Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Farm market

We have some great photos of the fresh food farm market that was up and running at Freedom Market all summer that I want to share. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Running steadily

For this week, received news from the AERA. Unfortunately, our proposal was not accepted. Good news is that Dr. Larson's literacy paper was accepted. We will be progressing together to analyze some data focused on her paper. Her paper is connected with the neighborhood literacy practices. My understanding of literacy practices is through different ways to read and understand the neighborhood. Dr. Larson delivered the news from the dean and the president that the university wishes to work with one of the city schools to have after-school programs. The community members pointed out several reasons we did not take into consideration. First, after school programs have been ineffective because we are not able to fully work with students through the course of their school day. However, due to political reasons such as the union contract, the city government would not the programs to intervene with the school day. The term "resources" from the university is vague. It seems that the university is not contributing any monetary resources but is showing its advocacy through physical resources. However, how to allocate resources to match specific needs of the neighborhood and how to structure the resources need more complicated planning. Thirdly, the relationship between the University of Rochester and one particular city school has to be long-term and comprehensively planned. Otherwise, future partnerships between the university and city schools could be compromised. As a research assistant, I am learning research methods and theories. However, I do believe that gaining comprehensive knowledge of the neighborhood as well as the city government is very necessary. It is not to say that I am naive, but having awareness of the context is valuable. The voice from the neighborhood will guide our direction. 

These two weeks the store has been running steadily. It is great to see so many school students who feel free to hang out in the store. I do believe that conversations between Wallace and many students can be called literacy practices. Wallace would ask every students who walk into the store "what did you learn from school today?". Most of them would answer short words such as, "everything!", or "nothing", or "math". Then, Wallace would push them further to expand on their literacy expression. He would say, "Tell me more about it", "give me one example", "which kind of math did you learn?". He would also provide them context to express more, such as giving them math problems, ask them their current grade level which will provide more information about their learning and context. Usually, this conversation goes around for at least five minutes. Children either independently solve problems, or with the assistance from Wallace. The all would be encouraged with the sweets as their reward at the end. I believe this is the most commonly occurring literacy in the store, which is not school based, but learning concerned. I hope to read more theories about these literacy practices. 
From Archer Wu

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hard work

Collaborative participatory action research is hard work, really hard work. It's all too easy to slip into a university researcher head and think alone. But, we are working hard to continue to analyze data collaboratively.

Our community partners have pushed back a bit in terms of observations and getting to know "us". They pointed out that we had done all our work in "their" space and they hadn't come to "our" spaces. While they are getting to know us through our field notes, coming to our spaces has become crucial. First, Joanne invited the research team to her house and we decided that we'd share a meal while meeting. It worked out wonderfully - breaking bread together proved to be extraordinarily productive in terms of building trust and deepening our relationships. However, while we had awesome conversations, our data analysis went by the wayside. As a result, we've decided to meet at the NEAD office most times and share a meal at someone's house once a month.

There's an article on research methods in here somewhere.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Ethnographic part

We began the ethnographic portion of the Freedom Market project in September 2011. Data collection methods in ethnography include observation (field notes), interview (audio recorded and transcribed), and artifact and document collection. We began by interviewing neighborhood residents about their family meal practices. We met with Food Corps workers to train them in ethnographic interviewing, interviewing them as a model. We then went to resident homes in pairs (Food Corps worker and University person) to conduct and audio record interviews; we have a total of 8 interviews. These interviews were transcribed for analysis. We met again several times as a group to first learn how to do qualitative data analysis, and then conduct that analysis. We found what we are calling the culture of cooking as represented in figure 1.

I.               Figure 1: Culture of Cooking

As figure 1 indicates, the theme of family emerged as particularly relevant to the residents we interviewed. Another prominent factor that is common throughout the data is that of establishing and maintaining relationships. We determined that constructing a culture in the store that reflects the values we have found and that privileges social relationships will be key to the store’s success in improving food habits. As a result, we have focused fresh foods offerings based on what resident said they would like to see. We also got a sense of the kinds of foods residents would like to see in the store (traditional meats, multiple kinds of greens, starches like baked mac and cheese).

After the store itself opened, we began observing what was going on during business hours. University personnel observed three days a week through June 2012 and then shifted to twice a week (doctoral students were on summer break). Observations were documented in field notes and transcribed in narrative format. Initial analyses has found that: 1) customers come into the store multiple times per day to shop (6-8 times – actual number; 2-4 average for everyone); 2) principal purchases at the beginning of the study in November 2011 included beer, tobacco products, lottery tickets, and snacks; 3) establishing and maintaining relationship again emerged as a key reason to come into the store.

