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.