pp. 403–421
ISSN: 0798-1759 This journal is blind refereed.
404 Bálint Balázs
our food system. Agri-food scholars record a recent trend in food governance em-
phases from the national to the regional and local level (Renting et al., 2003; Donald
et al., 2010). Often referred to as local food systems (LFSs), these complex socio-eco-
logical systems produce, process and retail food within a dened geographical area
and thus provide multiple benets, desirable socio-economic and environmental
impacts (Karner et al., 2010). Most empirical evidence on LFSs has originated from
EU-funded comparative research projects (SUS-CHAIN, COFAMI, FAAN)1 and re-
corded a great diversity of schemes, variations within and between EU countries
(Roep and Wiskerke, 2006; Knickel et al., 2008; Karner et al., 2010; Schermer et al.,
2010). The post-socialist contexts of LFSs in Central and Eastern European countries
and the diculties of rebuilding cooperation are rarely discussed (Bodorkós and
Kelemen, 2007; Karner et al., 2010; Megyesi et al., 2010; Tisenkopfs et al., 2011).
As an emerging European sector, LFSs bring together supportive constituencies of
the state (public sector, regular army, local and regional authorities, municipalities),
the market (producer and supply chain-led initiatives) and civil society (civic groups,
consumers and NGOs). Built as a collaborative eort to shape self-reliant food econ-
omies LFSs integrate production, processing, distribution and consumption with the
explicit aim to enhance the well-being (economic, environmental and social health)
of a particular locality (Feenstra, 2002). Through local processing and selling, an in-
creasing proportion of total added value is captured by small-scale quality farmers;
moreover, LFSs often contribute to local employment and economic regeneration
(Karner et al., 2010). As a main benet LFSs encourage proximate relations between
food producers and consumers – ‘between farm and fork’ – and may also promote
more environmentally sustainable modes of production and consumption (Renting
et al., 2003). LFSs often rely on collective organization and human labour at the local
level: social cooperation, proximate social relations between producers and consum-
ers (Holloway et al., 2007). In this regard, local quality has become the key aspect
of contemporary agri-food systems; even supermarkets promote increasingly their
products as ‘local’, while through consumer–producer proximity LFSs strengthen
value-laden, trust-based quality attributes of food (Karner et al., 2010).
In this article, I draw on case-study research conducted within two regional pro-
jects in Hungary in 2010 to understand various ways in which local food communi-
ties implement sustainability.2 The mixed methods approach consisted of second-
ary data analysis of the principal national policy processes of relevance to LFSs,
along with primary data collection from key informant interviews with the relevant
stakeholders, consumer surveys at both regional and national scales, group discus-
sions with consumers and local actors. The two localities, as real focal points around
which alternatives were shaped and conceptualized, serve as illustrative examples
of transition pathways within the current institutional setting. The article is struc-
tured as follows: after outlining the theoretical–conceptual frameworks that shaped
the analysis, I look rst at the legal–institutional contexts and draw on available
national level data and studies to show what these mean for consumer attitudes.
Second, I will present the research focus in the local context of the case-study areas,
showing results from surveys on consumer attitudes towards local food. Finally, I
will discuss these ndings pointing to success factors, critical processes and a ‘tool-
box’ strategy for developing local food systems.
Local Food System Development in Hungary 405
LFSs: An Ideal and a Pathway towards Sustainability
Agri-food systems are being reconsidered by policymakers, scholars and CSOs in
recent decades especially in the light of environmental and safety issues arising
from the current commodity-driven, industrialized, conventional, intensive and
‘productivist’ systems of food provision (Wright and Middendorf, 2007). New initia-
tives created rapidly expanding arenas in the food economy and counterbalanced
the worsening trend of poor diets through multifaceted LFSs, innovative networks
and processes. Due to the reinventions of various food traditions, rediscovery and
revitalization of food cultures, we are witnessing a growing demand for local and
regional food met by new alternative practices. These proliferations of academic and
applied research as well as the mushrooming of diverse initiatives to develop LFSs
present a double challenge for empirical researchers. There are several attempts in
the literature to categorize approaches and overlapping, partly interchangeable con-
ceptualizations referred to as ‘alternative’, ‘local’, ’locally-based’, ’civic’, ‘commu-
nity’ food networks, enterprises, initiatives and systems, short food supply chains
(SFSCs) (Balázs, 2009). LSFs are conceptualized mainly as links between farmers
and consumers. For the sake of operationalization, this research uses the analytical
concept of SFSCs as dened by Marsden et al. (2000) to emphasize spatial–social
proximity in LFSs. To gain an empirical understanding of the nature of relationships
between producers and consumers, dierent theoretical frameworks of the SFSC
perspective are introduced below. However, for carrying out the empirical research
and for communicating with the non-professional stakeholders in the case studies
the much broader and normative term of LFSs was used.
Theories of sustainable consumption emphasize interpretative frames and con-
ceptualizations that highlight dierent socio-economic and environmental impacts
of LFSs (Jackson, 2006). Relocalization as a main type of such interpretative frame re-
fers to the social–spatial proximity of producers and consumers leading to collective
action for reducing environmental and social problems in ‘food relocalization initia-
tives’ (Fonte, 2008). At the same time, a locality gains social and spatial meaning
by creating specicity and uniqueness. In a collaborative eort to foster local well-
being, create more inclusive communities, build trust by shortening the distance of
producers and consumers, new revitalized local(ly specic) forms of agricultural
knowledge arise (Renting et al., 2003; Holloway et al., 2007; Karner et al., 2010).
