Building Broader Audiences for Alternative Food Programs
Fishadelphia Founder and Visiting Professor of Environmental Studies Talia Young published a research paper and an industry guide focused on strategies for expanding access for low-income consumers and communities of color.
When Talia Young launched Fishadelphia in 2018, the idea for the subscription-based program was to connect seafood harvesters at the New Jersey shore to seafood consumers in the Philadelphia area. From the start, the emphasis was on serving socio-economically diverse customers.
Fishadelphia’s community-supported fishery program (CSF) delivers seafood bimonthly to 15 locations around Philadelphia and its suburbs. Since its founding in 2018, it has delivered tens of thousands of pounds of seafood from seven local producers in New Jersey to hundreds of families in the region. Through this growth, Fishadelphia has used a variety of strategies to ensure that it draws subscribers from a diverse swath of the local population.
Young, who earned her Ph.D. in ecology and evolution from Rutgers University and teaches such courses at Haverford as “Fish & Community: A Local Praxis,” “Introduction to Fisheries Science,” and “Black and Asian Foodways,” realized the lessons learned from Fishadelphia’s inclusionary efforts might be of help to other CSFs, and other food initiatives, such as community supported agriculture programs or farmers markets, looking to broaden their reach.
So, Young worked with students and colleagues to analyze and distill her organization’s methods into a research paper titled “Strategies for Increasing Participation of Diverse Consumers in a Community Seafood Program.” Published in the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, the case study explores seven key inclusion strategies employed by Fishadelphia.
Among these are discounting prices (made possible by a pay-what-you-can sliding scale membership system), accepting payment in multiple forms beyond just credit cards (including cash), and allowing subscribers to pre-pay monthly or every three months, instead of requiring one annual payment, which may be impossible for those with lower incomes. Also important, the paper reports, are offering a range of product types (both filets and whole fish), recruiting subscribers and communicating with them through a variety of media (including by phone and in person), and choosing local institutions and pickup location hosts from target communities.
“Our analysis indicated that all of these strategies were associated with increased participation of customers of color and/or customers without a college degree,” writes Young and her coauthors in the research paper. “We suggest that these strategies work in synergy to make the program attractive and feasible to these customers.”
Young has also made her analysis more readily available to counterparts working in the alternative food system by translating it into a practical, detailed industry guide titled Casting a Wider Net. Aimed at “community-supported fisheries and other food programs who want to reach broader audiences,” the guide was co-written by Young, her student Amy Tse BMC ’24, and former student Mimi Tran ’23, who took Young’s “Fish & Community” course and did an internship with Fishadelphia last summer.
“The North American CSF movement has done an amazing job of highlighting the fishermen who work hard to catch our fish and sharing that bounty with so many seafood lovers, …and have led inspiring efforts to address community food security,” write the authors in their introduction to the guide. “At the same time, many of us are struggling to expand our retail base.” They go on to list some of the reasons it makes sense for CSFs to extend their reach:
—“Everyone should get to eat our delicious seafood. Nobody wants fresh local seafood to be something only rich people can afford.”
—“The U.S is currently experiencing food apartheid (with one in 10 adults experiencing food insecurity); the local seafood movement is ideally situated to continue to take the lead in addressing this challenge.”
—“Communities of color hold huge potential for seafood marketing. Consumer research suggests that African American consumers spend 70% more and Asian American consumers 147% more money on seafood than the U.S. general market.”
Sonia Strobel, CEO of Skipper Otto Community Supported Fishery in Vancouver, Canada, calls the Casting a Wider Net guide “an amazing resource.” Strobel, who has been looking for ways to make her program more accessible to indigenous people in the community, says of Young, “Talia’s work is so inspiring, and this guide is going to be incredibly valuable for so many CSFs.”
“If the alternative food movement is trying to build food systems that support the health of the environment, food producers, and eaters,” writes Young et al., “we should do so in a way such that everyone can participate. The goal of sharing this examination of the work of Fishadelphia Is to help make such systems possible.”