Academic journal article Journal of Rural Social Sciences

Community, Regional Identity, and Civic Agriculture: A Structural Ritualization Analysis of Rural Online Farmers' Market Sellers *

Academic journal article Journal of Rural Social Sciences

Community, Regional Identity, and Civic Agriculture: A Structural Ritualization Analysis of Rural Online Farmers' Market Sellers *

Article excerpt

Biotechnology companies started pushing a "new agriculture" agenda in the 1980s. Its corner post is genetically modified (GM) food. The homogenization of GM crops allows farmers to grow similar products. Corporate farmers now produce comparable crops, even when they are great distances apart (Eaton 2013). Conclusions regarding the effects of GM plants on non-targeted organisms are nuanced. However, suspected consequences include the damaging natural habitats (Pleasants and Oberhauser 2012) and an increased insect resistance to pesticides (O'Callaghan et al. 2005). An elevation in food allergies (Goodman, Panda, and Ariyarathna 2013) and food contamination due to complex processing (Nerin, Aznar, and Carrizo 2016) may also be occurring. In addition, corporatized farming is breaking down social connections and the cultural uniqueness associated with the food (see Forman 2010; Venugopal, Kumari, and Anthonamma 2013). The civic agriculture movement offers hope.

Civic agriculture involves a commitment to producing, processing, and distributing food locally (Lyson 2004). A good example is a farmers' market (FM). Research shows that traditional FM interaction promotes community bonds (Brown and Miller 2008; Glowacki-Dudka, Murray, and Isaacs 2013; Trauger and Passidomo 2012; Watson 2006). Similar to arguments on regional food around the world (e.g., see Brulotte and Di Giovine 2016), scholars also believe rural cooking traditions and highly identifiable ingredients in the South help to maintain social connectedness and solidify geographic identity (Veteto and Maclin 2011). In turn, rural, Southern FMs may be facilitating valuable community relationships, while also reinforcing local identity through the sale of regionally unique items.

An innovative model for FMs recently emerged. It involves online sales (Gambino 2015). As with research focusing on rural markets, a lack of information exists. Using structural ritualization theory, this article helps to fill the void. It looks into the history of FMs, dynamics in online markets versus traditional markets, why sellers choose online markets, and perceived advantages of selling online. Using qualitative data gathered from interviews of sellers working with a rural, online FM in the Arkansas River Valley, it also explores questions such as: Do sellers engage in significant acts involving community bonds, regional identity, and civic agriculture? How important are these rituals to sellers? Do sellers participate in rituals outside the market sphere associated with community bonds, regional identity, and civic agriculture? What ritual-based resources do sellers see as advantageous for working within an online market?

A BRIEF HISTORY OF FARMERS' MARKETS

A FM is "a common facility or area where several farmers grow/gather on a regular, recurring basis to sell a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables and other farm products directly to consumers" (Johnson and Bragg 1994:2). With this project, considering the history of FMs and addressing how online versions fit into it is important.

F our peaks of FM popularity over the last century exist. The first occurred after WWI (Brown 2001). With it, there may have only been an appearance of an increase in FMs since this is when the government started keeping records on markets. Nevertheless, a post-WWI desire to return to localized relations following a major global conflict did exist, and FMs were a part of it. The second peak occurred during the Great Depression. Citizens with limited resources turned to self-sufficient agriculture out of necessity. Community members formed markets to elevate consumption variety. Intentional or not, support networks emerged. However, agriculture conglomerates, urbanization, refrigeration, and consumer desire for convenience led to another decline (Stephenson 2008). The third peak, with origins in the late 1960s, involved political activism. Consumer demands for better food led to the Farmer-to-Consumer Direct Marketing Act of 1976. …

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