Local Food Systems, Ethnic Entrepreneurs, and Social Networks
African immigrants in the United States (U.S.) experience immense challenges in the form of poverty, unemployment, and underemployment. Limited English language proficiency often restricts African immigrants to low-paying, unskilled positions. Ethnic entrepreneurship in the form of small-scale farming provides some African immigrants with an alternative to mainstream employment. Key to the success of many African immigrants is participation in beginning farmer programs. These programs operate as social networks, connecting immigrant farmers to training, farming resources, and members of the local community who provide access to additional resources and markets. Drawing from social capital theory, this mixed methods study investigates economic outcomes and social capital development within immigrant farmer programs. Immigrant farmer programs are analyzed as social networks that connect immigrants to technical training, farming resources, and community members who can provide access to markets. Data were collected through a survey of 112 agricultural educators working with immigrant farming programs across the United States. Data were also collected through case studies of programs in Ohio and Virginia. Bivariate correlation tests found the following agricultural training topics were significantly associated with economic outcomes, specifically training on farm equipment use, organic certification, and pest management. Ten marketing training topics were associated with economic outcomes, including business management, identifying markets, and introduction to direct markets. Social network ties were also associated with economic outcomes. These relationships were with the following organizations: farmers markets, community-supported organizations, the Extension Service, local farm supply stores, restaurants, and the Farm Bureau. Multiple regression tests found that 24.8% of the variance in economic outcomes could be accounted for by social network development, market training, and agricultural training.
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