Engaging South Asian growers and customers in fresh vegetable production

Project Overview

ONE16-274
Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2016: $14,784.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2017
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
David Vigil
East New York Farms!

Annual Reports

Information Products

Commodities

  • Vegetables: beans, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, cucurbits, eggplant, garlic, greens (leafy), onions, peas (culinary), peppers, radishes (culinary), tomatoes, turnips

Practices

  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, market study
  • Production Systems: general crop production
  • Sustainable Communities: ethnic differences/cultural and demographic change, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, urban agriculture

    Proposal abstract:

    Recently, New York City (and the United States) has seen an influx of South Asian immigrants, especially from Bangladesh, joining more established immigrant groups from India, Pakistan, and Nepal. Bangladeshi immigrants bring with them a vibrant agricultural tradition, and many are accustomed to purchasing vegetables directly from producers or fresh vegetable markets. At the same time, New York City has an increasing number of urban farms and farmers markets in immigrant neighborhoods.  We seek to bridge the gap to integrate South Asian immigrants and their traditional crops into established markets, gardens, and farms as a way to make regional agriculture more inclusive and financially viable. We are seeking a better understanding of the community as both growers and consumers by asking what crops they are growing or buying, how best to support local growers, and how to connect them to markets and resources.

    Our objectives is to create a grower’s resource guide for South Asian specialty crops, and to create a report with recommendations on building strong connections between farmers’ markets and South Asian growers and customers.  We will survey South Asian growers and shoppers, and the results will inform the grower guide and report contents, which will be disseminated through workshops, conferences, and the ENY Gardener Handbook. The crop guide and report will provide both new and established farmers with tools to sustain their crop production, and will encourage South Asian immigrants to participate fully in farmers markets and their new community.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Proposed Solution

    We aim to address the following questions with our project: What crops are most popular with South Asian growers and consumers? What are the best strategies to support growers? What barriers are there for experienced growers from South Asia for getting involved in farmers’ markets?

    We will survey growers from South Asia to find out where they grow, what they are growing, how much space they have, and what resources they need to produce more for market. We will survey customers from South Asia to find out what crops they are buying, what they would like to see more of in the market, and what their vegetable purchasing habits are.

    We will produce two guides as part of our project. The first will profile 10-15 popular South Asian specialty crops that can be grown in the Northeast, such as bitter melon, hyacinth beans, bottle gourd, jute, etc.  The guide will provide tips on cultivation, names of the plants in South Asian languages, and sources for seeds and plants. The second will be a report on the findings from our survey with growers, and recommendations for how to build connections between farmers’ markets and growers and customers from South Asia.

    Methods

    The goals of our project are two-fold: 1) to discover the needs and resources of South Asian growers in order to improve participation in markets; 2) to highlight South Asian crops that are productive in the Northeast and encourage their cultivation and distribution.

    We will design a grower survey that will help us understand the scope and scale of agricultural practices in the South Asian community in our area. This survey will look at crop selection, growing space, resource needs (land, seeds, plants, etc.), and market access.

    Surveying about crop selection will help us better understand what crops are successful in our climate. While we have some experience growing and selling South Asian crops at our market, a broader survey will deepen our understanding of what crops are the most prevalent amongst local growers. The results of this questionnaire will be tallied to form the basis of our guide to South Asian vegetables.

    To understand the resource needs of the growers, we will ask how much space they utilize for growing, where they source their growing materials (seeds and plants), how they manage nutrients, and how they access water. We will survey for additional needs such as pest control, trellising material, tools, etc. While much of this information will be very particular to our locality, this will contribute to better understanding the nature of agricultural practices within urban immigrant communities.

    Understanding the level of interest in selling to market versus personal use will be a key component of the grower survey. We have two Bangladeshi growers that sell at our market, but we do not have an understanding of whether interest in market farming is more widespread. We will ask whether growers are primarily producing for market or personal use, and whether they are interested in expanding to market production.

    The survey will be administered to a minimum of 40 South Asian growers in our community. We have accumulated many contacts for South Asian growers through our annual compost and plant distributions. We will use these contacts to begin the survey. We will also announce the survey through our email list, website, and social media. The survey specialist will also visit growing spaces throughout the community.

    The survey will be designed by Deborah Greig, Agriculture Director, with support from the principal investigator and the outreach specialist. It will be written in English and translated into Bengali, the most prevalent South Asian language in our area. For the crop selection question, we will have photographs of the more popular crops in case of language, dialect, or translation barriers. This way growers can indicate by the photographs which crops they produce. Our outreach specialist will be fluent in English and Bengali, to better reach the target community.

