Distribution Strategies for Developing Farm-to-School Connections
A qualitative study was conducted with farmers, food service professionals, and food distributors participating in one of seven programs in Michigan and New York. In contrast to my expectations, scale and size differences in the economic and social opportunities and trade-offs of different farm to school distribution models based were not observed. Instead, stakeholders participating in farm to school programs across farm scale and school district size reported similar experiences with respect to the program’s opportunities and challenges. Key findings are reported below.
To use qualitative research methods to analyze different supply chain models for distributing locally grown foods in K-12 public schools in Michigan and in New York.
To use qualitative research methods to better understand the conditions around which farm-to-school connections will be profitable for farmers and beneficial for school food service directors.
To develop outreach materials based on research findings to assist farmers, school food service directors and other stakeholders in making long-term farm-to-school connections.
I have completed data collection and analysis of seven farm to school programs in Michigan and in New York. The programs were selected through maximum variation sampling to capture central themes that emerge from diverse cases. The sample includes programs that use diverse strategies for distributing food from farm to school including: (1) farm → school,
(2) farm → wholesaler → school,
(3) farm → distributor → school,
(4) combination of distribution strategies.
My data suggests that among farmers, school food service represented a market that returned a reasonable profit with minimal investment. However, the volumes were so tiny that farm to school had an insignificant impact on farmers’ incomes. School food service budget constraints and federal procurement regulations emerged as important variables that limited the market potential of farm to school. In addition, food service professionals played important roles in farmers’ ability to appropriate increased value from their commodities by helping them to minimize their adaptation costs. These results have been prepared in a manuscript for submission to the Journal of Rural Studies.
My data also suggests that food service professionals were motivated to buy locally grown food because doing so helps them to achieve their dual goals of providing children with nutritious foods and operating a financially solvent food service program. In addition, food service professionals were motivated by a strong desire to support their local communities. Relationships with farmers and wholesalers and vendor flexibility emerged as important variables that mediated the relationship between locally grown food and benefits of farm to school. The results of this research suggest that some of the benefits attributed to farm to school may be lost if small distributors and farmers are replaced by large distributors that rely on generic standards of food quality. These results have been prepared in a manuscript for submission to the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.
I have completed data analysis for my third and final paper that explores potential roles for food distributors in farm to school.
I am collaborating on an on-line local food purchasing manual for food service professionals and farmers to help facilitate long-term farm to school relationships. In addition, I am collaborating on efforts to inform state policies that will enhance food service professionals’ ability to buy food directly from farmers. The manual and policy work are directly related to the opportunities and challenges that emerged from my data collection and analysis.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Manuscripts for publication in scholarly journals have been prepared. There is currently limited peer-reviewed literature on farm to school therefore, these publications will help to further develop farm to school in school districts across the country. In addition, the critical analysis presented in these manuscripts will help to minimize potentially contradictory or unintended outcomes as farm to school programs become institutionalized.
I am collaborating on the development of a local food purchasing manual for food service professionals and farmers. In October, I co-facilitated a focus group on the utility of the manual. The manual was well-received and will be beta-tested this spring. It will be launched for widespread use in fall 2008. The manual has generated interest among farm to school advocates across the country and therefore features several generic tools that can be adapted for use outside of Michigan.
I presented preliminary data at the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society annual conference in June 2007. I will present results from Accomplishments and Milestones at this year’s conference in June 2008.
Abstracts for results from Accomplishments and Milestones have been submitted for consideration at this year’s Society for Nutrition Education and American Public Health Association annual conferences.