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URBAN FARM ETHNOGRAPHY

"There's not really, to my knowledge, a way for kids to actually learn how to do something and invest in their own future"

Kelly Carlisle, Acta Non Verba, original emphasis

THE PROBLEM

Parts of Oakland, CA are described as food deserts; a product of low income households without access to, or availability of, fresh produce markets within a 1 mile radius. Food deserts have a direct impact on health and wellbeing, and as such, low income neighborhoods dispoportionately have chronic, yet preventable diseases directly related to poor nutrition (i.e. diabetes and hypertension). To remedy these problems, urban agriculture has become ubiquitous with inner cities nationwide. I conducted a 3-month ethnographic study to evaluate the impact of urban agriculture in low income neighborhoods. Visual presentation can be viewed here.

THE DESIGN

This research project was comparative in nature, and aimed to glean inisghts into urban agriculture (UA). Specifically, what role does it serve in urban communities (could UA close the health disparity gap?), and why do people interact with the farms. 

 

Sites chosen for the investigation were contacted through chain-referral, and participants were enrolled on a voluntary basis. Two farms were involved in the project comprising a total of 4 seperate sites for fieldwork. Informants were selected based on a snowball method of sampling. Over 300 minutes of transcription and coding was processed from interviews with 4 informants. Surveys were designed for farm visitors and administered to those who wanted to participate. Over 40 hours of observation used a strict sampling method to avoid any biases and contextual inquiry was also used during particpant observation at 2 of the sites.

"People are betterin' their health by the power they have to grow their own foods, so our first landmark is to grow your own self"

Larry Davis, People's Grocery

THE FINDINGS

Making sense of it all: With the information collected through surveys, interviews, and participant observation (site visits and active participation with stakeholders) my findings were analyzed using statistical data, triangulation, and thematic coding. While each farm had different mission statements, both believed that the presence of urban farming led to community empowerment. It was further thought that through empowerment, visitors of the urban farms would gain a sense of community, and increased education which would ultimately contribute to lifestyles changes. Alternatively, visitor and volunteers of urban farms felt that their association with UA led to a connection of their cultural or ancestral roots. It also provided them with a sense of place (belonging) and a source to obtain fresh produce. 

Actionable Advice: End user insights suggested few residents were taking advantage of the fresh produce made available to them. Strengthening visitor touchpoints and engagement with clear signage of produce, farm hours, and location, were offered as quick actionable strategies that would increase plant knowledge, and help market the service. A rebranding effort would also be beneficial in order to align the mission of the farm to the needs of the surrounding households. As it stands, those interacting with the farm use its space as an inner-city safe zone, as well as, a place to connect with their community and do community service.

80% of West Oakland farm participants thought Community was most important

STATS & NUMBERS

75% of East Oakland farm participants thought Fresh Produce was most important

What is most important to you about an urban farm in your community?

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