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.
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. As indicated by McNeely, these community projects involve community members working together on tasks that take advantage of their individual abilities and in the process create human, family, and social capital. This paper is about one such community economic development project.
COMMUNITY ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT INITIATIVES
According to Ninacs (1993, p. 1), a CED initiative is "a strategy for people to develop the economy of their community in a way that benefits the greatest number of its residents through a systematic and planned intervention that promotes economic self-reliance, and focuses on issues of local ownership and the capacity of local people." Wiens (1993) characterizes CSA as a CED because of community involvement and its attempt to rebuild local communities and economies.
CSA: Issues of Empowerment, Social Vitality, and Sense of Community
Community-based developmental activities can lead to economic viability, social vitality, or political validity (Matthews, 1976, 1983). Economic viability involves the community being able to sustain its material needs. Social vitality involves individuals in reciprocal relations that satisfy social needs, and political efficacy or empowerment involves achieving some acceptable basis of power mobilization and distribution through which decisions concerning individual claims are made (Lockhart, 1987).
Empowerment enhances the possibilities for people to control their lives (Lord & Hutchinson, 1993; Rappaport, 1987), with the goals of improved quality of community life and social justice (McClelland, 1975; Wallerstein, 1992). What defines a situation as empowering is its adherence to the values of empowerment--self-determination, distributive justice, and democratic and collaborative participation (Prilleltensky, 1994). Self-determination is the ability of individuals to choose courses of action that are inherently their own. Distributive justice deals with the fair and equitable distribution of the burdens and resources of society (Miller, 1978), and the third value reflects the ideal that individuals should be part of the decision-making process (Prilleltensky, 1994).
Empowerment can exist at three levels: personal, small group, and community (Lord & Hutchinson, 1993). At the personal level, it results when individuals gain control over their life and also take part in the community (Kieffer, 1984). At the small group level, it involves the sharing of experiences among group members (Presby et al., 1990), and at the community level, it involves the use of local resources to enhance community control (Labonte, 1989).
CSA also may serve as a means for increasing the social vitality and sense of community in communities. For example, farmers meet consumers and get direct feedback from them and vice versa. This interaction provides a social experience not available in the supermarket (Kneen, 1993). Additionally, CSA farms organize potlucks for share members which may promote a sense of community that involves feelings of belongingness and identification, personal investment, and a system of shared values between farmers and share members (McMillan & Chavis, 1986).
This was a naturalistic field study that combined interviews, direct participation, and observation (Denzin, 1978; Patton, 1990). The reason for choosing participant observation was the author's interest in how activities and interactions in the community shared farm gave meaning to the beliefs and experiences of the members (Bogdewic, 1992). The author was merely a researcher, not a share member. The advantages of this method have been noted by Patton (1990) and Bogdewic (1992).
Sampling Strategy/Sample Size. A purposive sampling strategy was used. The reason was to select people who are "rich" in information about CSA (Johnson, 1990; Patton, 1990). Twelve share members (i.e., about 25%) of those participating in CSA were sampled in addition to the farmer and his wife. The final sample consisted of 8 males and 6 females.
Data Collection. The data collection involved "triangulation" (i.e., participant-observation with field notes, interviews, and one focus group interview (Denzin, 1978). The purpose of observation was to describe the setting and what was observed in it. Participation afforded the opportunity to experience what it is like to be a part of CSA (Jorgenson, 1989; Patton, 1980; Spradley, 1980). The field notes were of two varieties: the first is what Bogdewic (1992) calls "jottings," and involved writing abbreviated notes during participation and observation. These jottings were sometimes made on the spot if it was appropriate to do so, or were done a short time after (Patton 1990; Spradley, 1980).
The field notes represent the expanded version of condensed notes made during observations. The expanded versions contain a description of what was observed, including information on the social interactions that took place. The notes also contain quotes from participants (Bogdewic, 1992; Jorgenson, 1989; Lofland, 1971; Patton, 1990). As suggested by Bogdewic (1992), the field notes were not discussed with anyone prior to recording. Finally, a journal was kept of experiences that arose during the fieldwork (Jorgenson, 1989; Patton, 1990; Spradley, 1980).
Interviews. Informal and formal interviews were used (Brenner, 1988; Jorgenson, 1989; Mostyn, 1988; Patton, 1990; Spradley, 1980). An informal interview took place whenever the researcher questioned anyone during the course of participant-observation (Jorgenson, 1989; Patton, 1990). A formal interview was also arranged that was standardized and open-ended (Jorgenson, 1989; Patton, 1990; Spradley, 1989). The focus group interview allowed for group interaction and greater insight into why certain opinions were held (Krueger, 1988). The intent was to promote self-disclosure among participants.