Relocalization strategies can be traced in initiatives that practically bring consumers
closer to the origins of their food and involve more direct contact between farmers
and the end users of their products. Direct involvement in food production, pro-
cessing, distribution, and consumption implies proximate relations, smaller-scale
production, and also a much wider product range (Watts et al., 2005). Another inter-
pretative frame – reconnecting – emphasizes the knowledge sharing, solidarity and
the social consequences of food purchasing (Eden et al., 2008a, 2008b). Reconnection
can be the basis of improvements in social capital and provide a sense of community,
even turn back the conventionalization of organic agriculture (Fonte and Grando,
2006) and may foster a new moral economy by revitalizing linkages between agri-
culture and society (Hartwick, 1998; Marsden, 2000; Ilbery and Maye, 2005). Localism
(or regionalism), as an interpretative frame, concentrates on the counter-hegemonic
tendencies in LFSs, and how they ght against food system globalization (Winter,
2003). LFSs may impose resistance and counter-pressure to conventional globaliz-
ing food systems by actively searching for possible ways (convivial venues, arenas,
infrastructures) to counter the anomies of global agri-food networks (Goodman and
406 Bálint Balázs
DuPuis, 2002). LFSs are also referred to as knowledge systems and, when successful,
are frequently conceptualized as fruitful interactions of local-lay and expert cod-
ied-scientic knowledge. This revitalization of traditional local knowledge also
contributes to the development of managerial/commercial and technical skills (Fon-
te and Grando, 2006; Knickel et al., 2008). Intermediaries in new urban–rural relations
LFS leaders are developing knowledge for planning new projects, understanding
policy, handling regulations, gaining sources, providing support, marketing skills
and reaching consumers, deciding in economic and administrative issues and trans-
mitting rural goods and services to urban consumers (Kovách and Kristóf, 2009).
As a form of social innovation, LFSs nurture social learning and create social spaces
of producers and consumers where there is an on-going experience-based learning
process (Renting et al., 2003). LFSs often prot from technological innovations im-
proving the bargaining power and commercial performance of farmers (Marsden
and Smith, 2005) coupled with a more dierentiated product range and interlink-
age with economic and tourism activities in the region (Roep and Wiskerke, 2006).
Recent research also recognized urban food strategies and procurement practices as
central constituents of LFS development (e.g. Sonnino, 2009).
These theoretical frameworks highlight normally the somewhat idealistic social
functions, ethical–political goals and desirable impacts of LFSs. The following case
studies and consumer surveys show how consumers perceive LFSs and derive their
understanding of food, farming and sales. First, I briey present the cultural and
institutional context, including relevant policies on local food initiatives and what
they mean for LFSs development and consumer attitudes.
Cultural Context: Institutional Support and Consumer Trends
In Hungary, local food culture remained strong even after the Socialist regime. It
built normally on persisting local markets and remnants of informal economies
through family households that maintained traditional agriculture practices. In
marginal areas, local livelihoods and economies could survive only with support,
such as through the alliance of civic food networks, agri-environmental schemes or
Leader programmes. Alternative food supply systems (farmers’ markets, farm-gate
sales, pick-your-own, local food festivals, food trails) already have a signicant role
in Hungary whereas specic forms (food box delivery, buying groups, CSAs and
community gardens) are usually initiated by urban intellectuals in urban and peri-
urban areas with rudimentary success. The local food movement is initiated by the
alliance of civic food networks whose primary aim is to ease the enormous amount
of legislation that must be met by LFSs (Szabadkai, 2010).
Policy Framework Transformed to Help LFS Development
Several EU-funded research projects have emphasized already the role of policy
frameworks to facilitate the development of LFSs through nancial support, public
support (exemptions to food safety regulations), support for labelling, promotion,
collective marketing (Karner et al., 2010; Schermer et al., 2010). In Hungary, CAP im-
plementation after the 2004 EU accession advocated an agro-industrial policy frame-
work for international economic competitiveness and mass production (mostly by
foreign investors) through subsidy criteria, and thus it marginalized dispropor-
Local Food System Development in Hungary 407
tionately 80% of 220 000 registered professional small-scale agricultural farms from
subsidizing their farm investments. Several green NGOs and farmers organizations,
such as the National Association of Hungarian Farmers’ Societies and Cooperatives
(Magyar Gazdakörök és Gazdaszövetkezetek Országos Szövetsége, MAGOSZ), had
criticized this rural development policy on the procedural and substantial level,
namely for presenting small-scale farming as weakness of agriculture and provid-
ing less support to local/regional markets, as well as for arranging awed stake-
holder participation during the rural development policy planning (Balázs et al.,
2009). The legislation on small-scale trading applied high tax/scal, commercial and
social insurance costs and thus marginalized the marketing of processed foods by
small farmers between 2004 and 2006. Hygiene and food safety rules did not take
advantage of the exibility principle oered by the EU Regulation 852/2004 (Euro-
pean Parliament and Council Regulation (EC) 852/2004, OJ, L 139, 30 April 2004, pp.
1–54, para. 16), which enable the continued use of traditional methods at any stage
from farm to fork. This unpreparedness of the government in managing the Euro-
pean Fund for Rural Development hit smallholders and food processors particularly
hard, especially in the dairy and the meat sectors (Csatári and Farkas, 2008; Karner
et al., 2010), which still limits the capacity for local food system development. In
these circumstances, multinational food retailers could easily block small-scale food
producers and processors to enter into LFSs (Balázs, 2009).
After the change of government in 2010, the institutional context has been trans-
formed completely to be in line with ethnocentric–protectionist political agenda(s).
The policy reform initiative channelled by the local food movement in Hungary
reached a window of opportunity when it met with strong desire from the political
establishment to develop SFSCs/LFSs at the national and local community level.
