Developing Effective Methods to Assess the Impact of Community Food Security Programs on Purchases of Local Farm Produce in Three Southern Communities

Final Report for LS99-101

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1999: $20,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2000
Region: Southern
State: Florida
Principal Investigator:
Ellen Huntley
Florida Organic Growers
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Project Information

Abstract:

Neighborhood Nutrition Network (NNN) of Gainesville, Florida, North Florida Educational Development Corporation (NFEDC) of Gretna, Florida and Baton Rouge Economic and Agriculture Development Cooperation (BREADA) of Baton Rouge, Louisiana make up the SSARE planning grant team. The project collaborators designed and attended a training for participatory planning evaluation called, “Planning Evaluations for Community Food Security Programs; do our programs impact purchases of locally produced food?” and developed capacities to self-evaluate their programs. The information that we learned in the training showed us that designing a larger scale evaluation of community food security programs on local produce sales can be carried out if programs objective outcomes are directly linked to produce sales.

Although our original goal included a plan for the three organizations to work together to design a large scale evaluation project to assess the effects of community food security programs on local produce sales, the information that we learned in the training has convinced us that this would not be wise at this time for the three organizations. We learned that outcome measurement variables should be very closely linked with program activities, with sound theory backing up the linkages. Also, in order to assess the effects of the programs across the different sites, we would need to have very similar objectives and outcomes. The strongest common activities and goals between two of the organizations was community gardening – thus, NNN and BREADA collaborated to submit a proposal to Southern SARE professional development program. This proposal is entitled: “Growing with the Community: a Hands-on Training Design for Agriculture Educators, Farmers and Community Leaders.”

Each project participant reported that the skills gained in participatory evaluation and process and outcome evaluation has been helpful in strategic planning and internal progress monitoring. For example, in the training, there were several important discussions, which lead to the creation of a framework for describing community food security program goals. These common goals are referred to as the “5 E’s”: Improving Economic outlook, Improving Environmental sustainability, Increasing Enjoyment, Fostering Education, and Empowering people and communities. These goals complement the goals of sustainable agriculture that address environment, economic and social needs of communities.

Neighborhood Nutrition Network is utilizing process-outcome evaluation in their Alachua County Local Food Project. North Florida Educational Development Corporation (NFEDC) of Gretna, Florida has initiated the use of EBT cards at their farmers’ market. Both farmers and consumers will benefit from evaluation of the use of EBT cards and potential use of the cards in future growing seasons. Farmers that are part of BREADA of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as well of as other farmers in the southern region, would particularly benefit from results of evaluation of a program such as the EBT cards in farmers’ markets.

Introduction:

Neighborhood Nutrition Network (NNN) of Gainesville, Florida, North Florida Educational Development Corporation (NFEDC) of Gretna, Florida and Baton Rouge Economic and Agriculture Development Cooperation (BREADA) of Baton Rouge, Louisiana made up the SSARE planning grant team. The main goal of the planning grant was to explore developing a research proposal to study the impacts of our community food security programming on purchases of local farm produce.

The objectives of the planning project were:
1) to develop the project collaborators’ capacities for self-evaluation of their programs,
2) to explore development of a sound research design to measure the impacts of three typical components (community gardening, gleaning, and nutrition education) of community food security programs on sales of local farm produce in three different Southern communities; and
3) to promote a multi-stakeholder, multi-institutional, and interdisciplinary network supporting the integration of local agriculture, social service, and community development planning.

Community food security is when communities have adequate quantities of nutritious and culturally acceptable food under non-emergency food conditions (CFSC, 2000). One aspect of community food security focuses on bringing communities closer to their sources of food. The participating organizations support the value that healthy food comes from the farm. The project participants will teach themselves the skills needed to evaluate if their programs are successfully supporting this value.

Research

Materials and methods:

The planning team of the three cooperating community-based organizations scheduled a training for participatory planning evaluation called, “Planning Evaluations for Community Food Security Programs; do our programs impact purchases of locally produced food?” The training was held January 25 and 26, 2000. Ms. Jennifer Kpuscik, evaluation planner of Tufts University and Dr. Hugh Joseph, nutrition education, Tufts University, led the training in Gainesville, Florida. The SSARE planning team planned the training agenda through conference calls and guidance of our local collaborators Local trainers also include project collaborators, agricultural economist Dr. David Zimet, social scientist Ms. Glenda Warren, healthcare researcher, Kristen Smith.. The training audience was made up of the planning team community leaders and staff, farmers, and community leaders from the planning team’s partnering organizations. Twenty-six people attended the training.