An interview guide used during the formal interviews indicated the questions and their sequence in the interview (Kvale, 1996). The interview guide was followed during the interviews. Where necessary, interviewees were probed further regarding their comments. The questions used in the interview, as suggested by Kvale (1996), related to the theoretical conceptions underpinning the investigation and to the subsequent analysis.
The following issues were examined during the interview regarding CSA: participants' motivations for getting involved; participants' thoughts and impressions about CSA; participants' thoughts and perceptions of the opportunities for social participation; participants' thoughts on whether involvement provides a greater sense of community; and participants' feelings of ownership.
Procedure. Before the investigation began, a consent form was sent to the farmers at the community farm in Ontario, Canada, seeking their permission to engage in the research. Following consent, a newsletter was sent to the share members to inform them about the researcher's presence. The purpose of the research was included in that newsletter. Share members who were selected were contacted by phone, and a day and time suitable for each was scheduled. Eight of the 12 participants selected for this research were interviewed in their homes, as was the farmer and his wife. The other four members composed the focus group and were used in the focus group interview. Prior to the interview, the interviewees were given a letter of introduction and a consent form. The interviews were tape-recorded and some notes were also taken during the interview.
In regard to the focus group interview, selected share members were contacted by phone, and a day and time suitable for them were scheduled. Four of the 12 participants who were selected were interviewed in the focus group in the cottage on the community farm. Prior to the focus group interview, interviewees were given a letter of introduction and a consent form. The procedure suggested by Krueger (1980) was used (i.e., start with the welcoming statement; provide an overview and discuss the topic to be talked about; lay out the ground rules and the first question). The questions asked were the same as those for the interviews.
CONTEXT OF THE STUDY
The community farm is in midwestern Ontario. It is a 90-acre plot of land, four and one-half acres of which have been devoted to the community farm. The farmers practice mixed farming with intercropping and grow a variety of vegetables. The farming practices are also labor-intensive and organic.
Organization of the Community Farm
Community members can become involved either by contacting the farmers directly, or by the farmers contacting individuals after hearing of their interest. Prospective members fill out an application form and usually give the farmers post-dated checks that cover the period of the farming season, or they may elect to make full payment before the season starts. Either way, share members must start paying by May 1st as it also enables the farmers to have some money with which to purchase seeds.
Membership of the Community Farm
Fifty-four families and two restaurants, mostly from midwestern Ontario, have a stake in the output of the community garden. Members get a wide variety of fresh, organically grown vegetables, potatoes, and sweet corn. A member can have a full- or a half-share price. The full-share price was $450, whereas the half-share price was $225. Share members may choose to go to the farm on either Tuesdays or Saturdays or both between June and October to pick up their vegetables. Full-share members go twice a week, while half-share members may choose to pick up their vegetables on either Tuesdays or Saturdays. A notice board displays what is available to be picked up. For an extra fee of $2 or $3, share members can have their share of food items delivered to their homes once or twice a week, respectively.
For a fee reduction of $50 or $25 for full- and half-share members, respectively, share members can become participating members. Full-share members work ten hours while half-share members work five hours a week from late June to early October. Participating members work on scheduled harvest days. A coordinator who is responsible for the participating members contacts them and explains to them what is expected of them and their work schedule.
Communication with the Members/Social Activities
To maintain communication with the membership, there is an annual general meeting in May at which time consensus is reached for the new year, and an evaluation is done of the previous year. To maintain regular communication with share members, the farmers also send out newsletters throughout the year to keep share members informed of what is going on.
They organize square-dancing events in late October or early November, and also have coffee houses. These events enable the farmers and share members to talk about different things with the farmers, and provide opportunities to get together.
Content analysis was used to reconstruct the data to understand manifest and latent meanings within the context of the respondents' frame of reference (Jorgenson, 1989; Mostyn, 1988; Patton, 1990; Spradley, 1980). A four-step process was used: manually transcribing the notes from the interview; coding the data with key words; identifying commonalities and variations; and identifying themes that link and explain the data (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Kvale, 1996; Patton, 1990). The analyses were (a) objective, in that they were free from bias as much as possible; (b) systematic, in that they were designed to secure data relevant to the questions; and (c) general, in that the categories were exhaustive, and each linked with a research question (Holsti, 1969; Mostyn, 1988).