This resulted in an increasingly important policy process of the New Agricultural and
Rural Development Strategy 2020 (Ministry of Rural Development Hungary, 2012).
This foresight policy document, also referred to as ‘The Constitution of Rural Hun-
gary’, covers the agro-economy, rural development, environmental protection and
food economy and aims to strengthen the integrity of landscapes, people, good qual-
ity food, safe food supplies and sustainable natural resource management. It claims
a proportionately much higher allocation of resources for the development of LFSs/
SFSCs than any previous high-level policy document. Moreover, it promotes the
development of local food systems as a primary tool of local economic develop-
ment. More broadly, the strategy acknowledges that social functions of food and
agriculture extend beyond rural development policy and to health, environment
and national security (Darányi Ignác Plan, 2012). Further institutional support and
technical assistance for LFS development at the national level is provided by the
Hungarian National Rural Network (HNRN) as part of the European Network for
Rural Development. As the main driving actor to promote LFSs in Hungary, the
network helps local food market organizers and initiatives with technical assistance,
collective marketing and training to develop knowledge for brand development and
provide demonstration cases for good practices.
Three new regulations also oer an impetus to LFSs at the national level.
1. In a series of amendments the decree for small producers nally regulated all is-
sues relating to small-scale production, manufacturing, hygiene, trade, control
and certication. The original, 2006 regulation on small-scale producers was
created to ease food-hygiene conditions but only for natural persons producing
and selling products in small quantities. The 2010 amendment to the regulation
408 Bálint Balázs
increased the quantities for selling and allowed small-scale producers living in
any part of the country to sell their products in the capital (Szabadkai, 2010).
2. The Public Procurement Act, which previously hampered local sourcing through
the prevalence of the lowest price principle, has also been recently amended
(Act CVIII of 2011 on Public Procurement). Farm products such as cold food-
stu and raw cooking materials, fresh and processed vegetables and fruits, milk
and dairy products, cereals, bread and bakery products, honey, eggs, horticul-
tural plants are now exempt from the procurement process up to the EU thresh-
old limit (Balázs et al., 2010). As a result much more exible local food sourcing
became possible, yet institutions and sta lack the adequate knowledge and
skills to apply the new rules.
3. The concept of the local farmers’ market was originally delineated by the Trade
Law (Act CLXIV of 2005 on Trade), which gave a full denition of a market
where small-scale producers (kistermelő) can sell their produce within the
county, or in a 40 km radius of the market, or in Budapest (2§. 5a.). Recently var-
ious new government regulations3 redened the compulsory legal procedures
to start a market. Simplied notication process and hygienic restrictions were
introduced in 2012 for local farmers’ markets for facilitating short food sup-
ply chains and direct sales specically. Still, administrative burdens on small
and family farm businesses are very high (with obligations to issue an invoice,
pesticide-use logbook, sales logbook, manufacturing data sheet, cold chain, and
so on) (Szabadkai, 2010).
What seems clear is that policies gradually turned to short food supply chains for
support. The top-down policy processes under the framework of the New Agricultur-
al and Rural Development Strategy 2020 opened a window of opportunity for long-ne-
glected reform initiatives coming from the alliance of civic food networks. Recently,
exemptions and exibility rules were introduced successfully, according to produc-
tion method and sales contexts, favouring local food systems and direct marketing.
Consumer Attitudes to Local Food
Several studies already contended that consumers may provide growing public de-
mand for the local food sector with motives ranging from environmental and health
consciousness, quality choice, sense of community in local shops and solidarity pur-
chasing for local farmers (Kirwan, 2004; Brunori et al., 2012, Eden et al., 2008a). To-
day three out of four Hungarian consumers prefer to buy local food, while according
to a recent calculation the net yield in the local food sector is two and a half times
more than on a national and global level (Szigeti et al., 2009). Normally consumers’
food-store choice is determined mostly by the highly concentrated food retail sector.
Regionally, food supply is concentrated mostly in Budapest and Pest County. Tra-
ditional middle-sized food shops (less than 200 m2) and small food shops (less than
50 m2) are the dominant types, but their numbers are declining (Nielsen, 2012). New
technology, such as web-based purchasing also aects how consumers decide to buy
food. Recent research by Nielsen indicated that only 8% of Hungarian consumers
are planning to buy food over the Internet. However, this number represents a 33%
increase in two years, while the global average is 26%, and the European average is
14% (Nielsen, 2012).
Local Food System Development in Hungary 409
A recent national level representative survey initiated by the Association of Con-
scious Consumers (<http://tudatosvasarlo.hu>) and planned by the author was
looking at food consumption patterns and the public perception of supermarkets
vs. local food (Medián, 2012). The omnibus survey was carried out by the Medián
public opinion and market research institute through 1,200 personal interviews in
July 2012. The main lesson that can be learned from food store choice is ambivalent:
Hungarians most often buy food either in local, small food shops or in supermar-
kets – both retail venues are frequented by seven out of 10 people. Hypermarkets
and farmers’ markets are visited by every second adult to buy food, while two fths
(37%) prefer discount shops. Strangely, only a minority, 13%, buy food directly from
farmers on a regular basis. Clearly, this dierence between the high proportion of
people willing to buy local food and the low proportion of people buying food at
local markets, or farmers’ markets could be explained by the restricted physical or
nancial access to local produce that stops consumers from buying what they would
like to buy.