    Our customer survey will be designed to better understand the shopping habits and demands of South Asian customers. We will ask which vegetables they purchase regularly, where they buy them (farmers’ markets, produce markets, grocery stores), and which they are most interested in purchasing locally. We will employ some of the survey methods developed by Rutgers researchers Ramu Govindasama, et al. which were highlighted in “Survey Methods and Identification of Ethnic Crops for the East Coast in the USA: A Procedural Synopsis”.

    We will survey at least 50 South Asian customers. Half of these will be customers at the East New York farmers’ markets which occur on Wednesdays and Saturdays, June-November.  The other half of customers will be approached at local produce outlets and retail centers. Similar to the growers’ survey, we will write the survey in English and translate it into Bengali. The survey specialist will be fluent in both languages.  Photographs of common crops will also be available for customers to indicate which they purchase regularly.

    After collecting and tabulating the surveys, we will begin analyzing the results and assembling our guides. The 2-page crop guide will feature 10-15 of the most popular crops with South Asian customers that can be grown in the Northeast, as indicated by the surveys.  We will conduct research into these crops using existing publications as well as gather cultivation advice from local growers. The guide will feature photographs, translated names for the crops, growing techniques, and seed sources when possible.

    The second 2-page guide will be a synopsis of the findings of our survey of South Asian growers. We will share the most common crops grown, the average size of growing spaces, and highlight some of the most common needs of South Asian growers. We will also summarize the findings about market participation, and make recommendations as to next steps for resource development and research that can better support South Asian growers that are trying to connect with farmers’ markets.

    Timetable

    March 2016: David Vigil (ENYF Project Director) and Deborah Greig (ENYF Agricultural Director) will hire outreach specialist.  Outreach specialist will begin assembling contacts for the grower survey from our database and community contacts. Vigil and Greig will design grower and shopper surveys and outreach specialist will test them out to determine average survey times, making adjustments as necessary.  Final survey will be translated into Bengali

    April 2016: Print grower survey. Outreach specialist will begin grower survey outreach at supply distributions and community events.  Vigil and Greig will accompany outreach specialist to assist with training and quality control

    May-June 2016: Continue grower survey, aim to complete by end of June. Weekly check-ins with ENYF staff about survey process. ENYF staff will finalize and print shopper survey, and outreach specialist will begin administering it.

    June-September 2016: Outreach specialist will continue shopper survey at the ENY Farmers’ Market and at local produce outlets and retail areas. Continue check-ins with ENYF staff.

    October 2016: Outreach specialist will assist with tabulating surveys.  Agriculture Director will analyze data and begin assembling the guides.  ENYF staff will conduct research into crops as needed for the crop guide.  ENYF staff will collaborate on writing the guide summarizing the research.

    November-December 2016: Finalize and print crop guide and research summary.  Publicize the guides on website, email, and social media.

    January-February 2017: Project Director will complete SARE Report.  ENYF Staff will give at least one workshop on South Asian specialty crops (or have the workshop accepted into the conference at this point) and distribute the guides at the workshop.

    Outreach Plan

    The East New York Farms! Project is widely recognized as a leader in community agriculture in New York City and the Northeast. Though the focus of our day-to-day work is highly localized, we make our work very public and share it widely throughout the agricultural and food systems community. We will use our position to disseminate our results in a variety of ways to growers, partners, and customers.

    We will print 500 copies of each guide. In our local community, we will make our findings available by incorporating the guide into the ENY Gardener Handbook developed as part of our 2012 Sustainable Communities Grant. As part of our annual workshop series, we will distribute the guides in a South Asian vegetables workshop. The guides will be posted on our website and announced online via our email listserve (3000+ recipients) and Facebook page (1700+ likes).  They will also be available at our market manager table at the East New York farmers’ market, which has 15,000 customer visits annually.  

    Other forms of outreach will be conference tabling and workshops. We have given workshops on growing specialty crops at NOFA-NY(2015), Making Brooklyn Bloom (2013), and the National Young Farmers Conference (2013). We will continue to offer this workshop at future conferences, assuming it is accepted. As we develop new growing practices, we incorporate the knowledge into our tours and visits that are available to the public.  We host 1200 visitors and volunteers every year on the farm, and we serve as a host site for classes for Farm School NYC and Brooklyn Urban Growers (BUGs).  We have been featured in a range of news outlets, including the New York Times and Al Jazeera, that have highlighted the specialty crops we grow and sell in our market.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.