The Farmscape Ecology Program * KYPP Nugget 16: 3/24/2011

KYPP Nugget: Community Food Survey

This Week in The Columbia Paper: "Two Old Foundations: Of Land and Wealth"
Conrad takes readers along a walk through woods, time, and some age-old ideas about land and wealth in FEP's next Perspectives on Place column in The Columbia Paper, March 24, 2011. 

Community Survey: Background Exploration

Copake Community Day Survey

Conducting a Dot Survey at Copake Community Day.

Above you can see the "dot survey" that we used to conduct the community food surveys at various community events.  Clearly it's not your normal pen and paper survey.  From a research perspective, this has both upsides and downsides.  The biggest reason we decided to do the community surveying in this way, is that we wanted to attract as many different community members as possible, and thus make it very easy (and fun!) to participate.  Plus, one of the neat aspects of a dot survey is that you can see the results as they accumulate, and thus be part of not only contributing information, but observing and discussing community patterns.  This benefit, however, is very closely related to the major downside of dot surveys, which is that people may be influenced by the patterns that start to emerge.  Alas, no survey technique is perfect.  Below are some of the graphs depicting results described in the column (right).

Vegetable Gardens in the Community

Gardens were popular!  Below is a pie graph showing the percentage of people who reported having a vegetable garden:

Do you have a vegetable garden or plot?
Graph of % People with Gardens
And for those who did not have a vegetable garden or plot, the interest in having one was tremendous:

If no, would you like one?
Graph of % of people who would like to have a garden

Of course these overall percentages mask some of the variations between the 6 towns that we surveyed.  In the graphs below, you can see that places like Philmont and Hillsdale stand out as having a lot of gardens, while places like Copake and Hudson stand out as having a lot of people who would like to have a garden:

Do you have a vegetable garden or plot?

Graph of % of people who have a garden by town

If no, would you like one?

Graph of % of people who would like a garden, by town

Community Satisfaction with Food Stores

Just over half the people we surveyed were not satisfied with the availability of fresh food in stores near their home.  Keep in mind that we only covered six towns in our community surveying, so this is reflective of community opinion in those towns.  Below you can see the overall response summarized in a pie graph, followed by a bar graph of response by town:

Are you satisfied with the availability of fresh food in stores near your home?
Graph of Satisfaction with Food Stores
Graph of Satisfaction with Food Stores by Town

We also asked people how far they traveled to the store where they usually did their food shopping.  We found that a quarter of the people we surveyed traveled over 10 miles to do their regular grocery shopping.  That may be a fact of life for many rural areas, but community members aren't necessarily happy about it.  When we looked at the relationship between how far people normally traveled to do their shopping, and how satisfied they were with the availability of fresh food, it seemed satisfaction decreased with travel distance.  The graph below illustrates this:

Graph of Relationship Between Satisfaction and Distance to Stores

Food Resource Mapping: Food Store Locations and Areas with Higher Levels of No Vehicle Access

The map at right helps to illustrate why some communities may be less satisfied than others with the availability of food stores near their home.  In the map, yellow dots indicate grocery stores/supermarkets, green dots indicate natural/specialty food stores and red dots indicate convenience stores. Currently supermarkets are concentrated in one part of the County (Greenport) with only a few others located in other parts of the County.  Many people, therefore, have to travel many miles to get to a supermarket.  The other issue that comes out in the map is that there are parts of the County where higher percentages of households don't have access to a vehicle, and thus even relatively nearby supermarkets that are beyond easy walking distance may be too far for easy access.  On the map, one can see that downtown Hudson is one example of that situation. 


What local food-related questions would you like to see explored?

I'd love to get your feedback and input as I plan what other research questions to explore in this next summer's Community Food Assessment research.  Send us an email and let know!

3/3/2011 column: "Reflections on a Community Food Survey"

by Anna Duhon
You might have seen me this past summer standing beside a big poster board with colorful dots on it at some community event.  This was in fact a community food survey – a way to get feedback on what people in Columbia County think about the food situation in their communities, as well as some of the food and agriculture-related decisions they are making.  We surveyed around 500 people in the County at six different community events in Hudson, Ghent, Chatham, Philmont, Copake and Hillsdale.

This community food survey is just one part of a larger community food assessment project that seeks to explore the current situation of food and farming in Columbia County.  I’ll be sharing the ongoing results of this larger project in various settings, but for this column I thought it might be interesting to take a closer look at a couple of the findings from the community food survey, and some of the “food for thought” questions that are related to these findings. 

One of the findings that surprised me was the popularity of vegetable gardens.  Just over half the people we surveyed had a vegetable garden of some kind, and over three-quarters of those people who did not have a garden reported that they would like to have one.  In other words, the vast majority of people we surveyed either grow some of the food they consume or would like to be growing some of the food they consume.

