Date Available


Year of Publication


Document Type



Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Karl B. Raitz


This study examines the concept of local food and the discourses surrounding the concept, both of which have played a significant role during Kentuckys agricultural restructuring. Since the mid-1990s, Kentucky farmers who were dependent on tobacco production began to struggle financially after the substantial reduction of quota allotments, and they were encouraged to diversify their agricultural production. Subsequently, practices of producing, marketing, and consuming locally-grown food were implemented. Drawing primarily on qualitative data, this study investigates the meanings of Kentuckys local food discourse development in four dimensions: 1) the political economy of tobacco production and the structural change of Kentuckys agriculture; 2) the role of diverse actors who prompted the adoption of local food; 3) the construction of local scale and micro-scale politics for marketing local food at farmers markets; and 4) the symbolization of local food at county food-related festivals. Kentuckys tobacco production declined not only because of the national anti-tobacco movement, but also because of a constellation of causes including the influence of a free-trade ideology that decreased American burleys competitiveness with global markets, and the increase of part-time farmers that led local tobacco farms to struggle with labor shortages and meeting production demands. Farmers opposition to tobacco controls and their discourses were transformed to attract supporting small food-producing farms, which ultimately merged with societal interests in the production and the consumption of local food. Commoditized local brands at increased direct-sale venues such as farmers markets, however, became political entities as regulations and surveillance were required to maintain their definition of local food. Semiotic interpretation of county food-related festivals in Kentucky shows changes in how people attach their place-identities to agricultural products and how they understand local food. Although the distribution of venues is spatially uneven, the production and the consumption of local food have gradually been adopted throughout Kentuckys landscape over the last decade. To maintain the success of localized markets, this study proposes three potential requirements: 1) the credibility of and the transparency for understanding local food; 2) the resource investment to support future producers; and 3) the expanding adoption of community food security ideals.



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