1/09/2017 Staff Writer

Students Examine Ways to Improve Effectiveness of Lancaster’s Central Market

Lancaster’s Central Market has been a point of community pride since the town’s earliest days – Franklin & Marshall College, in its earliest form, almost as long. Last summer, a group of F&M faculty and students united for a joint research project that promises to pay dividends for both institutions.

The multidisciplinary case study looked at the ways food systems are connected to community identity and to cultural ideas of “place,” and how Central Market fulfills its master plan goals of being inclusive, increasing food availability, and strengthening the local network of food producers and consumers.

Funded by an alumnus who wanted to support research-driven, public-interest projects, the case study dovetailed with work already underway by Associate Professor of Art History Linda Aleci and Associate Professor of Organization Studies Nancy Kurland. The project examines the role 21st-century public markets can play. Kurland has looked at markets’ management; Aleci has studied where markets fit in urban development schemes.

  • Junior Ruth Betancourt was among the team of student researchers who interviewed Central Market vendors to understand their business operations. Junior Ruth Betancourt was among the team of student researchers who interviewed Central Market vendors to understand their business operations. Image Credit: Eric Usner

They were joined by Adjunct Assistant Professor of American Studies Eric Usner, an ethnographer who teaches courses on food and food systems, and by six students in various disciplines. For 10 weeks last summer, the group collaborated in strategy sessions, research and fieldwork. They ended with a stack of information that included surveys, cost numbers and qualitative data.

And by the end, the students “had all carved their own space within the larger group,” Kurland said. “It was transformative.”

Earning a spot on the team, said Courtney Rinden ‘16, allowed her to expand topics she’d focused on in her American studies major. The graduate already had worked with Lancaster’s ASSETS program, a local economic development nonprofit, for a year, and was focusing on “various issues in Lancaster, from housing and urban renewal to city branding and ‘sense of place.’” All factored into the question of Central Market’s role in helping entrepreneurs fit their skills not only into Market, but also into Lancaster City’s revitalization.

Jillian Albus, a senior environmental studies major, looked at how Market deals with its waste – a “behind the scenes” challenge, she said, that would cause major problems if plans were insufficient.

Nicholas Martin, who just finished his first year at F&M, focused on one angle of the “inclusiveness” issue – how easy it is for low-income families to make use of the Market using federal and local assistance programs such as SNAP, WIC, and Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program checks. Nearly a third of city residents live below the federal poverty line.

Those students, along with the professors and juniors Matt Henninger and Ruth Betancourt, and sophomore Amber May, met with market vendors, government officials and representatives of the managing Central Market Trust. The students embedded in the Market operations, working at stands. They also worked with the College’s Archivist and Special Collections Librarian Christopher Raab and Research and Emerging Technologies Librarian Meghan Kelly on customized databases.

With eight other paid student volunteers, the student-faculty study members spent three 10-hour days interviewing Market patrons while piloting a Qualtrics offline survey app.

As a result, Martin quantified the food donated by vendors for redistribution to two Lancaster nonprofits, and created a brochure now used by the Market to promote the effort. Albus led a waste audit; Rinden measured how the Market’s efforts to support new businesses compare to efforts made by similar markets in California and New York.

“It was a change in outlook for students to do something for the learning and the experience, not a grade,” Usner said.

“Students in the past have done lots of research projects but all the material just ‘disperses,’” Aleci said. “In this case study, however, the reams of data can provide feedback for Central Market Trust on areas where its 2005 Master Plan is strong – and where progress falls short.”

The professors hope the research seeds further studies as part of an ongoing Market narrative.

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