Part of the reason this surprised me is that the rhythm of gardening with its long, slow wait to see the fruits of one’s effort would seem to run counter to the hectic rhythm of many people’s lives.  At the same time, there has been much talk recently of a potential resurgence in home food production as a result of the economic downturn, and I wonder if our survey in part reflects that resurgence.

Gardens have long been an affordable alternative to the supermarket for providing households with fresh produce.  Just how affordable was demonstrated this past summer, when a couple in Maine got the notion to record and weigh the food coming out of their home garden and compare it to supermarket prices.  They calculated that they spent $282 in total on all seeds, compost, supplies, water, etc., and reaped $2,196.50 in food, valued at conventional supermarket prices.  As they pointed out, that’s an 862% return on investment.  Of course that doesn’t take time or labor into account, but it also doesn’t account for the benefits of physical activity and health.  [To read the full blog post on the worth of a home garden, click here]

The idea that one can, with some time, a little bit of land and minimal financial inputs, reap a substantial harvest of food is a powerful one that can have far-reaching impacts.  Perhaps the best-known example of this in our country’s history is the “Victory Garden” movement during WWII, when citizens were encouraged to plant gardens to aid the war effort by reducing pressure on the food supply [Scroll down or click this link to see one of the Victory Garden posters].  In 1943 there were 20 million gardens, which produced 8 million tons of food, or in other words, around 40% of the vegetables being consumed in the entire coun
ry.  [Source:] Our initial community survey results lead me to wonder, how much food are we producing in home gardens in Columbia County? 

Another question that begs asking, is what keeps those who don’t have a garden but would like one from growing food?  One of the main barriers that people often mentioned was access to land.  In Hudson, for example, two thirds of the residents rent homes, and so are less likely to have access to land that they can work.  In our community surveys, Hudson had the lowest percentage of respondents with gardens, but one of the highest percentages of respondents who would like a garden.  Are there enough community gardens and other resources to support all of the people in Columbia County who would like to start growing food? 

Experience may also be a barrier.  A substantially lower percentage of younger people (ages 20-34) that we surveyed had or wanted gardens, and one potential explanation is lack of exposure or experience in gardens.  Should we be doing more to expose children to gardening?

Another interesting finding from the community food survey was that just over half of the people we surveyed were not satisfied with the availability of fresh food in stores near their home.  As might be expected, the levels of dissatisfaction were not evenly distributed and seemed to relate both to what stores offered and the proximity of large food stores to the community in which we were surveying. 

Indeed, we also asked people how far they usually travel to the store where they normally buy their food and found that people who traveled the furthest – over 10 miles – were the least satisfied with availability of fresh food.  Not surprisingly, satisfaction steadily increased as the distance people normally traveled to shop decreased.  People who travelled less than one mile were by far the most satisfied. 

That mile marker is a particularly important distance when considering the availability of food for households that don’t have cars.  There are pockets throughout Columbia County where a relatively high percentage of households don’t own a vehicle.  In Hudson and Philmont, for example, over one in ten households on average don’t own a vehicle (as reported in the 2000 census).  In both towns, just over half the people we surveyed were unsatisfied with fresh food availability, and both currently lack a grocery store in the downtown area – though this may soon be changing.

One of the interesting aspects of doing such community research is realizing how quickly the food landscape can change, sometimes in direct response to community initiatives.  In Philmont, for example, there is a groundswell of people participating in the process of creating a community grocery and deli co-op in the recently closed Stewart’s building.  Similarly, the abrupt closing of the New Lebanon Supermarket a little over a year ago prompted community members in New Lebanon to rally around creating new local food options through a farmers’ market.  (Meanwhile New Lebanon and Livingston have been chosen as locations for new Hannaford Supermarkets.)  What other changes do communities want to see in their food system?

At best, a community survey is just a snapshot of a moment, or the beginning of a conversation.  What is truly exciting is seeing how communities, in varying ways, embrace the challenge of deciding and creating the food options they would like to have available.  I am always heartened to realize the potential power that people and communities have to affect their food landscape, whether by rallying together to address a gaping need or simply by growing gardens of food.

Victory Garden Poster
The Victory Garden movement was accompanied by a tremendous amount of publicity, and many iconic posters resulted such as the one below.

Victory Garden Poster
Map of Food Store Locations
Food Resource Mapping & Other CFA Research

This map is part of a larger "Food Resource Mapping" project that allows one to explore all different types of food resources and agricultural and demographic data in the County.  We hope to be able to share this interactive mapping resource on our website in the coming months.  We'll also be sharing other research results from the community food assessment on our website soon, so stay tuned.

The Food Resource Mapping project has been supported by a grant from the Fund for Columbia County, a fund of the Berkshire Taconic Foundation.