Food Diffusion (an Agriculture Supported Community program)

I believe in many of the ideas expressed in the Diffusion of Innovation Model.  The model seems to have formed by someone who appreciated different layers of actors that exist in any community, and the role of word of mouth communication in spreading innovations from one actor to the next.

There are the innovators – you can think of these people as a small group, consistently looking for something trendy to do or something trendy to own and spread.  Then there are the early adopters – those people who are “integrated” in their communities, and spread lifestyle innovations because they’ve earned the respect of their families and peers.  Members of the early majority are “cautious of adopting a new idea or product” while people in this theory’s late majority are quite skeptical and generally are coaxed to adopt something when peers pressure them.  The laggards are just what you’d expect – the last adopters who “tend to come from small families, to be single and older, and to be traditional.”

A community food system expressed graphically. Can you see the innovators, the early adopters, the early and late majorities, and the laggers?

The textbook Community Nutrition in Action describes how a community nutritionist watched a cook being interviewed on TV about a recent heart attack and his plans for developing ways of cooking healthy chow.  The book categorizes him as an early adopter (a respected, credible citizen) within the target audience of the nutritionist’s “Heart-Healthy Living” program.

I’d like to modify a program that sprung from the Rodale Institute – a Pennsylvanian farming organization performing long-term agronomic and organic marketing research.  Organizers call it “Agriculture Supported Community” (or ASC).

Here’s how it’s described:

Well, there are two parts.

The first part is membership. The program is designed to make fresh, local, organic food more accessible for people who can’t afford to pay hundreds of dollars for the whole season up-front.

Like a CSA, ASC members received a seasonal “share” of produce each week. But, unlike a CSA, ASC is pay-as-you-go. Members choose a share size of $10/week, $15/week or $25/week that can be picked up at a local community site…

The second part is education. The ASC program is also a training ground for future farmers. We’re launching an 8-month internship program that will teach people everything they need to know to start their own ASC in their own communities.

My summer program would encourage new participants, and the power of word of mouth communication by requiring every ASC member discuss the challenges and benefits of their vegetable/grain share with three or more new people each season.

This could be done over a home-fixed meal.  Or, if the farm also organizes a harvest dinner, members could invite their neighbors, family and friends to the undertaking.

If that member was successful in recruiting one or more new ASC members from their social circles, I would the recruiter membership in my winter/storage vegetable farm program.  Adults learn through and trust experience and storytelling.  That’s the principle I’d be working with.  Hopefully this project would encourage a culture of open sharing (of experiences and food), which is considered fundamental to adult learning and the process by which individuals change their behaviors.

I’d evaluate the program yearly by:

  • Tracking the model’s growth through the years and the incentive program’s role in bringing in new members (i.e. determining a rough picture of how the product, a CSA share, spreads throughout the community)
  • Surveying two populations (continuing and discontinuing ASC members) to piece together a story of how ASC is functioning, and whether this option is working for people
  • Noting the average and extreme time(s) it takes people to pay off their share, and
  • And measuring consumer turnover