Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Master of Science in Community & Leadership Development

Document Type

Master's Thesis


Agriculture, Food and Environment


Community and Leadership Development

First Advisor

Dr. Nicole Breazeale


The effects of climate change are predicted to have a widespread impact on numerous aspects of the U.S. food system. Industrialization and consolidation within the U.S. food system have decreased the food system’s capacity for adaptation to external stressors. In recent years local food systems have demonstrated a potential for adaptation during and after disasters. More research is needed to better understand local food systems and their adaptative innovations, as a better understanding of these innovations is important for developing local food systems with strong adaptative capacities. This exploratory study examines how the local food systems of Eastern Kentucky pivoted to meet local agricultural and food needs following major disruptions caused by a natural disaster. In addition to detailing the emergency response efforts, this thesis examines how this local food system built the adaptative capacity necessary to respond quickly. This exploratory qualitative study relied on 16 semi-structured interviews and a content analysis of historical data. Data was coded utilizing an open coding analysis and cross-checked by a content analysis. This study aimed to theorize and better understand this emergency response and the factors that contributed to the success of these efforts.

This thesis uses a three-paper format to 1) describe and document the local food system response, while illustrating how institutions such as NGOs can support holistic mutual aid efforts without co-opting them; 2) describe and document the historical development of the local food system, connecting the values, capacities, and network framework that enabled a quick response to food system resiliency and mutual aid literature; and 3) explore the role of USDA funding in building this food system and the emergency efforts, while situating this spending within the broader Farm Bill.

Study findings align with the literature and suggest that these emergency response efforts were successful as a direct result of the local food system’s deep and well-connected social networks, strategic investments into the food system’s physical infrastructure and human capacity, and shared values across stakeholders that prioritized trust, flexibility, solidarity, and deep care for community members.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

This research was funded by the University of Kentucky's Food Connection Food System Fellowship.

Available for download on Tuesday, October 22, 2024