During the fall 2012 semester, graduate students in the Community Project Design and Management class collaborated with the Green Top Grocery Co-op to assess food security issues, knowledge, and engagement opportunities among local low-income households.Under the guidance of Professor Joan Brehm, the students conducted three focus groups and nine interviews. Students suggested that the cooperative

  1. educate the public on grocery cooperatives
  2. rely on existing networks and communicate in multiple languages to build trust
  3. consider the needs of marginalized community members when making infrastructure decisions
  4. engage in additional research to meet stated goals

This research was conducted to assist Green Top Grocery in its efforts to involve a diverse group of community members in the planning, development, and programming of the newly forming cooperative.

An unexpected finding was that social aspects of grocery shopping could trump financial considerations, such that consumers might not return to an unwelcoming store even if they might pay more as a result. One key informant said, “When it comes to a new ‘grocer’ in town, trust in this new place needs to travel by word-of-mouth among the Hispanic community.”

Ashley Toenjes, a master’s international student in political science, said, “It was so interesting to hear the different ways in which residents of this area develop social relationships with food and food access. Learning how to ‘do’ project design—especially with Dr. Brehm’s support—was a really useful experience that I will take with me to the Peace Corps.”

Students formally presented their research to the community on December 4. A Pohlmann Family Development Grant supported this endeavor.