2014 AES New Research Projects – 725

COL00725 – Food System Resilience along the Front Range

Sponsoring Institution: National Institute of Food and Agriculture

Project Director:

Michael Carolan
Professor
(970) 491-5797
michael.carolan@colostate.edu
Department of Sociology

Non-Technical Summary

Food security and food system resilience are subjects the Principle Investigator has studied for well over a decade. In addition to being of great interest to him professionally these are also subjects of tremendous interest to Colorado and society at large. Indeed, in light of climate change, water scarcity, peak oil, peak soil, and the like these are arguably the key issues of the 21st century. Resilient food systems are those that operate within and across multiple scales. In colloquial language we can say these systems service regional (e.g., Front Range), national, and international markets. The PI has personally been involved in a number of research projects along the Front Range (Colorado) in recent years. These experiences have suggested that while there is a lot of excitement about the potential for regional food projects in Colorado barriers remain. We propose studying opportunities and barriers along the Front Range for these regional agrifood chains, which include looking at opportunities and barriers for the possible scaling “up” and “out” of these networks. In addition to providing safe, healthy and affordable food to communities, local and regional food systems also represent a strategy for enhancing community development and building community resiliency (especially in communities defined as food deserts). We hope to better understand through this research the barriers and opportunities that regional food networks present communities as strategies for development so that those barriers can be minimized and the opportunities exploited. To do this the research team will focus primarily on the Front Range between Denver and Fort Collins (Colorado). Data will be collecting from urban/exurban/rural producers, individuals from processing facilities and distribution hubs, city and state officials(e.g., city planners), consumers (purposively sampling for certain populations–e.g., those living in food deserts), and people responsible for making purchasing decisions for supermarkets/food co-ops, restaurants, and schools. The research team will also analyze websites, reports, and other public documents.

Goals / Objectives

Overarching Goals

  • Propose options for more localized food systems along the Front Range (Colorado);
  • Propose options for more resilience food systems along the Front Range (Colorado);
  • Propose options that will minimize the prevalence of food deserts along the Front Range (Colorado) by way of more localized food systems.

Objectives to Achieve Goals

  • Identify ‘barriers’ and ‘opportunities’ for regional food systems along the Front Range (Colorado);
  • Study (latent) demand among “consumers” (broadly defined, to include buyers of food for schools, restaurants, grocery stores, etc.) along the Front Range for foods grown within the state (Colorado);
  • Identify barriers and opportunities for improving food security and resilience along the Front Range (Colorado);
  • Identify barriers and opportunities to minimize the prevalence of food deserts along the Front Range by way of more localized food systems (Colorado);
  • Understand how food/agriculture projects are sources of “value” for communities (broadly defined, see e.g., community capitals frameworks of Emery and Flora [2006]).

Emery, M. and C.B. Flora. 2006. “Spiraling-Up: Mapping Community Transformation with Community Capitals Framework.” Community Development: Journal of the Community Development Society 37: 19-35. http://www.ncrcrd.iastate.edu/pubs/flora/spiralingup.htm” target=”new”.

Methods

This research will focus primarily on the Front Range between Denver and Fort Collins. We propose collecting data from urban/exurban/rural producers, individuals from processing facilities and distribution hubs, city and state officials (e.g., city planners), consumers (purposively sampling for certain populations–e.g., those living in food deserts), and people responsible for making purchasing decisions for supermarkets/food co-ops, restaurants, and schools. Someone from the research team will also collect data from public meetings concerning local and regional food efforts.

We will use purposive and snowball sampling methods to conduct between 100 and 125 personal interviews (recognizing that in order to maximize sampling diversity there is a high likelihood new/different snowballs will need to be launched). We will also develop a consumer survey instrument, which would be purposively mailed to some 300 individuals. The research team will also analyze websites, reports, and other public documents. We also expect to collect data through participant observation.

There tends to be a spatial bias when studying “agriculture”: namely, agriculture is a distinctly rural phenomenon. Some of the PI’s research looking at urban and exurban agriculture along the Front Range has shown the dangers of this bias, as urban/exurban agriculture often comes with its own unique opportunities and constraints. We will take steps in our sampling to overcome this bias.

The above statements about the number of interviews to be conducted are estimates. In qualitative research, interviews are conducted until a threshold of “saturation” has been reached. Theoretical saturation is the phase of qualitative data analysis in which the researcher has continued sampling and analyzing data until no new data appear, no new themes emerge, and concepts and linkages between concepts that form the theory are verified and well-developed. At this point I can be argued that no new data are needed (see e.g., Glaser and Straus 2012 [1967] The Discovery of Grounded Theory. Rutgers, NJ: Transaction Publishers). Relatedly, there will be an iterative component to this research, whereby themes, concepts, and theoretical linkages will be shared with stakeholders/participants as a way of evaluating and “ground truthing” our analysis and findings.

The research project will be overseen by Dr. Michael Carolan, Professor and Chair, Sociology. To stretch the budget out as far as possible he will not claim any salary from the project, though he expects to put between 10 and 20 hours of work a week into it. The rest of the research team will include one full time PhD student and one part time PhD student. Both will be supervised by Dr. Carolan. We have also enrolled, in an advisory capacity, the Colorado State University Director of Extension for Denver County, Rusty Collins. His contacts and firsthand knowledge about existing local/regional food system projects will be invaluable to use as we work to identify stakeholders and to minimize overlap with efforts already underway.

Target Audience

Anyone that eats. Our aim is to improve the viability of more regional food systems along the Front Range of Colorado. We hope to especially address issues related to food insecurity for low income neighborhoods, which are commonly defined as food deserts, by improving food access to those areas by way of local/regional foods. We also hope to better understand through this research the opportunities and barriers that currently exist for producers and buyers, so that those barriers can be reduced and those opportunities exploited.

Products

In addition to the typical scholarly outputs (e.g., journal articles and perhaps a book) we expect to create outputs for more general consumption, perhaps using social media techniques such as YouTube videos, blogs, and Facebook. We will investigate what products would be most valuable to stakeholders during the data collection process and draw upon their recommendations when developing these outputs.

Expected Outcomes

  • Increased viability for more regional food systems in Colorado
  • Decrease in the number of food deserts along the Front Range (Colorado)
  • Increased food security/resiliency along the Front Range (Colorado)
  • Increased understanding of barriers and opportunities for regional food systems along the Front Range (Colorado)

Keywords: Local Food Systems, Regional Food Systems, Food Deserts, Food System Resilience, Urban Agriculture, Local Food

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