Civic agriculture and community engagement
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Several scholars have claimed that small-scale agriculture in which farmers sell goods to the local market has the potential to strengthen social ties and a sense of community, a phenomenon referred to as “civic agriculture.” Proponents see promise in the increase in the number of community supported agriculture (CSA) programs, farmers markets, and other locally orientated distribution systems as well as the growing interest among consumers for buying locally produced goods. Yet others have suggested that these novel or reborn distribution mechanisms are still primarily means of instrumental economic exchange and that optimistic characterizations of a renewed sense of community emerging from these practices are unfounded. This study provides an empirical assessment of the extent to which these community-based agriculture markets are associated with connection to community, volunteerism, and civic and political activities. In order to assess the relationship between civic agriculture and community engagement, we surveyed over 1,300 people in the Mid-Hudson region of New York State. The study design includes “civic agriculture participants” as the unit of analysis, defined as CSA farm members, shoppers at independent health food stores, and farmers market patrons. For comparison, a telephone survey of randomly selected residents of the region’s general population was also conducted. Unlike studies that focus solely on the perceptions of certain civic agriculture participants (e.g., CSA members), by comparing the perceptions and behaviors of those engaged in a range of civic agriculture practices, we are able to identify the effects of different forms of participation. The results demonstrate higher levels of voluntarism and engagement in local politics among civic agriculture participants relative to the general population. In addition, we found variation among those engaged in different forms of civic agriculture, with those immersed in more socially embedded forms of exchange demonstrating greater community and political involvement. These findings lend empirical support to the civic agriculture thesis.
KeywordsCivic agriculture Civic engagement Sustainable agriculture Community supported agriculture Farmers markets
The authors would like to acknowledge the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and the contribution of student research assistants Chris Utzig, Carolyn Burgess, Jenna Dern, Layla Al Qaisi, Maria Davila, and Emily Sobel. The authors also wish to thank the farmers, business owners and farmers market managers who allowed us to survey their members and customers. This project was supported by funding from the Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach at SUNY New Paltz, the United University Professions and the National Science Foundation (Award #0550550).
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