The ndings on buying food also reveal marked dierences between urban and
rural social groups. Local food shops or direct sales from farmers are most frequent
in the villages. In Budapest, consumers typically prefer supermarkets, hypermarkets
and farmers markets, at the same time. People over 60 years of age only rarely go
to super- and hypermarkets or discount shops. The 9% who only buy food from
supermarkets and hypermarkets are typically younger than 40, and one third of
them belong to the highest income category (household income per person in the
As main constituents of product quality, freshness and price are well considered
by most respondents. However, awareness of the social consequences of purchasing
behaviour plays much less of a role than expected. Three out of four respondents
found it important that their buying could help the livelihood of farmers, while only
55% considered the livelihood of farmers overseas important. Here education and
income can explain these dierences somewhat: the price of the product is impor-
tant particularly in the lower education categories while chemical free and healthy
alongside seasonal products are preferred by people with a diploma.
The social eect of buying behaviour on local producers is considered important
by the most educated while the global eects of buying behaviour are solely con-
sidered by the highest income groups. Paying an extra 10% for any political–ethical
reason is not really preferred by the population. Whereas more than half of the re-
spondents would be willing to pay an extra 10% for good quality and healthy prod-
ucts, solidarity purchasing (improving the livelihood of local food producers) would
reach only 37%, while solidarity with producers in other parts of the world reached
only 18%. All in all, paying extra to improve the livelihoods of small farmers is only
acceptable in Budapest, to people with a diploma and in the highest income quintile.
A much wider agreement was detected in the statements about the social conse-
quences of food purchasing. Seventy-eight per cent of respondents agreed (abso-
lutely or rather) that ‘local producers who sell to supermarkets can get into trouble’.
Two-thirds of respondents agreed with the statement that ‘with food purchases we
do a lot for the livelihood of small-scale producers in distant, poor countries’. Such
value statements are accepted above the average by respondents from the capital
while only the most educated support the statement that ‘distant and poor countries
who sell their produce to supermarkets due to unfavourable conditions can get into
410 Bálint Balázs
Thus, with regard to attitudes to local food, consumers are keen to support LFSs/
SFSCs for environmental and ethical reasons. Solidarity with local producers is also
signicant and local produce is associated mostly with higher quality. Hence, the
following case studies focus on the nature of farmer–consumer relationships in LFSs
as well as how food supply, quality and produce are perceived in the given local-
ity. The case-study areas will be presented through the trajectory of the initiative,
organization, activities, plans and local policies that shape the initiative. These nd-
ings are derived from qualitative interviews with local stakeholders and consumer
attitude survey data that seek to identify how LFSs construct and use local values as
a quality attribute to promote and enact sustainable food consumption.4
Choice of Case Studies
In the choice of case studies it is important to point at some commonalities (see
Appendix 1). Both cases represent a collective endeavour in a certain well-dened
locality, led by citizen groups who suered from limited access to fresh local food.
Both civic networks aim for revitalized agricultural knowledge and a ourishing
local food sector, while nding ways in which fresh, vital, healthy, specialty, qual-
ity food products can become accessible to wider social groups. Also in both cases,
local farmers are encouraged to take an active role in helping the initiatives. LFSs
promote local food as a form of regional branding, and attempt to involve local
farmers with quality products in their supply chains. Hence, the organizational form
of initiatives best t to the goals of their members. All these lead us to consider how
the truly urban intellectual food groups in Szekszárd and Gödöllő have handled
consumer awareness and demand for local food, while engaging meaningfully with
local farmers and encouraging them out of their historically passive farming roles.
Gödöllő Local Food Council – G7
Case Study Area
Gödöllő is located 30 kilometres north-east of Budapest in the country of Pest with
a population of 33 575. Formerly an important Hungarian agricultural communi-
ty (including the agricultural-oriented Szent István University), now a home for a
highly mobile population: two-fths of local inhabitants nd their workplaces out-
side Gödöllő, primarily in Budapest, while 8,000 people employed in Gödöllő come
from outside the area, which exceeds the number of local workers. In a socio-demo-
graphic sense the region (Gödöllő Hills) has a growing population, which is strongly
connected to the closeness of the capital, Budapest. Due to industrial investments,
the employment structure in the region lost its previous agrarian character over the
last 40 years. Already in the 1960s industry became the region’s decisive sector, after
which the service sector started to dominate from the 1970s onwards. The former
agrarian traditions were nally lost in the 1980s, a decade of population decline.
Today the fully urbanite region is practically part of the suburbia around Budapest,
where the main territorial challenge is maintenance of the former agricultural land-
scape and the conservation of small-scale farming (IVS Gödöllő, 2007; Molnár, 2009).
Local Food System Development in Hungary 411
Trajectory of the Initiative
A local food network has operated in the region for years but awareness of the impor-
tance of consuming local and organic food has risen only recently. In the local farm-
ers’ market several organic and local growers operate stalls. In these circumstances
the Local Food Council (Gödöllői Helyi Élelmiszer Tanács, or ‘G7’) was established
in 2010 with the aim to provide the necessary human infrastructure to reconnect
local producers and consumers through festivals, local food markets, gastronomic
events and cookery schools, organize community-supported agriculture, explore
buying groups to organize bulk orders, develop local food infrastructure, distribu-
tion, and an order–delivery system. As a civic network it intends to integrate every
local stakeholder from the territory to promote healthy and sustainable lifestyles.
