This Week in The Columbia Paper: "Two Old Foundations: Of Land and Wealth"
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
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?
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?
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?
If no, would you like one?
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?
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:
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
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 country. [Source: http://www.futurefarmers.com/victorygardens/history.html] 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
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
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.
Garden movement was accompanied by a tremendous amount of publicity,
and many iconic posters resulted such as the one below.
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