E3 Network’s Future Economy Initiative Case Studies

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The New Food Economy in Vermont

Researcher Kathryn Olson will use the future economy framework to assess the broader community impact of the thriving local food sector in Hardwick, Vermont. While this small, rural town has generated a wide array of food-related businesses, from a seed company to a restaurant, the distribution of benefits from this local agriculture sector has not yet been measured. Drawing from the literature on civic agriculture and building on existing food systems research, Olson will address the question of whether Hardwick’s local food economy is contributing to a fundamental transformation of the town in terms of key outcome variables that include: increased income, local employment, wealth creation and distribution, civic engagement, diversity of participating stakeholders, adoption of ecological agriculture practices, and others. These town-level outcomes will be compared to the Caledonia County average to assess town-specific impact. Research methods will involve analysis of U.S. Census data, alongside detailed stakeholder interviews with farmers, business owners, and local food economy experts.

Cooperative Economy Alliance of NYC

Researcher Olivia Geiger will examine the cross-sector Cooperative Economy Alliance of NYC, which brings together a diverse group of cooperative businesses, CSAs, alternative financial institutions and participatory budgeting groups to promote a socially equitable, ecologically sustainable economy in and around New York City. Geiger will assess the ways in which this unique collaboration builds capacity in the participating individual sector-based businesses, through developing a set of indicators or metrics for the key outcomes achieved by the coalition. Outcomes include the volume of trade between the organizations, the combined purchasing power of the coalition, the total financial resources controlled by the coalition, the magnitude of import replacement activities by the coalition members, the impact of the coalition on community wealth, and others. Geiger will also assess qualitatively such outcomes as capacity building, civic engagement, inclusion of marginalized communities, opportunities to redirect disaster relief efforts, and others. The methodology will be based in participatory action research (PAR), along with formal qualitative surveys and quantitative data collection from coalition members.

Community Supported Agriculture: National and Regional Analysis

Researcher Mark Paul will assess the impact and future viability of the community supported agriculture (CSA) model both nationally and regionally. Paul will conduct a large-scale national survey of CSA farmers, along with a series of in-depth interviews with CSA farmers in the three New England states of Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire. Research questions include the role of CSA arrangements in farm risk reduction and risk pooling, the viability of CSAs for low income consumers, the type and quality of employment at CSA farms, the resilience of CSA operations to economic fluctuations and climate change, and the role of CSAs in promoting on-farm biodiversity. Overarching questions include the long-term viability of the CSA model, and the potential for the model to expand beyond farming into other sectors.

The Evergreen Cooperatives of Cleveland, Ohio

Researcher Julia Poznik and team will investigate the Evergreen Cooperative Network of Cleveland, Ohio as a model of economic and environmental transformation. Amidst a devastated economic landscape of low and falling wages, high unemployment, and environmental degradation, a group of local institutions and community activists in Cleveland have created a cluster of local cooperative businesses, in partnership with anchor institutions such as universities and hospitals. Research methods will include interviews, surveys and document analysis. The interviews will cover all major stakeholder groups including worker-owners, activists, anchor institution representatives, and community representatives. Poznik will assess the success of the Evergreen model and address the question of its replicability. Additional research questions include the network’s commitment to sustainable business practices, its resilience to closure of one or more anchor institutions, and its influence on urban revitalization strategies in other cities.

Online Sharing Platforms

Researcher Anders Fremstad will study online platforms that facilitate peer-to-peer sharing, such as Freecycle, Couchsurfing, and Airbnb. These collaborative consumption platforms hold out the potential to reduce waste and build community while increasing people’s access to resources. Fremstad will estimate the economic impact of these platforms, including their total volume of users and transactions. Related questions will include assessment of the platforms’ ability to provide alternative lifestyle choices, reduce total volume of waste, reduce total demand for new goods, and promote other-regarding behaviors and preferences. Research methods will include data collection from the platforms themselves, and possibly an online survey of platform users.

City of Vancouver BC Neighborhood Energy Utility

Researcher Marc Lee will assess the economic and social impact of the City of Vancouver, British Columbia’s Neighborhood Energy Utility (NEU), located in the South False Creek area of the city. The district energy system was developed in conjunction with a new, high-density residential neighborhood catalyzed by the 2010 Winter Olympics. The district energy system reduces greenhouse gas emissions and stabilizes utility prices. Lee will assess the contribution of the NEU to local livelihoods, incomes and energy security, as well as assessing its minimum requirements in terms of density, built form and geography. The NEU will also be assessed for its scalability and application to larger-scale infrastructure plans, as a way of articulating alternatives to fossil fuel pipelines, extractive facilities and other carbon-intensive infrastructure investments.

Verde: Building Environmental Wealth in Northeast Portland

Researchers Noah Enelow and Taylor Hesselgrave will study the innovative methods of social enterprise development and environmental justice outreach and advocacy conducted by nonprofit organization Verde, based in the low-income, racially and ethnically diverse Cully district of Portland, Oregon. Enelow and Hesselgrave will investigate the process by which Verde’s carefully targeted investments in landscaping, nursery and building enterprises, workforce training and education, community outreach and coalition building have increased community resilience, supported livelihoods for low-income households, and built social and natural capital in the Cully neighborhood, while creating dynamic, innovative coalitions that span public, private and nonprofit sectors. The researchers will further explore Verde’s interactions with community organizations, other nonprofits, schools, municipal and state agencies, foundations, universities and private firms in its quest to meet the needs of a disadvantaged community through building environmental wealth and creating sustainable livelihoods and jobs.