Key behavior changes observed include a shift from buying sugary drinks to buying water along with the sugary drink to buying just water. We began to see this change in January 2012. From what we can observe, this change occurred because water began to be offered when it wasn’t before. We focused on water given a survey Food Corps workers conducted that reported on whether customers would replace sugary drinks with water. 58% of the 62 customers surveyed said no while 21% said yes (21% did not answer that question). We can’t say which of these groups has replaced sugary drinks with water (e.g. whether any of the 58% who said no made the change) but we have observed the change nonetheless. Field notes indicate that customers began to purchase water alongside sugary drinks, gradually changing to buying water only. Another index of this shift is the dramatic increase of water sold in the store.

A second survey constructed by Food Corps workers in collaboration with University doctoral students provided important information regarding what healthy foods customers would purchase if they were available. All of the 53 customers indicated they would purchase greens and lettuce, onions, broccoli and cauliflower, eggplant, potatoes, cabbage, and carrots; most of the respondents would purchase combinations of the fresh vegetables. The option “prefer can/frozen” was not checked by anyone. Additional healthy food options were also surveyed with similar results. Customers would also purchase grains and nuts, low sugar whole grain cookies, whole grain bread, bottled waters, granola/energy bars, healthy frozen or boxed meals. This survey provided key information for what should be purchased in the store. Observations have confirmed that some customers have purchased the healthier snack foods that have begun to appear on the shelves (fruits chews, low sugar cookies, nuts and seeds).

In a second wave of interviews, we focused on Food Corps workers. Preliminary analyses show that family is again a key theme. All respondents talked about the neighborhood as being like a family in which people “have each other’s back.” The importance of building and sustaining these relationships is of primary importance.

Future data collection will include continued observations in the store but with different foci (e.g. math and literacy practices related to food behaviors and on customers beliefs about the store and the neighborhood), interviews of customers, surveys, photographs, and document collection.   On-going data analysis in collaboration with community members and university researchers will focus on documenting changes in behaviors and perceptions of community residents over time; uncovering how relationships are being built and maintained in and through the corner store; and understanding the connections between building relationships and community through the Freedom Market and the health and well-being of families and community residents.

Monday, October 22, 2012

More Background

The Freedom Market is a NEAD initiative that is located across the street from its main offices. Beechwood has 5,924 residents who are majority African American and Latino. Area challenges include: 1) absentee landlords whose properties are substandard; 2) deteriorated and deteriorating buildings; and 3) a significant number of City owned vacant properties with the standard bollard treatment the City uses to secure vacant property. While there are challenges, the neighborhood works hard to build on its assets such as: 1) involved neighborhood residents; 2) a strong sense of cultural unity, and; 3) a comprehensive development organization (NEAD).

With few supermarkets within the neighborhood, the residents of Beechwood do not have ready access to affordable, fresh and healthy food; they live in an urban “food desert” (Pothukuchi, 2005). McClintock (2011) suggests that food deserts disproportionately impact people of color and lower-income neighborhoods and communities, where in many of these urban spaces there exists uneven community development and imbalanced relationships of power (94). However, we find that people in this community live in a food swamp ( In other words, they are inundated with unhealthy food, rather than having nearby access to clean, healthy foods.

Because the area is extremely low-income, many residents do not have cars and must rely on public transportation to get around.  While public transportation is an option for cheap and efficient mobility, it is not conducive to carrying several days worth of groceries.  One can take only a few grocery bags on a crowded city bus at any given time, forcing residents to select light, portable goods over heavier, cumbersome products (such as fruit and vegetables).  To get to a full-service supermarket, residents need to take a taxi to the closest market about a mile away.  At approximately $10-15 per round-trip, this takes a sizeable chunk of the household grocery budget, an option many households in the neighborhood do not have.  They can walk to corner stores as they walk “their” city (de Certeau, 1984).

This economic condition has caused the only alternative for these families to be grocery shopping at high-priced corner stores, largely stocked with high-fat, packaged foods that provide little to no nutritional value. There are 94 such markets in the Northeast of Rochester alone. The Freedom Market project is revamping a current corner store to introduce a larger variety of healthy food options to residents. By transforming the corner store, we offer the neighborhood an alternative that will phase in healthier and more affordable food options over a three-year period. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Getting Started

We are starting this blog so that more people can learn about the work of the Freedom Market. Our research team, Joanne Larson, Joyce Duckles, George Moses, Courtney Hanny, Tomas Boatwright, Archer Wu, Robert Moses, Wallace Smith, Maurice Brooks and Gabriel Hudgeon, will all take a turn posting as we develop the blog.

What is the Freedom Market? It is a community transformation initiative and a collaborative participatory action research project. Northeast Area Development (NEAD) is a community development organization that purchased a ubiquitous urban "corner store" in order to transform it into a cornerstone of the neighborhood. Tired of living in an urban food desert, George (NEAD's executive director) lead NEAD to purchase the store and to change it into a healthy resource for the community. The research project is a collaboration between NEAD and faculty and students from the University of Rochester's Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development.

Together, we are out to change the world. Join us in our adventure.