G7 members include various local stakeholders, ranging from researchers, civic
groups, through entrepreneurs, to citizens cooperation. Organizations are represent-
ed through green civic groups (Green Dependent Sustainable Solutions Association,
Open Garden Foundation) responsible for awareness raising and education in sus-
tainable food production and consumption or even operating a producer–consumer
network for a sustainable local food system distributing organic produce. Univer-
sity researchers (from Szent István University) take part in specic professional pro-
grammes and are responsible for the facilitation of the LFS. Solier Café (a meeting
place in town oering coee, confectionery and locally sourced food) is represented
in the network by its owner and almost acts as the engine of all activities. Gödölye
Social Enterprise integrates the local organic food chain from farm to fork while
local community groups (such as the Waldorf Schools, working on principles of an-
throposophy) bring in the culture of voluntarism. The main operative member, the
Gödöllő Agribusiness Centre Public Benet Company, is owned by the Szent István
University, and the largest agri-food companies of Hungary provide public benet
services for agri-food development and rural communities.
This broadly open social partnership in the public and private sector anchors joint
activities for the benet of the local community, creating a common platform for
shaping the foodscape around Gödöllő. In a self-reexive workshop the leader of
the G7 noted that the groups’ aim was to ‘learn from the experiments of internal
and external others and constantly build networks among these diverse individu-
als who have skilful access to institutional resources in the public, voluntary and
entrepreneur sectors’. These diverse stakeholder aims are channelled through three
specic working groups: one concentrating on produce and quality issues, another
on locally based marketing and event organization, and a third on local food culture
and public food procurement. The network currently uses a blog for its members to
communicate, which works as a platform for interaction around healthy lifestyle,
where environmentally friendly, regional, organic and vegetarian food issues are
promoted. Currently the G7 is developing a database of local food producers in
order to match fair-priced, quality, healthy, seasonal produce with local consumer
412 Bálint Balázs
needs. The LFS is promoting local events: cookery schools, cooking competitions,
festivals for local food, harvest festival, gastronomic programmes, or ne dining.
The collaboration is nurturing the relationships between farmers, processors, res-
taurants, consumers by promoting local food and direct relations. Through various
events, the LFS develops the local food culture by taste-education programmes and
several local food schemes (festivals, local food markets, gastronomic events, cook-
ery schools, CSA, buying groups, local food infrastructures, distribution, communi-
ty gardening projects). A further aim is to develop urban and community gardening
projects in the city by bringing together the necessary stakeholders and providing
necessary infrastructures to local residents without access to land. Members inter-
ested in a school-garden initiative planned the region wide project to teach about
sustainable lifestyles and eating. Finally as the ultimate distance aim, the LFS started
a competition with children to rethink how school canteens can lead the transforma-
tion of public food procurement.
Local policies also have a crucial role in facilitating local sustainability transitions.
The city council has developed various strategic documents concerning housing,
employment, town development, tourism, waste management, environmental
protection, transport and culture. It is exactly in this context that the G7 initiative
would like to shape the direction of the local food system according to the network
economy – from the local through to the regional towards the national and global
(export-oriented) level. G7 rapidly managed to reach out to the local municipality
after a consultation with the mayor who gave the special mandate to G7 by asking
their help in shaping the ecotown concept adopted by the municipality in 2006 from
a local food focus. G7 planned to organize a series of stakeholder forums to develop
a sustainable food strategy with the acknowledgment of the local municipality to
complete the ecotown policy with a solid strategy on local food. With the special
mandate to integrate local food in urban policy and planning, G7 gained a role in
shaping urban food strategy and the procurement practices.
Szekszárd Local Food System
Case Study Area
Szekszárd, with a population of 33 720, is the smallest county (Tolna) capital in Hun-
gary. Connecting the Transdanubian Hills and the Great Hungarian Plain, it has a pe-
culiar transitional character with series of small hills and valleys. Even if Szekszárd
is the seat of the county and the micro-region, its geographical potential for bridging
external ties (being 50 km from Budapest and 50 km from Croatia) was not fully real-
ized (Szekszárd MJV IVS, 2007). Szekszárd is famous for its meat and milk factories,
and for many decades experienced the diculties of extensive Socialist industriali-
zation, which also facilitated its rapid urbanization. After the political transitions,
only the service industries, trade and tourism sector managed to survive. Today,
Local Food System Development in Hungary 413
consumers will nd seven conventional farmers’ markets in Tolna county. Szekszárd
preserved in part the continuity of its food tradition since small-scale farmers recre-
ated their food heritage. Recent research also noted that lost opportunities in local
economic regeneration are unmistakably rooted in the lack of institutionalized coop-
eration between local municipalities and local businesses (Kabai et al., 2012).
Trajectory of the Initiative
The Szekszárd LFS was developed by Eco-Sensus Non-prot Ltd, comprising food
producers and experts in the Szekszárd wine region, extending to 26 settlements
around 20 km of the town. The geographical boundaries delimiting the LFS fol-
lowed the boundaries of the famous Szekszárd wine region. The main aim of the LFS
has been to bring local consumers closer to agriculture, by creating a point of sale
and a community-based enterprise for local food. Moreover, the LFS showcases ag-
ricultural product diversity, ranging from salami, our, honey, through to paprika,
sunower oil, jams and cheese in a region principally famous for its red wine. As
a main aim of the LFS, the abundance and full range of local food supply needs to
be present in a community-based local food shop, where programmes help create a
culture of local food identity and a new sense of community with the local farmers.
In an eort to enhance democratic access to local food heritage, and to make lo-
cal food knowledge accessible to lower income consumers, the LFS started regional
branding in the community-based local food shop and started to present basic and
seasonal products that can be found in the region presently accessible only to the
connoisseurs. A further aim is to help local producers in their direct sales by further
developing their marketing skills.
