Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Community Development and Applied Economics

First Advisor

David Conner


The research in this thesis investigates the relationship between social capital and the ability of a community food system (CFS) to contribute to broad community development goals. Social capital is understood to be an intangible resource that proliferates from strong relationships stocked with trust, reciprocity, and cohesiveness.

This research presents a journey through the literature to provide an overview of community food systems, the anticipated benefits that can result from adequate expansion, and how the concept of "embeddedness" contributes to development between the CFS and the community at large. The concept of social capital is introduced and discussed as previous researchers have demonstrated the usefulness of social capital building in the context of community and economic development (CED). The literature suggests that social capital can help the community and economic development in six ways that are applicable to CFSs; resource sharing, entrepreneurial activity, human capital, supply chain performance, democratic participation, and economic development. It is proposed that if we wish to have strong CFSs then it is in our best interest to optimize these six attributes within the CFS, and therefore optimize the levels of social capital present in the CFS, too.

Social capital in the context of CFS development has been investigated before, however, not from this point of view. I suggest a framework that uses the definition of social capital as one that pertains to the "norms and networks" of a community. This framework is useful in that it helps illustrate how researchers can investigate the level of social capital in a CFS and how that translates to CED gains. This research identifies the norms of a community as relational social capital (rSC) and the networks as structural social capital (sSC). Only rSC is measured in this research to explain the role of social capital in relation to community development objectives, however, it is asserted that sSC is also essential to measure. This thesis helps answer the question, "how can the quality of relationships as measured by the relational social capital influence the performance of a community food system?".

The research is qualitative and uses 23 interviews with informants in the Tampa Bay community food system as evidence to suggest that rSC is positively related to the six community and economic development attributes that can strengthen a CFS. Then, it demonstrates the usefulness of the proposed framework to observe the presence of embeddedness that, in combination with social capital, can lead to general community development by means of CFS development.



Number of Pages

160 p.