Gardeners, Locavores, Hipsters, and Residents: An Alternative Local Food Market's Potential for "Community" Building
AbstractThe term community is frequently cited in the mission statements of alternative food projects, though what it signifies in vision and practice is rarely made explicit. This case study examines an alternative food market in a New Orleans neighborhood that operates a market that is modeled after CSA and on-site community gardens. Based on ethnographic observation and interviews with community gardeners, market staff, volunteers, customers, and local residents, this paper explores different views of "community" in relation to the market's practices. Data analysis identified four communities in relation to the organization: community gardeners, conspicuous locavores, hipsters, and local residents. The paper shows how each community has a distinct set of expectations for the organization's role in the community and demonstrates that some of them value enhancement of social connections through their involvement with the organization more than others. The findings do not demonstrate a unified community emerging around this organization; none of the communities has staked a claim yet on the organization. Some missed opportunities for bridging these communities can be attributed to the operational and physical structures of the organization, some of which, ironically, were intended to enhance community involvement. On the basis of these findings, I conclude that the alternative food movement may not necessarily create a unified community with shared goals, but this should not necessarily be considered a failure of community building. I also call for alternative food scholarship and praxis to examine the movement's impact on individuals and groups beyond the core, committed members.
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