This partnership was formed by urban intellectuals, who had strong personal ties to
the region as well as many professional contacts outside the region. The main engine
of the organization is an agricultural economist with solid theoretical and practical
experience and with farming and processing experience in the family. His interme-
diary role enabled the LFS to develop new knowledge for planning such a complex
project on urban–rural relations, eectively consulting with and gaining support
from policymakers, authorities, and local stakeholders. Through several meetings
in 2010 with stakeholders from the territory, the leader of the initiative managed to
focus the LFS’s objective to create a localized food system by building stronger con-
nections between local farming and food supply sectors. As a main tool for shorten-
ing the distance towards consumers, a new purchasing infrastructure development
and systemic mapping of the desirable elements of a local agri-food landscape were
From the rst survey on local food issues, it became clear that access to local prod-
ucts is very limited, so from the very beginning the LFS organized awareness-rais-
ing campaigns for local consumers about the quality and multiple benets of local
products. As a key message, the local food marketing campaign underlined environ-
414 Bálint Balázs
mental benets of buying local foods (transport cost savings, fewer emissions). As a
result, local consumers buy and eat more local produce. During a second cycle, local
consumers and producers started to develop together a directory of local food pro-
ducers and recipes of regional dishes, quality gastronomic products. A new type of
local food trademark was developed for food rooted in the region. As a further step
they started a local community food shop that is serving as a point of sale for locally
produced food and that, by promoting local quality products, can also be used for
further awareness raising about local food issues and re-socialization of consumers.
The key feature of the LFS is to transform the agro-economic image of the region
and to strengthen ecologically sound, small-scale production. The LFS aims to create
benets on both sides: for the producers it provides a stable market through a com-
munity-based shop, for the consumers it oers the best available, ecologically sound,
quality food from the region. From the very beginning these plans faced a paradox.
On the one hand, the LFS encourages more sustainable consumption patterns and
initiates a consumer–producer reconnection through campaigns (or knowledge xes
such as the local food label) whereas, on the other hand, local consumer demand for
local food cannot be easily served from local produce. In these circumstances, the
LFS rst turned to event-based communication and a behaviour-change campaign
to raise awareness about the environmental impact of local food purchase, and later
started to initiate a complex project to create a sense of community with the farmers.
This aspect was clearly pointed out by the leader of the local food shop:
‘These products are handled only here in our locality. Consumers are more
and more attracted by important production-related information. If chan-
nelled through this local speciality food shop a constant and valuable point
of information and sale could be established, a convivial place for exchange
on the produce origin, process methods, serving tips.’
The initiative gained substantive support at the seed phase from the European Re-
gional Development Fund for campaigning about sustainable food consumption and
production, for developing the necessary local food infrastructures and schemes,
and for organizing collective marketing and quality assurance of local quality prod-
ucts. Later, institutional support at the local level was provided by the Hungarian
National Rural Network in the form of short-term technical assistance and advice on
good practices, training to develop knowledge for further development.
Discussion: Farmers and Consumers
Since LSFs are conceptualized mainly as links between farmers and consumers
(Feenstra, 2002; Renting et al., 2003; Holloway et al., 2007), in the following I will
discuss original research data collected on both farmers and consumers in their LFS
Local Food System Development in Hungary 415
The willingness and capability of farmers to join LFSs is very much context de-
pendent. In the G7 case, actors have been gathering positive feedback when recruit-
ing farmers to the LFS for o-farm sales. Clearly, for many producers the seasonal-
ity determines which supply channel they rely on. Farmers’ markets oer the most
convenient o-farm sale opportunity; although for many small-scale producers stall
fees are too high, and, indeed, older farmers do not like the convivial arenas of farm-
ers’ markets. In these circumstances, small-scale farmers often gain autonomy by
selling their produce directly on-farm. Some farmers cannot extend the season by
processing, do not want or are not capable of extending their activities with market-
ing. Very often older producers work completely alone, and are unable to nd a farm
successor. Still, they normally appreciate the G7 initiative and want to keep a weak
tie to the LFS.
In Szekszárd, a supplier-side survey preceded the development of a local ven-
dors’ network, which helped reconnection of actors in various supply chains in the
26 settlements. The database of 200 local farmers became the raw material of an
exemplary guidebook in which the LFS is presented through the local food produc-
ers’ proles and their quality products. However, the benets of the local quality
certication system are hard to communicate to farmers. As the leader of the shop
‘It is tough here with some growers and winemakers. We need to explain
that we do not need the leftovers from the local market. I remind them
regularly of the values of our locality, which they keep forgetting when
they are negotiating with players in the conventional agri-food system. We
challenge well-established relationships and attempt to send a signal about
how they can support their locality.’
Thus, local farmers are encouraged to qualify for the local food label based on crite-
ria developed and constantly ne-tuned in a participatory way through local stake-
holder workshops. Local farmers are also presented on a special website dedicated
to their produce and the local food shop. By introducing the quality label for local
farmers, both the supply and the demand side will get the opportunity to take part
in a mutual and trust- based relationship around food.
As for consumer preferences, surveys of the G7 are based on a target group-spe-
cic, online data gathering (223 respondents) planned by the author in 2010 and
organized in Gödöllő and its region about organic farming, veganism, healthy food
choices. Responses are indicative of the beliefs of consumers’ purchasing behaviour,
rather than actual metered data. Consumer attitudes towards food purchasing re-
ect the most important environmental and health concerns in the target group of
the initiative. Origin of food, place of buying and the personal relationship with the
producer is decisive for almost every consumer (90 %). Many respondents were veg-
etarians (three times more than the average European proportion) and they rejected
convenience food almost unanimously. Some perceive this exclusivity of the LFS as
narrowing its focus too much on the healthy diets of the privileged – as one consum-
er asked in the questionnaire: ‘If I am not vegetarian, am I no longer interesting?’.
