This week we conducted two focus groups at Fair Oaks Health Center (FOHC). These hour-long sessions aimed at soliciting the views of clinic staff and patients of a potential FOHC farmers market. We spoke with 14 staff members who hold a variety of roles at the clinic. Six patients, including two young boys, braved the pouring rain to join us for the second session the following day.
We structured the focus groups to flesh out the patient and staff responses recorded in our ever-increasing cache of surveys. The conversations covered participants’ produce consumption habits, their visions for a FOHC farmers market, and the times and days when they’d be most likely to attend such a market.
Most participants expressed enthusiasm for the idea of a farmers market. Patient participants stressed the health benefits from eating more fresh fruits and vegetables. They suggested that the weekend would be the most convenient time since they work during the day. Staff liked the idea of having a farmers market just outside their front door and noted that a farmers market would be a natural extension of FOHC’s community health mission. Both groups said that fresh produce is often expensive, and so affordability would be an important factor in whether they shopped at the market. The picture below is from the staff focus group.
Leading focus groups is hard. Even though all of the participants in our sessions attended because they are interested in our project, it’s still difficult to craft non-leading questions that encourage people to think both creatively and practically. We drew some inspiration from the examples of participatory planning that we’ve seen throughout the term. Most recently, we attended a presentation by James Rojas, founder of Place It! (http://www.placeit.org/). Mr. Rojas provides participants with a random assortment of inexpensive items – foam blocks, monopoly money, plastic Elmo figurines, cloth leaves, construction paper – and asks them to design livable urban environments. The very motley-ness of the objects frees participants to set aside any expectation that their creation might look “right” and instead focus on the act of creating.
We asked participants to draw their ideal FOHC farmers market on a blank sheet of paper. The results, one of which is shown below, fueled some great discussion.
“Lo que comes, lo que eres”
It was particularly exciting to participate in the patient focus group, which Sophie conducted entirely in Spanish. These folks made an extra effort to come out and share their thoughts with us. One participant even offered to help us create posters to help advertise the market to the community. Patients cared because their health and the health of their families matters deeply to them. As one participant noted, “Lo que comes, lo que eres” (You are what you eat.). Our interactions with patients and staff have confirmed that there is a demand for fresh, affordable produce in North Fair Oaks. Our next step is to translate the data that we’ve gathered into a form that enables FOHC to decide on the most effective way to meet that demand.