Community Communication: A Networking Service for the Urban Agricultural Economy

Establishing a Basis

Across the United States, urban agriculture has shown promising signs of growth through both state-funded projects and grassroots efforts (Weissman, 2011, p. 440).  In order for this new form of production to become a fully integrated part of the local economy, urban dwellers need to be aware of, and have easy access to, the goods produced by their local agricultural projects. Greater organization and visibility of such projects will help to secure their longevity and foster further development.

Preliminary research has revealed that web-based support and promotion of urban agriculture has not been studied extensively by academics nor implemented in the marketplace as a standalone service.  The closest examples in current practice show positive results: farmers markets are beginning to use social media to engage with local consumers, which has prompted an increase in social capital (Abrams and Sackmann, 2014) and served as a social hub for vendors and consumers (Cui, 2014, p. 87).  The lack of precedent for a user-centered networking service between urban agriculture producers and consumers makes this project decidedly challenging and relevant.

 

Discussing the Concept and Intended Users

This design proposal is for a mobile device application that connects producers–community gardens, urban agriculture collectives, and farmers markets–with their urban-dwelling consumers.  By providing a digital space for producers to display their goods, the application will increase their visibility and encourage the local community to engage in the urban agricultural economy.  The app will allow consumers to provide feedback on the quality of goods and availability of vendors, and aggregate requests (such as culture-specific produce or market schedules) based on location.

Much like Yelp or eBay, the intended users of this app are both producers and consumers in the urban agricultural economy.  In surveying the social media practices of small-scale farms, Abrams and Sackmann (2014) found that roughly half of the overall time these farmers spent on the internet was related to their business, and primarily with finding and engaging customers.  This indicates the willingness of urban agricultural producers to invest effort in a web-based service that networks with their community.

The case study conducted on the Cedar Park Farmers Market Facebook page corroborates the above finding (Cui, 2014, p. 93), and also provides insight into patterns of consumer behavior in relation to farmers markets’ social media.  The customers primarily interacted with the Facebook page to ask about operating hours and location, as well as the attendance of specific vendors (Cui, 2014, p. 96).  This reveals the communities’ desire to access updates and information about their local farmers markets through the internet, in the same manner as they would engage any other organization.  Evidence supports the inclination of both categories of intended users to get involved with a web-based urban agriculture networking service.

 

Addressing Distributive and Productive Food Justice

By creating a dynamic, centralized digital space for urban agricultural market information, this app connects urban dwellers with fresh, locally-produced goods and encourages participation in small-scale commerce.  The success of existing urban agriculture projects, facilitated by the networking service, will increase interest among grassroots organizations and local governments, thus stimulating the development of more projects.  This design not only builds a sense of community through sustainable, local, healthy eating, but also strengthens an urban economy that allows even the most marginalized neighborhoods to reclaim financial and nutritional autonomy (Weissman, 2011, p. 438).

 

Sources

Abrams, K. M., & Sackmann, A. (2014). Are alternative farmers yielding success with online marketing and communication tools for their social capital and business viability? Journal of Applied Communications, 98(3), 48+.  http://go.galegroup.com.libproxy.temple.edu/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA400785864&v=2.1&u=temple_main&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w&asid=3aef7119976cfdd81bf88b7e5015dc27

Cui, Y. (2014). Examining farmers markets’ usage of social media: An investigation of a farmers market Facebook page. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 5(1), 87–103. http://dx.doi.org/10.5304/jafscd.2014.051.008

Weissman, E. (2011). Urban agriculture. In N. Cohen, & P. Robbins (Eds.), Green cities: An A-to-Z guide. (pp. 435-442). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi: http://dx.doi.org.libproxy.temple.edu/10.4135/9781412973816.n136

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