Training participants addressed the following topics (see attached agenda – Appendix A):
• Evaluations in local food systems,
• The context of a local food systems,
• Community involved research and education,
• Helpful and practical evaluation tools for farmers
• Program goals and theory
• Process verses outcome evaluation
• Importance of selecting good indicators
• Six steps in planning an evaluation (1) Defining a purpose, 2) setting the focus, 3) collecting information, 4) planning of implementation, 5) analyzing and organizing data, and 6) the follow-up plan.

In the training, there were several important discussions, which lead to the creation of a framework for describing community food security program goals. These common goals are referred to as the “5 E’s”: Improving Economic outlook, Improving Environmental sustainability, Increasing Enjoyment, Fostering Education, and Empowering people and communities. We evaluated the training at the end of the session by surveying participants. Also, we held two focus groups for the lead organizations after the training. The first one served as a debriefing session and the second session addressed follow-up steps to the training.

Research results and discussion:

Although our original goal included a plan for the three organizations to work together to design a large scale evaluation project to assess the effects of community food security programs on local produce sales, the information that we learned in the training has convinced us that this would not be wise at this time. We learned that outcome measurement variables should be very closely linked with program activities, with sound theory backing up the linkages. Also, in order to assess the effects of the programs across the different sites, we would need to have very similar objectives and outcomes. Although the three programs have a similar mission, we have different types of activities and program objectives. Thus, at this time, it would not be possible to assess the effect of the programs in aggregate. The strongest common activities and goals between two of the organizations was community gardening – thus, NNN and BREADA collaborated to submit a proposal to Southern SARE professional development program. This proposal is entitled: “Growing with the community: a Hands-on Training Design for Agriculture Educators, Farmers and Community Leaders.”

Participation Summary

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

A. Objectives:
Two of the main three objectives were fully met. These objectives concerned developing project collaborators’ capacities for self-evaluation and promoting multi-stakeholder collaboration. They indicate that the majority of attendees thought that the training increased their capacity to evaluate their programs. Focus groups held after the session with lead organizations indicated that the groups were using the concepts in their work. Also, the organizations worked together to write the second proposal, thus meeting the objective on promoting collaboration.

The third objective, regarding exploration of the development of a proposal to evaluate the effects of community food security programs on local produce sales, was met. However, because of the new findings in our exploration, the original idea for the proposal was not carried out. A more appropriate proposal was designed and submitted. The project participants will continue to communicate about common program activities. For example, North Florida Educational Development Corporation (NFEDC) of Gretna, Florida has initiated the use of EBT cards at their farmers’ market. Both farmers and consumers will benefit from evaluation of the use of EBT cards and potential use of the cards in future growing seasons. Farmers that are part of BREADA of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as well of as other farmers in the southern region, would particularly benefit from results of evaluation of a program such as the EBT cards in farmers’ markets.

B. Problems:
The major problem that we encountered in carrying out this planning project was prioritizing among all three collaborators. We agreed that we had common goals and missions. However, we decided that each organization’s infrastructure needs were different. We agreed that prioritizing a research design for evaluation of one specific project was not feasible this year.

C. SARE:
Southern SARE impeded project objectives only because the project collaborators did not understand that non-reimbursable grants were feasible for Southern SARE planning grants. Small non-profit organizations that operate on at least forty percent of grant funds have trouble operating on reimbursable funds. Southern SARE has been helpful in meeting project objectives by making reporting requirements clear and precise. Southern SARE’s prioritization of working at a regional scale is also helpful for project participants to met their project objectives.

Economic Analysis

Cooperative Efforts

Lead organizations:
• Neighborhood Nutrition Network: Led the planning efforts, coordinated the training and follow-up activities, collaborated in writing a second proposal.
• BREADA: Assisted in planning, and follow-up activities, collaborated in writing the second proposal.
• NFEDC: Assisted in planning and follow-up activities.
• New North Florida Cooperative: Conducted segment of training (farmers’ cooperative efforts to sell produce through school system)
• Dept. of Health Policy and Epidemiology, University of Florida: Assisted in planning efforts, delivered training components, and assisted in follow-up activities.
• Florida Cooperative Extension: Assisted in planning efforts and follow-up activities.
• Tufts University: Assisted in planning efforts, and delivered training components.

All of the above organizations participated in the training session. One to two representatives from the following organizations attended the training:
• Florida DACS — WIC
• Bellevue Gardens Organic Farm
• Gainesville Harvest, local food recovery program
• Plowshares CSA
• NRCS – small farm program
• Levy County Cooperative Extension
• Bread of the Mighty Food Bank
• Alachua County Head Start
• AmeriCorps (12 attendees)

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.