A Mixed-methods Examination of the Geospatial and Sociodemographic Context of a Direct-to-Consumer Food System Innovation
Spatial context may be important to direct to consumer (DTC) programs aimed at improving fresh fruit and vegetable access for low-income individuals. The purpose of this study was to examine the sociodemographic and geospatial context (distance to pickup sites, number and density of proximal food retail outlets, etc.) surrounding community supported agriculture (CSA) pickup locations in relation to low-income customer residential locations, and to synthesize this information with interview-derived perspectives on the challenges and opportunities of the pickup location from DTC producers and customers. This in-depth study examined cost-offset community supported agriculture (CO-CSA) operations across four U.S. states (New York, North Carolina, Vermont, and Washington) and varying pickup sites (n=23), with pickup operational decisions determined by farmers (n=12). Physical addresses of farms, CO-CSA customers, and pickup sites were collected and geocoded. Geographic information systems (GIS) was used to examine road network distances for pickup locations across the study sites. Demographic information at the census block level (e.g., percent racial minority, percent poverty level) was obtained for all study sites. Descriptive statistics were generated for geospatial variables. In-depth interviews with farmers and focus groups with CO-CSA customers were conducted to understand experiences with the CO-CSA in terms of physical access of pickup sites. We found that pickup sites were an average of 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) from customers’ homes, and on average, further than the supermarket (2.9 miles or 4.7 km). Farmers reported their efforts to select convenient pickup locations for low-income customers, though CO-CSA customers expressed mixed levels of accessibility. Spatial inaccessibility and differences in sociodemographic data for customer versus pickup may explain perceived inaccessibility for some customers. These findings may help inform future approaches to plan and evaluate DTC operations targeting low-income individuals by considering geospatial context and stakeholder experiences.
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