Community Economic Development Initiatives: A Descriptive Exploratory Study of Community Shared Agriculture

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ABSTRACT

This study examines community economic development (CED) initiatives and focuses on community shared agriculture (CSA) as an alternative form of farming to industrialized agriculture. CSA connects the farmers directly with consumers, such that both farmers and consumers share the benefits and risks involved in agriculture. The purpose of this study was to understand what motivates individuals to become involved in a CSA and what involvement in CSA means for them. As a point of departure, the ecological and social psychological problems associated with industrialized agriculture are elucidated. Empowerment theory, social vitality, and sense of community were used as conceptual frameworks. Data were collected on a community farm in midwestern Ontario using a participant-observer mode of inquiry and open-ended interviews. The themes that emerged were categorized under empowerment, social vitality, and sense of community.

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INTRODUCTION

Community economic development initiatives (CED), specifically, community shared agriculture (CSA) as an alternative form of agriculture are examined here. CSA connects farmers directly to consumers, and enables participants to share the benefits and risks of good and poor growing seasons. Basic to all CSAs are the farmers and share members who purchase a "share" of the harvest through pre-season payments. Once a formal relationship is established, pick-up and delivery times and extent of consumer participation are arranged.

The purpose of this study was to examine what motivated individuals to become involved in CSA and what involvement in CSA means to them. Empowerment theory, social vitality, and sense of community are used as organizing frameworks. As a backdrop to the study some of the ecological and social psychological factors associated with industrialized agriculture are examined. It is argued, given these problems, that some individuals in rural communities are looking for alternatives that are counter-cultural.

Ecological and Social Psychological Consequences of Industrialized Agriculture

The ecological consequences of industrial agriculture include the destruction of rural environments through the use of agrochemicals in food production (Brown & Wolfe, 1984; Carson, 1963). Hamilton and Woolcock (1984) also express concern about the impacts on landscape when woodlands are removed, and Adams (1984) reports its negative impact on wildlife.

In terms of its social psychological consequences, Bowler (1992), Kneen (1993), and Sim (1988) observe that industrialized agriculture has led to a handful of transnational corporations gaining control over food production, which is achieved through the contractual obligations of farmers to agribusiness; through biotechnology and patenting; and through financial credits to farmers (Bowler, 1992; George, 1984; Kneen, 1993; Sim, 1988). Sim (1988) also comments on the powerlessness and marginalization of individuals and communities, and the breakdown of communities via the promotion of individualism and anonymity as farmers have been collectivized into an impersonal complex food chain.

Various writers (i.e., Bennett, 1987; Crowfoot & Chesler, 1974; Goldenberg, 1978; Wachtel, 1983) argue that we need alternatives that alter our consciousness, lifestyle, and interpersonal and community relations toward mutual exchange and control, and result in individuals mobilizing to achieve greater power and access to goods and services. Additionally, the alternatives should lead to a reduction or elimination of practices that are destructive to the natural ecology, and have the restoration of the sense of community and connectedness to others at their core (George, 1984; Kneen, 1993; McRobie, 1982; Oldenquist, 1991; Rowe, 1986; Sim, 1988; Wachtel, 1983).

McNeely (1999) reports on the successes of various community building efforts that seek to address the problems and opportunities of both poor inner-city neighborhoods and rural areas. …