Telling a story: measuring the impact of commercial urban agriculture in NYC

Worksite Location
Cornell Cooperative Extension- Harvest NY Urban Agriculture Program (Fort Greene, Brooklyn) 55 Hanson Place Suite 350 Brooklyn, NY 11217
Project Dates
May 28, 2019 to August 16, 2019
Faculty Sponsor
Anu Rangarajan
Other Campus-Based Mentors/Supervisors
Scott Peters
Field Mentors/Supervisors
Yolanda Gonzalez, Sam Anderson, Urban Ag Specialists with Harvest NY
Wages Up To
Project Summary and Intended Outcomes

Qualitative benefits of community gardens and other urban garden projects have been documented many times, but there is a lack of research that investigates the impact of commercial urban agriculture, including small-scale urban farms and non-profit commercial farms. Previous research on urban agriculture impacts in New York City, such as the Five Borough Farm Project and Farming Concrete, has focused primarily on the social benefits derived from the non-commercial uses of community gardens. The goal of this project is to identify key metrics and then create and implement a survey to assess the impact of commercial urban agriculture in New York City.  Both soil-based operations and controlled environment agriculture (CEA) operations will be included.  Building upon existing work by Cornell faculty, we can begin to understand the distinct role that commercial urban agriculture plays in our food system and in the well-being of New York City residents. The survey results: 1) provide commercial operations a way to describe the impacts they have in their surrounding communities, for both evaluation and funding purposes; and 2) support efforts aimed at the preservation and promotion of commercial urban agriculture on a policy level. 

Roles and Responsibilities

Preparation for the summer will start with three pre-departure meetings the faculty sponsor, Anu Rangarajan, and the field supervisors, Yolanda Gonzalez and Sam Anderson.  The intern will complete a literature review and evaluate past surveys to support design of survey questions and application for IRB approval prior to field work.  Mentors and faculty supervisor will support the survey design. Upon arrival in New York City, the intern will meet with selected farm operators and other stakeholders who will be advisors to the project.  The student will then work independently to visit urban farms, interview owners and managers using the survey tool, and support the farms by organizing field days or participating in work days.  Interviews will also include farm volunteers, customers, supporting organizations or other key leaders in the NYC urban agriculture ecosystem. The student will compile results and share findings on the impacts of urban agriculture in New York City with farmer participants, at local conferences and with policy makers or others with interest. 

Qualifications and Previous Coursework

Coursework and/or experience in urban agriculture, gardening, farming or other agriculture fields required.  Ability to work independently and engage in outdoor, agricultural work is essential.  Basic statistics and understanding of qualitative research methods and survey design, as well as strong writing skills, highly desired.  Spanish conversational proficiency a plus. 

Benefits and Skills

This intern will learn about commercial urban agriculture in New York City and the role it plays in both the surrounding communities and the larger food system. In addition to gaining a broad knowledge of urban agriculture, the intern will achieve practical experience in survey design, implementation, and analysis.  The intern will also learn the importance of selecting key metrics to measure the impact of a particular subject.