Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 215–227 | Cite as

Bringing food desert residents to an alternative food market: a semi-experimental study of impediments to food access

  • Yuki KatoEmail author
  • Laura McKinney


The emerging critique of alternative food networks (AFNs) points to several factors that could impede the participation of low-income, minority communities in the movement, namely, spatial and temporal constraints, and the lack of economic, cultural, and human capital. Based on a semi-experimental study that offers 6 weeks of free produce to 31 low-income African American households located in a New Orleans food desert, this article empirically examines the significance of the impeding factors identified by previous scholarship, through participant surveys before, during, and after the program. Our results suggest economic constraints are more influential in determining where the participants shop for food than spatial and temporal constraints, and the study participants exhibit high levels of human and cultural capital regarding the purchase and consumption of locally grown produce. We also find them undeterred by the market’s predominantly White, middle-class cultural social space, which leads us to question the extent to which cultural exclusivity discourages their participation in AFNs. For all five factors we find that the constraints posed to accessing the local food market were not universal but varied among the participants. Finally, the study reveals some localized social constraints, fragmented social ties in particular, as a possible structural hurdle to engaging these residents in the alternative market in their neighborhood. Conclusions point to the need for a multi-dimensional and dynamic conceptualization of “food access.”


Food security Food desert Food justice movement Urban agriculture Alternative food networks Local food movement 



Alternative food network


Community supported agriculture


Electronic Benefits Transfer


Hollygrove Market and Farm



Authors thank Melissa Moss, Sarah Denson, Sarah Sklaw, Tyler Minick, Jennifer Mirman, who assisted in conducting the free produce program in Hollygrove neighborhood, as well as Hollygrove Market and Farm for collaborating with us on the project. We thank the editor and the anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments and suggestions for improving the manuscript. We also thank the Center for Public Service at Tulane University for providing funding for the project through the Community-based Research Program grant.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyTulane UniversityNew OrleansUSA

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