It Takes a Region... Exploring a Regional Food Systems Approach

NESAWG Publication, Food Systems, Land Use, Production, Supply Chains


Kathryn Ruhf and Kate Clancy


The Northeast has been described–and has thought of itself–as a region for many decades. Perhaps because some of the states within the region are small and have many common borders, there is a history of the states and other entities within the “Northeast” working together. This is evident in the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) itself which began with nine states and quickly grew to embrace 12 states and the District of Columbia–coincident with boundaries of the Northeast region used by USDA and others.

Some good work on food systems has been conducted at the regional level and interest in this perspective appears to be growing. We believe that the Northeast in fact is an apt and relevant laboratory in which to play out ideas about and promote regional food systems. One of the necessary first steps to advance regional food system thinking and development is to sort out the myriad ideas, concepts, definitions, and visions regarding local and regional food systems. Doing so will improve research on food system topics, practices on the ground and, importantly, communication and action among all those interested in the topic.


We hope to accomplish several things with this working paper. First, we would like to elaborate a clearer understanding of regionalism and of regional food systems, including terminology and definitions. Second, we want to present a mix of vision and practicality through: a) engendering a healthy debate on “local” and “regional”; b) bringing to the forefront the research that needs to be done to describe the present reality and likelihood of success of different models; and (c) proposing the development of transition scenarios toward a “re-regionalized” food system.

We hope the ideas presented here will increase the discussion of regional food systems in the Northeast and in other parts of the country, and that multiple recommendations on how to build the Northeast’s food system will arise and be acted upon. This draft is a work-in-progress. We seek input and critique from groups and individuals to guide to our collective work.

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