Using Ethnographic Methods to Build Understanding Regarding the Campus Kitchens Project
CKP has been applauded in multiple journalistic accounts; however (Black, 2008; Johnson, 2008; Perry, 2010), research knowledge is lacking. The purpose of this study was to better understand the culture of one CKP branch and investigate its relationship to the broader community. Due to extensive acknowledgement of inherent challenges in IHE-community partnerships (Creighton, 2006; Ehsan, 2006; Maurrasse, 2001), a conceptual framework based on the principles of community food security (CFS) (Fisher, 1999; Hamm & Bellows, 2003) was utilized, drawing attention to CKP’s community relationship dynamics. One of this study’s research questions, namely, How are relationships constructed and maintained between representatives of the CKP branch and representatives of community partner agencies?, will be the focus of this paper.
Qualitative case study was the overarching design. Sampling was purposive; survey information was gathered to ascertain which branch provided the best opportunity to learn. Bounded by a single CKP branch, data collection relied primarily on ethnographic methods due to the interest in culture. Data collection included six weeks of participant observations, 19 individual and two focus-group interviews, pre-existing and researcher-generated documents, and photographs. The constant comparative method (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) was used and the data analysis process was organized via Atlas.ti.
Data analysis revealed that relationships between this particular CKP branch and its community partners fell into two categories: Initial Energy and Inertia-Bound. Although partnerships formed with an initial energy, multiple perspectives indicated that these relationships typically became routinized and inertia-bound. The category of Initial Energy contained the properties of “Appeals to Leadership” and “Requests for Support.” Similarly, the properties of “Food Quality” and “Delivery Issues” help to flesh out the Inertia-Bound category.
Findings from this study led to the conclusion that operations of this CKP branch reflect a narrowly conceptualized mission which is mirrored in community partner interactions. Relationships centered around a busy meal distribution schedule and left little time for developing enduring relationships and rebuilding an unjust food system. Practical implications from this study include contributions to CFS theory and to concrete ideas for progressive growth in CKP. Because CKP branches are housed within IHE’s, there are additional implications for social work education.