The findings are presented in three parts: the first part deals with share members' motivations to get involved in CSA, the second presents findings related to empowerment, and the final part presents findings pertaining to social vitality.
Motivations for Getting Involved in CSA
The section deals with the "what" of involvement in CSA. The purpose was to learn why share members chose to be associated with CSA. One reason was love of organic produce:
Love of Organic Produce
I think the organic aspects are fundamental, I'm not sure I'll be particularly interested in joining this group if it wasn't organic. To me that's critical, and it's critical because we sort of live in a situation ... where almost anything you can buy has got additives of one kind or another ... even the fresh fruits and vegetables that you buy are sprayed, and you don't know what kind of sprays they are using. You know there are chemicals involved, but it's very hard to judge how harmful that stuff is to your body because different people say different things depending on what their ... vested interests are. But I know it's harmful, but it's hard to judge exactly how harmful that stuff is, to know you can go to a place which is free of all that junk, is wonderful.
Others were interested because they saw CSA as a way to recycle and be stewards of the land:
Recycling, Usage of Natural Resources and Stewardship
I like following more of the natural cycle of things, and therefore whatever compost we have at home we can send it back and it can be used there. That is a good aspect of the community garden, they've always welcomed back compost. I think he is making good use of the natural resources. In terms of the use of resources, one of the great difficulties in modern agriculture is the soil degradation from compaction, erosion and reduced organic content. What's nice about this small scale stuff is that by and large you don't have that, it's labour intensive, so you don't have large machines that compact the soil, you don't have huge expenses where the soil could blow away, or wash away. So it's a good use of resources because in my mind it's far more sustainable than modern hi-tech crop production with hundreds of acres. It's a wise use of resources.
For still others, getting involved had to do with health:
I think it is just the fact that you can just promote your health a lot better and maintain it by eliminating a lot of the chemicals in it. I think for your own mental well-being it makes you feel better to know that you are doing that. Well I'm a health care provider and I truly believe that one of the important determinants of being well and being healthy is in eating good food, and I suspect that the food that is produced commercially under somewhat unnatural conditions and then stored and transported vast distances often taking many weeks before it finally reaches the consumer lacks nutrition, plus it's contaminated with far greater doses of pesticides than that food which is grown organically. So I think that the food from the garden is a whole lot healthier.
Finally, for others, it was the idea of being involved in a community:
Philosophy of Community
I think what motivated me the most was the philosophy behind it more than the actual vegetables themselves or the food themselves ... that this is a community thing and everybody shares in it. I got involved because of the whole idea that there are a number of people in the community that are all focused in on one thing. It is a concept in community and sharing. I also see the camaraderie and the whole concept of community. I t's a new community that we are being involved with, and a lot of these people are not people that we have socialized with or worked with and obviously they all have a similar goal or need
The values of empowerment assume that individuals and groups have greater control over their lives and issues that affect them and make decisions regarding those areas of their lives. Three empowerment-related themes were derived from the interviews: self-determination, distributive justice, and democratic and collaborative participation.
In terms of self-determination, which assumes that individuals and communities understand their needs better and as such have the power to define what those needs are and act upon them, most share members felt that they had a say in what occurs on the farm.
We have control over what we grow, the only thing we don't have control over is the weather, and nobody has control over that. So we can operate independent of any union, independent of any major transport concerns, and independent of any big business. My feeling is that I have a ... sense of responsibility, I think it goes hand in hand with how much you put into it. So right now my major participation is as a participating member and share member. As a share member you are supporting the growth of the season no matter what it is, so that is taking on a responsibility.
In regard to the theme of distributive justice, most share members felt there was a fair and equitable distribution system.
By joining the project, we are willing to share the highs and the lows, so the farmer will always survive with our support, because if he wins, we win, and if he loses, we lose, and the risk is spread within the community. ... I don't think we have anything to worry about there. We are quite satisfied with how much produce is harvested every week and how much we bring home. We were giving some away.... Like at first there were lot of lettuces and things that we never had used before so that now that we are used to it it's great. Because we eat a lot of vegetables anyway it's great for us. I think it's a bargain. We know because we've kept records of how much produce a family gets per share over the year and we know that if just on a pound-for-pound basis that produce was bought in a supermarket, it would cost I think 10 to 15 percent more, buying supermarket non-organic products. Now if you then compare with buying commercially available, that is, through retail outlets, organic produce we're getting about 30 percent discount on what we have to pay for buying it through retail.
On the question of participation, most members felt that they were active participants.
