This paper advances the theoretical argument for moving beyond the conventional/alternative divide in the analysis of emerging 'alternative' agri-food networks (AAFNs). In order to understand how 'place', 'nature' and 'quality'-based food networks emerge and develop, we argue that careful attention needs to be paid to the way in which specific political-economic environments shape the options available to farmers and consumers. Australia's 'competitive productivism' is the outcome of an export-oriented economy and a neoliberal political orientation, and this environment affects the development of AAFNs in various ways. Most notably, a case study of farmers that sell at farmers' markets in the State of Victoria shows that the competitive-productivist policies pursued by Australian governments entice some farmers who participate in AAFNs to develop their ideas into higher output businesses tailored to compete in emerging export markets. Other farmers deliberately choose to keep marketing through alternative channels despite competitive-productivist pressures to expand. These findings demonstrate the centrality to the experience of AAFN participants of negotiating productivist pressures, adding nuances to the story of the complex relations between AAFNs and conventional supply chains.