In recent years, diverse organizations and actors in and around cities have been articulating visions of a more sustainable and democratic urban agri-food system. By utilizing or supporting alternative methods of production, distribution and consumption, a range of municipal, charitable and grass-roots initiatives have experimented with new relationships between producers and consumers, and between people, food and soil. This article provides an analysis of ‘civic food networks’ in the city of Manchester using the idea of the ‘moral economy’ and its various conceptualizations, both within and beyond agri-food studies. We argue that contemporary alternative agri-food economic practices constitute a moral economy organized around relations of solidarity and justice with proximate and distant others, and ethical concern for land and for the global environment. We explore the particular characteristics of the moral economy of these networks. We focus in particular on the complex character of moral sentiments in modern life, in which face-to-face and mediated relations are experienced in terms of different styles of morality and solidarity. We thus suggest a reconceptualization of civic food networks as a moral economy, explore the way it is conditioned by the character of morality in modern societies, and explore its potential to contribute to a wider societal transformation of the agri-food system.