In addition to his graduate work at Rutgers-Camden, PhD student Lewis Bivona is deeply engaged in community development efforts in Camden City. In Fall 2016, his first semester of the PhD in Public Affairs program, Lew was enrolled in “Theory and History of Community Development”, a core course of the program. The final project of the course asked students to research, develop, and “pitch” an innovative community development project; Lew and his group mates used the project as an opportunity to interview key urban agriculture stakeholders, and through these interviews learned that the city’s many gardening organizations had missed out on substantial grant awards and bulk purchasing savings through their lack of collaboration. At the same time, Lew was already working professionally in Camden City on a number of urban agriculture and community greening efforts, and was able to leverage these connections, in addition to the important insights gleaned from his interviews, to co-found the Camden Urban Agriculture Collaborative (CUAC – pronounced “quack”). CUAC formed in 2018 as a coalition of organizations and community gardeners dedicated to pooling resources, advocating for UA-friendly policies in Camden, and identifying opportunities to deepen collaboration. CUAC had several small, early successes, and these efforts so far have culminated in being selected as one of ten organizations (out of 578 applicants) to receive a USDA Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production (UAIP) grant in 2020.
About the Community Project
Findings from a 2010 report on the status of community gardens in Camden, prepared by a team from the University of Pennsylvania, led the study’s authors to suggest that Camden, NJ may have had more active gardens per capita than any city in the United States (Vitiello et al., 2010). The same report found that a substantial portion of harvest was donated or shared with neighbors, providing an impressive contribution to neighborhood food security. In a city where significant decisions affecting residents are often made by bodies outside of residents’ democratic control, this degree of autonomy and self-determination was all the more important. Unfortunately, that same report also noted that the majority of community gardeners were at or beyond retirement age. Today, most of these gardeners have, sadly, moved on, and this (along with important policy changes at the city level — e.g. the termination of the “adopt-a-lot” program) has resulted in a precipitous decline in community gardening, while most of the remaining gardens are sustained by non-profit organizations. The next generation of the city’s gardeners is interested, but they are in need of resources, knowledge, and skills to restore the legacy of Camden’s community gardening legacy.
CUAC’s UAIP award-winning initiative represents an effort to address this exact set of problems. It aims to create an “urban agriculture leadership pipeline” in Camden that supports residents of the City in their journey from resident, to gardener, to farmer, and eventually to community urban agriculture (UA) leader. The grant establishes three new programs, including: 1) the creation of “garden hubs” throughout the city where residents can acquire tools, supplies, take classes, and learn about gardening first hand; 2) an urban agriculture apprenticeship program to elevate gardeners’ growing practices to more intensive levels, and; 3) a unified outreach and promotions platform, to promote the benefits of gardening more than ever before.
How and Why CURE is involved
CUAC has agreed to meet many direct, measurable goals in the UAIP program, and will track metrics such as community participation rates, changes in gardening activity and food consumption, and federal funds leveraged. But the ultimate desired outcome of CUAC’s work — to realign power in urban agriculture and community gardening decision-making in Camden residents — at first sounds straightforward, but the concept of “power” is tremendously complex, and does not easily lend itself to quantification. To evaluate this important outcome CUAC has proposed to conduct a power analysis: a method (or more accurately, a set of methods and frameworks) designed to capture the multifaceted nature of power in an urban community context. To conduct such an analysis requires a combination of theoretical knowledge, mastery of a variety of qualitative methods, participatory research experience, deep familiarity with local context, and credibility within the community that the Center for Urban Research and Education is uniquely situated to offer.
- Apply and evaluate the usefulness of “power analysis” in a novel context (it is typically employed in international economic development contexts outside of the United States, and tends to focus on higher administrative levels — i.e. national in scope), focused on novel subject matter (urban agriculture)
- Define “power” in the context of urban agriculture in Camden City, paying close attention to the “forms, layers, spaces, and expressions” that it may take, and document how these are currently distributed.
- Over the three-year grant period, evaluate the impact of CUAC programming in general, and UAIP-funded efforts in particular, in increasing Camden residents’ formal and informal social control of urban agriculture activity in Camden City
- Better understand the social mechanisms in place that reinforce the existing state of affairs, or enable or disable change and recommend strategies to accelerate the transition to community self-determination.