Democratic and Collaborative Participation
We have the questionnaire that goes round in the fall or early spring, I think it was in the fall actually ... it was quite a lengthy questionnaire that they sent around asking us if there was anything that we will like to see changed. They were asking for input, what do you want to see grown or what do you like to see more of, and that sort of thing ... and one of the things that came up in discussion was whether we would continue growing potatoes on a very large scale, or may be concentrate on other things because the potatoes take a lot of work to keep on top of them and to harvest ... we've had our input, we can't say we didn't. I think in the newsletter, [the farmers] always ask for suggestions in the fall when he is preparing for the spring, and I think they are willing to even during the summer if you say, I really would like more of this they sort of stash it away for when it's time to start the planting and think about how many people said that sort of thing. But then [the farmers] make the final decision based on everyone's comments.
Another issue addressed was whether involvement in CSA has expanded the social horizon of its members. Most members saw this in terms of the relationships they have established and a sense of belonging to a community.
With Regard to Relationships
... it has proved that for us in five years that we've been here we've met more people and become friends with a lot of them than we've ever known anywhere else we lived. It is an incredible opportunity for social participation. It just provides the opportunity for people to interact on a level that is totally different than any other level in their lives at present. It is over food and involves a farm. It involves the whole family and it can involve all their friends and I see it as a way to meet more of the community than you will ever meet doing anything else. ... the other thing that happens is that on a more personal basis to be involved in the garden you meet people and individually become involved with them as friends.
And Sense of Community
... a sense of community, a sense of people coming together to work in a cooperative way. We live in a western culture in which individualism is often the rule of the day, and to see a group of individuals coming together and working in the garden through harvesting and making decisions is really a fine thing to be a part of. Certainly there feels like there is this underlying thread that connects all those people together. Among certain members we do discuss other social issues and act upon other things that seem to need to be supported at a particular time ... it's just that familiarity we have with each other through the garden. Just the sense of meeting with people, there is the sharing in the celebration of the harvest at the hoe-down, making pies for the pie contest, learning how to square dance. It feels really positive. It feels that you are not just celebrating, but you celebrate the community and the you celebrate the harvest and the food that you've gotten. I think it gives you a stronger sense of purpose.
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS
Community Shared Agriculture is an alternative to industrialized agriculture that is based on different assumptions and premises. This study sought to understand what involvement in CSA has meant to share members and their reasons for getting involved in CSA. The findings from this descriptive study suggest that the reasons for share members' involvement ranged from the desire for organic food, the need to recycle, and to be stewards of the land, to health reasons, and the philosophy of community that underlies participation in CSA.
The share members of CSA were a diverse group of individuals with different professional backgrounds, such as teacher, artist, doctor, architect, and banker, to name a few. What these individuals had in common was a different set of attitudes and values. These share members saw CSA as offering a potential along different dimensions for organizing rural agriculture given some of the ecological, economic, and social psychological problems associated with industrialized agriculture. As was evident from the interview data, involvement in CSA calls for changing values and modes of thought. It was evident from the findings that individuals or communities that want to be involved in a CSA venture must be willing to work together and to accept and share the risks and benefits involved in agriculture.
The findings show that CSAs have the potential to revitalize rural agriculture by empowering rural communities, developing social relationships, and promoting a psychological sense of community. Some of the advantages evident from the findings is that in CSA, share members have a say in what goes on at the farm. They are a part of the decision-making process and know what is happening on the farm on a continuous basis. Also, CSA affords opportunities for social interaction for members through the various social activities and by going to the farm to see how crops are doing. CSA is seen as an attempt to rebuild rural communities. Most members reported feeling part of a community and building new social relationships as a function of their involvement in CSA.
As a form of community economic development initiative, the future of CSAs depends not only on individuals who decide to participate, but also on the farmers who decide to be involved. To have a successful CSA and from a prescriptive perspective, the farmers (1) must have excellent interpersonal skills so as to be able to deal with all members on an individual basis; (2) must have organizational skills to be able to organize the farm successfully; and (3) must be very flexible and take the views of share members into account. On the side of membership, the members would need to be committed to CSA goals and values and be willing to actively participate in the farm and all decision-making processes related to the farm.
In conclusion, CSA may be an alternative worth pursuing for those individuals and communities that do not subscribe to the tenets and ideals of industrialized agriculture. It may be worthwhile for those seeking communion with their neighbors in their communities, and for those interested in the preservation of natural resources and living in harmony with nature.
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Godwin S. Ashiabi, Department of Child and Family Studies, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN.…