The primary components of food production systems are production, processing, distribution, consumption and waste. Because food waste can ultimately be used as a fertilizer, the food production system is essentially a cyclical process.
Food producers vary from very small-scale subsistence farms to very large-scale industrial agriculture. However, although scale varies a great deal, farms of all sizes have many considerations in common, such as decisions about what to plant, how much to water, and when to harvest.
Food processing occurs at a wide variety of facilities. Subsistence farmers are both producers and consumers, and as such, they process and distribute their own food. Food products from large-scale farming are typically sold to an intermediary, who processes them for consumer use.
Distribution occurs at the point of sale to the consumer of the food product. In the United States, this is most typically a grocery store or other retail outlet. Some smaller-scale food distribution centers, such as farmers markets, eliminate the middlemen and connect consumers directly with food producers. Distribution also covers the shipping of food from the processing location to the retail location.
After the food is consumed, the final stage of the food production system cycle is waste. While food waste can be used as natural compost, much of the food waste in the United States and other industrialized countries ends up in landfills.