- Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, social capital, social networks
In this project, an interdisciplinary research team from ASAP’s Local Food Research Center will move into the second phase of a long-term research project focused on testing, evaluating, and refining ASAP’s theory of food system change. Based on work completed during the first round of research, Phase II research is firmly grounded within a social movement perspective and within a working theoretical framework the team developed to understand how and why local food systems in particular can be a means of creating positive food system change. The team used this theoretical model to guide the development of a theory of change model with benchmarks and indicators of progressive and successive change in the region’s food system. This framework and model directly informs the plan of research for Phase II. In Phase II, ASAP’s Local Food Research Center, working with researchers from UNC-Asheville, UNC-Chapel Hill, and Warren Wilson College, will continue to monitor and measure changes unfolding in the region’s food system. To provide long-term perspective on food system changes, research activities will continue to collect data from the same farmer, food industry, and community decision-maker stakeholder panels. What developments, challenges, and opportunities are stakeholders observing? What actions are they taking to mitigate challenges and to take advantage of and further opportunities and changes? Research activities will also expand to document specific changes in the region’s food economy. With increasing demand for locally grown food, research will focus on changes in the region’s food distribution systems - emerging systems of distribution and shifts in existing ones. Research with emerging food and farm linked businesses (e.g., retailers, restaurants, wholesale distributors, butchers, etc) will document food system relationships and implications for developing social capital. Research with shoppers and vendors at farmers markets will explore the significance of farmers markets to movement strategies and goals - farmers markets as public spaces where market participants interact, exchange information and ideas, and develop shared meanings and rationalities. Consumer-focused research will study the impacts of movement strategies on consumer actions - both at the level of consumption and beyond. To examine the significance of place-based food and farm education and experience for promoting health, the research team will collate and analyze data from ASAP’s Growing Minds farm to school work. Phase II will also expand activity focused on research dissemination. With the increasing efforts of communities and organizations around local food system development, there is an increasing need for research and a critical perspective to inform the direction of strategies and ongoing engagement. Toward this need, outreach and dissemination activities will develop and disseminate research findings (and their implications for the movement and specific strategies) for scholarly, activist, and public audiences. Specific publications will share findings and best practices from the region’s developing local food system, which are relevant to food system development processes in other regions. Other publications will focus on framing local food system development as a movement and on articulating movement theory as a means to inform movement strategies.
Project objectives from proposal:
- Continue long-term research with farmer, buyer, and decision-maker participants established in the first three year cycle. With farmers and buyers in particular we want to continue to document ways they are navigating and creating this emerging and shifting terrain - the opportunities and challenges they encounter, the decisions and innovations they employ in the context of shifting opportunities and constraints.
- Conduct a full analysis of the 2012 Census of Agriculture data for Western North Carolina (in comparison to 2002 and 2007 data)
- Expand research with the food industry in the region. Specifically conduct research on food distribution networks in the region (e.g., changes in existing food distribution channels to accommodate locally grown food and new channels emerging in connection with local farms and food). Conduct a broader “census” with food system buyers in the region (500+ businesses in the region that source locally grown food and participate in ASAP’s Appalachian Grown regional branding and certification program) to document emerging food and farm linked businesses and food system relationships.
- Conduct research at farmers markets with a focus on understanding farmers markets as public spaces - sites of community interaction where members of the public can discuss and evaluate movement ideas and values, discuss issues of importance to the community, develop shared rationalities and relationships. Research methods at farmers markets will include surveys and/or interviews with customers and market managers and participant observation.
- Conduct consumer focused research to study the impacts of movement activities on consumer actions - both at the level of consumption and beyond into civic acts.
- Collate and analyze data from ASAP’s Growing Minds farm to school work, which uses place-based food and farm education and experience to create environments in schools that model healthy eating behaviors to kids, teachers, and staff.
- Continue to conduct reviews of emerging literature relevant to local food system development. Focus key areas of literature review on social movement theory (e.g., stages of development, coalescence, collapse, lessons from other social movements), the sociology and psychology of changing individuals’ perceptions and practices, the true “cost” of food, social capital measures, and the concern-action gap.