Kateri Boucher ’17 has taken away two things from her internship this summer. One is that urban farms are more than just producers of foods, they’re an integral part of many communities. And two, it’s possible to combine several interests in one pursuit. Boucher is conducting a Levitt Center-funded summer research project on that topic with advisor Associate Professor of Philosophy Katheryn Doran.
Boucher became interested in urban farms last summer after volunteering at one in Portland, Ore. “The farm is committed to community development, food justice and sustainable food systems, and they have a ton of cool programs for the community, she said. “Working there really opened up my eyes to the unique potential that farms have to benefit their neighborhood and city.” Boucher later watched a documentary about urban agriculture and food justice work being done in Detroit, and decided that it was a topic she wanted to explore.
For her project, Boucher has been examining two non-profit urban farms: the original farm in Portland, and another one in Detroit. Both are located in neighborhoods that have been classified as “food deserts” (an urban area in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food.)
She’s focusing on specific programs at each farm to use as models of both the potential benefits and challenges of urban farming geared toward community development. “For example, at the farm in Detroit I explored the volunteer programs and the organic farming training course, and at the farm in Portland I’m focusing more on their cooking workshops and educational programs for kids,” Boucher explained.
The sociology concentrator is spending three weeks at each farm, engaging in as many events, programs and conversations as possible. “I’ve spent the first week or so volunteering around the farm and getting to know people, and then the second couple weeks I’ve used to dive more into interviews and focused observation,” she said. At each site, she’s conducted interviews with people from all sectors of the farm: volunteers, community members, and staff members.
Boucher, who calls this summer project “transformative,” said she hopes to share her research with other urban ag organizations, especially in Utica and Rochester, N.Y. (her hometown). “I hope that these two farms can serve as models for future growth of urban farms in other cities,” she remarked.
The rising senior has been further inspired by more complex questions of volunteerism, sustainability and decision-making processes in non-profits. “I’d like to bring these questions back to Hamilton so we can engage in more discussions that critically examine our own roles in the community work we do: in what ways are we helping break cycles of poverty, injustice and structural racism? In what ways are we perpetuating them? And how could we do better in the future?,” Boucher said.
Although the farms are different in many ways (and located in cities that have very different histories), Boucher has discovered many similarities in the beneficial effects that the farms have created. “One really cool thing I’ve found is that both farms create space to bring together very diverse groups of people, which allows for dialogue and connection that may not have happened otherwise,” she explained. “When you’re attending a cooking workshop or you’re working in the garden with someone, it’s hard not to start chatting. I’ve seen some of those conversations start out about gardening or recipes, and then actually turn into much deeper connections that have long-lasting impacts.”
On a personal level, Boucher’s project has been important “because it’s allowed me to connect many of the issues that I’m most passionate about -- and it’s helped me realize that I don’t necessarily have to ‘choose’ only one of these issues to pursue in my future,” she remarked. “I’m not sure what I’ll end up doing in my future, but I’d love to keep working on issues of food and environmental justice.”