Not surprisingly, the main consumer concerns around buying food were health
(50 %), environment (33%) and animal welfare (10%). While the survey recorded
a general sense of loss of control of the food eaten, three fths of respondents still
believed that they had the opportunity to eat healthy food. The main problem is ac-
cessing appropriate food constituents for a fair price, as some respondents noted: ‘I
416 Bálint Balázs
cannot aord what I would like to eat’ and ‘The price of organics is unreal’. In these
circumstances, three quarters of the respondents would be ready to join an initiative
that aims to shape the local food system.
Buying fruit and vegetables is mainly (four out of ve) happening at the local
market, and local smaller shops, whereas only every fth consumer buys directly
from the farmer. One third of the respondents practise food self-provisioning and
grow their own produce in their gardens. Four fths follow seasonal choices. The
terms ‘organic’ and ‘outdoor growing’ are clear to the customers, but the meaning
of other terms such as ‘rstlings’, ‘reform eating’, ‘natural food’ are much more un-
certain. Two thirds of respondents are organic buyers and need more information
on local farmers and the availability of seasonal food. Finally, when looking at the
benet side, respondents mention the health benets of local organic food and most
often note that (by buying through SFSCs) ‘we do not poison ourselves’.
In 2010 the author also planned for the benet of the Szekszárd LFS a representa-
tive consumer survey in Tolna county (n=533) on the main characteristics of local
food consumption and the willingness to buy local produce (<http://www.tolna
itermek.hu>, accessed 31 July 2012). Sampling and weighing procedures were pro-
vided by the Hungarian Central Statistical Oce. The main nding of the survey is
the clear prole of the typical food buyer of the region, who is a middle-aged woman
with secondary education residing in one of the middle-sized towns of the county
with at least one child and one income earner. Consumers are keen to trust local food
although the concept of ‘what is local’ is unclear. If consumers use the term at all,
they rather understand ‘locally purchased’ instead of ‘locally produced’ and associ-
ate it with safety. Urban consumers prefer local shops, while families with kids pre-
fer farmers’ markets. In rural areas a high proportion of food self-provisioning has
been traced. One third of the total population of Tolna County consumes predomi-
nantly local food. While 98% believes that organic food means meat-free food, one
in four consumers buys organic products – typically the younger, more educated,
higher income groups. The decisive consumer demand for local food is related to
the more educated, younger, urban consumers with families. Food origin is overly
important in this locavore5 group, and they put their trust in local food as much as
that they buy in local shops. Two fths of them buy organic food, and frequently
engage in solidarity purchasing. As for food buying venues, local shops are the most
popular (72%), while supermarkets are frequented by only 18%, typically belonging
to the older generations, and 10% prefers farmers market. In 2011, a representative
survey of 257 respondents was replicated in the concentrated area around Szekszárd
(the wine region) to investigate consumer awareness of local food specicities. The
ndings again point to a remarkable group (47%) of rather urban, better-educated,
high-income strata of conscious consumers, who are willing to pay extra for local
In summary, the main nding of the nature of consumer–producer relations is
that in practice LFSs are socially, spatially, culturally quite clearly delineated. As for
the farmers, there is some evidence that LFSs provide viable opportunity for farm-
ers with a unique preference for o-farm sales in proximity. In this sense, increasing
demand for quality produce has a role in maintaining locally distinctive, traditional
and artisanal skills of producers. In these circumstances, the success of LFS initia-
tives depends to a large extent on how local producers are capable of catering to
place-based consumer demand. Again case studies demonstrate that through sales
in proximity small-scale farmers can link with a circle of locally resident customers if
Local Food System Development in Hungary 417
they are concerned about social and environmental values of produce. On the other
hand consumer surveys in both case studies demonstrated that practices in relation
to local food are quite complex. Even if the concept of local food is misleading for
the average consumer, LFSs attract urban, better-educated, high-income groups of
conscious consumers, with child and disposable income, who are willing to pay ex-
tra for local food. Consumers attracted by LFSs often act in solidarity with producers
and mostly support these LFSs for health, environmental and ethical reasons. Local
in this context means healthy, better quality, freshness. Overall, there seems to be a
strong consumer interest in local produce, but there is also a lack of availability of
such produce. Hence, LFSs need to develop in a way to help organizing better physi-
cal or nancial access to local produce.
Summary and Conclusion
The results presented in this article indicate four very main ndings related to the
focus of research.
1. A new generation of civic-led LFSs cultivate in Hungary complex local food
agendas in urban settings and build on extended collaborative networks of pro-
ducers–consumers and stakeholders. Similarly to Western-European examples,
these food relocalization initiatives are driven and mostly supported by urban
customers and promote social and environmental values (Fonte, 2008; Karner
et al., 2010). Clearly, the initiatives are centred around non-prot activities and
perform collective actions to sustain producers’ livelihoods, revitalizing link-
ages between agriculture and society (Marsden, 2000). Both cases demonstrate
that in post-Socialist contexts new emerging types of LSFs develop through
meaningful collaboration within the local food sector. As the concept of inter-
mediaries also assumes creating demand for local purchasing, providing logis-
tics, developing labelling schemes, LFSs build up a new social-business model
on the ethical principles of sustainability and local cultural heritage. In all these
respects, my case study examples belong to the ‘second generation’ of local food
initiatives in Hungary, which beneted from the better regulatory context since
2006, and could take active part in the social debate around food and agricul-
ture. As part of the emerging local food movement in Hungary, both initiatives
actively build bridges with the alliance of civic food networks created in the
regulatory ghts of 2009–2010 (Karner et al., 2010). It is also important to recog-
nize here that both initiatives promote quality criteria related to environmental
and health benets of local food (Winter, 2003).
