Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of Geography

Committee Chair

Christiane von Reichert

Commitee Members

Neva Hassanein, Sarah Halvorson


agro-food geography, alternative food networks, carbon dioxide emissions, certified organic, economies of scale, food supply chain, food-miles


University of Montana


The spatial patterns of the conventional food supply chain have played a significant role in increasing the amount of miles food travels before being consumed. As a result, this has increased the amount of energy that is required to transport food from the farm to the table. The food supply chain links production to consumption. However, as food-miles increase, this link becomes obscure. The food supply chain can be described as having two very distinct parts: the conventional food supply chain and the alternative food supply chain. Business consolidation, and large-scale production, processing, distribution and retail characterize the conventional food supply chain. As a result of such economies of scale, the conventional chain is also characterized by standardization of knowledge. The alternative chain, on the other hand, is characterized by direct sales, small-scale production, processing and distribution and by a more transparent market. Certified organic foods began as an alternative to conventional foods. However, certified organic foods have increasingly been criticized for adopting similar business practices as the conventional system and thus travel the same lengths, if not further, than conventional foods. This study is a place-based approach that compares the food-miles and subsequent energy use of the two food supply chains—conventional and alternative—that provide food to retail grocery stores in Missoula, Montana. Energy use is estimated in gallons of diesel and the subsequent byproduct, or emissions, of transportation is estimated in pounds of carbon dioxide. Four of the highest selling retail grocery products; apples, bread, ground beef and milk, are classified into three different categories: “conventional”, “non-local organic” and “other-alternative”. The food-miles, subsequent fuel usage and emissions are also estimated for each of the four products. The study shows a remarkable lack of transparency in the conventional food supply chain and relatively low food-miles, fuel use and carbon dioxide emissions for the other-alternative products.



© Copyright 2007 Kimberly Spielman