For over half a century, industrial agricultural and food systems have developed to the detriment of rural spaces. Alongside modernization and growth, many local communities have experienced not only economic loss, but a loss of purpose and identity as well. As one response to these changes, sustainable local food systems (SLFS) initiatives are being pursued by a growing number of communities. Their belief is that an alternative paradigm based on SLFSs is needed to support vibrant rural livelihoods: by challenging unequal power relationships between food system actors, by repairing the rift between human and natural environments, or simply by breathing new socio-economic life into their declining communities. This dissertation explores the governance mechanisms being developed between civil society, the state, and private sector actors to support SLFS initiatives. It aims to show not only what initiatives are developed, but how these alternatives are introduced and sustained. Building on governance theory and drawing from critical political economy approaches, this work argues that collaborative and reflexive governance approaches are best positioned to enable SLFS development. To support this claim, I describe and analyze cases of SLFS initiatives pursued within four rural communities: North Saanich, British Columbia and Wolfville, Nova Scotia in Canada, Correns, France, and Todmorden, UK. These case studies highlight six categories of governance that ultimately demonstrate low to highly collaborative and reflexive SLFS initiatives. Outlining types of governance and how they play out in practice allows us to better understand the opportunities and challenges inherent to different governance strategies and their ability to support SLFSs. Grounded in both field observations and in-depth and semi-structured interviews with community members, this work also aims to give voice to actors often marginalized in dominant food system processes. An analysis of the case studies highlights the need for 1) strong social capital within a community; 2) a whole community approach to socio-economic development; 3) a strong role for the state; and 4) genuine multi-actor collaboration, as the foundation for SLFS growth. I conclude by considering sustainable food system research’s lingering question on growth and scalability to generate meaningful food system change.