2. The case studies highlight the distinguished role of urban intellectuals as drivers
for LFS. LFS operators are relying on personal, in-kind investments but also are
able to gain public funding and community support. Being the engines of the
LFSs and well-known gures in their locality with respectable managerial skills,
they managed to build strong local community ties to maintain the dynamic
internal operation of networks. Through their long-term personal involvement,
LFS development has great potential in shaping the culture of socially innova-
tive local cooperation and to further missing values in post-Socialist Hungary,
such as integration of various interest groups, building a new sense of commu-
nity, reinventing local traditions, preserving the value-centred professionalism
and community-based character of LFSs.
418 Bálint Balázs
3. Beyond the complexity and dynamism of the initiatives a concise and gener-
alizable ‘toolbox’ methodology could be identied for developing LFSs. After
systematic mapping of local stakeholders and geographical delimitation, LFSs
need to analyse the socio-economic characteristics of local production and
consumption. Building place-based agri-food marketing on stakeholder intui-
tion and local contextual knowledge, territorial branding and labelling can be
planned. Producer databases and consumer surveys are helpful in nding ad-
equate engagement strategies. Event organization, active communication in the
local community develops organizational capabilities, whereas rather solid le-
gal-technical knowledge is necessary for the provision of logistics coupled with
non-prot organizational management skills. Furthermore, conscious planning
of the LFSs requires constant feedback and evaluation from the extended stake-
holder groups. In these respects both initiatives require much more profession-
alization for future success, and timely institutional support would be essential
without disproportionate administrative and nancial burdens.
4. As a self-referential lesson, this research also acknowledges the critical role of
the researcher and my own research in providing vital support for the develop-
ment of local food initiatives. While investigating consumer willingness to buy
local food or the role of food champions in organizing events, or meeting with
stakeholders, the researcher also helps the translation process and knowledge
sharing among these and other external actors (producers, consumers, manu-
facturers, retailers, decision-makers). Research also had a role in identifying lo-
cal intermediaries who can shape LFS development standards (quality criteria,
advertising, logos, labels, and regional trademarks). By taking part in stake-
holder workshops, critical researchers might support the fruitful integration of
local-lay and expert-scientic knowledge forms but also point to capabilities
needed to solve legal, production, management, commercial diculties in the
LFSs. Further research would be required to gain more recognition for LFS’s
contributions to a sustainable and accessible quality food supply, as well as to
point out how traditional skills and dierent types of knowledge are cultivat-
ed to develop LFSs. Practice-oriented research settings could be cooperatively
developed with the beneciaries and performed as a translation process and
knowledge-sharing exercise among diverse territorial stakeholders.
1. SUS-CHAIN (<http://www.sus-chain.org>) – Marketing Sustainable Agriculture: an analysis of the
potential role of new food supply chains in sustainable rural development; COFAMI (<http://www
.cofami.org>) – Encouraging Collective Farmers Marketing Initiatives; FAAN (<http://www.faanweb
.eu>): Facilitating Alternative Agro-food Networks – stakeholder perspectives on research needs.
2. Research questions and analytical approaches of this chapter build on two specic EU projects that
shaped the focus of the case studies: the CONVERGE project (Rethinking Globalisation in the light of
Contractions and CONVERGEnce, <http://www.convergeproject.org>) looked at policies that simul-
taneously handle global equity and ecological sustainability, investigated how communities contrib-
ute to the goal of global equity and greater social fairness within biophysical planetary boundaries;
the FAAN project (Facilitating Alternative Agro-Food Networks: stakeholder perspectives on research
needs, <http://www.faanweb.eu>) examined the main benets of LFSs and how various policies and
stakeholder strategies strengthen LFSs.
3. For example, see regulation on markets and fairs – 55/2009, regulation on small scale producers –
52/2010, and the hygienic and food safety regulation on local farmers markets – 51/2012.
4. Consumer survey ndings in this case-study research are based on 223 respondents from Gödöllő
and its region with online access, as well as on representative surveys of 533 and 257 respondents in
Local Food System Development in Hungary 419
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behaviour, rather than actual metered data.
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Table A1. Summary description of the case studies.
Details Szekszárd Gödöllő
Characteristics of the locality • medium-sized town, Trans-
danubian hills with long
tradition of growing grapes
• severe socio-demographic
• extensive outskirts (cascade
• medium-sized town with a
• unprecedented demographic
• suburbanization, in- and out-
mobility for work
Socio-political vision, strategic
• localized urban food system
focusing on quality products’
• strong connections between
local agricultural and food
• attribute a place-based iden-
tity to products and create
new meeting places, access to
• promote healthy and sustain-
able lifestyle for the peri-
• facilitate direct relations of
local producers and consum-
ers, a network of local food
• maintenance of former
agricultural landscape and re-
maining small scale farming
with conscious food planning
Data sources, methods • key informants: academics,
• target group specic con-
sumer survey, May and Nov
• group discussion: sta and
• interviews: extended network
• survey: 2010 April online
• workshop: participants of the
Organization • centred around a community-
based local food shop and
• network of citizens, organised
Social impacts, activities • collaboration of food pro-
ducers and experts in the
Szekszárd vine region (20 km
• promotion of environmen-
tally friendly, regional food
• directory of local food pro-
ducers and recipes of regional
dishes, quality gastronomic
• introduction of local food
• working groups: produce and
quality, marketing and event
organization, food culture
and public procurement
• blog, email list as a platform
• promotion of environmen-
tally friendly, local, organic,
• database of local food
producers, match seasonal
produce and local consumers’