, Volume 23, Issue 4, pp 401-415,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 07 Nov 2006

From “old school” to “farm-to-school”: Neoliberalization from the ground up

Abstract

Farm-to-school (FTS) programs have garnered the attentions and energies of people in a diverse array of social locations in the food system and are serving as a sort of touchstone for many in the alternative agrifood movement. Yet, unlike other alternative agrifood initiatives, FTS programs intersect directly with the long-established institution of the welfare state, including its vestiges of New Deal farm programs and public entitlement. This paper explores how FTS is navigating the liminal terrain of public and private initiative, particularly the ways in which it interfaces with neoliberalism as both a material and discursive project. It examines the political emergence of school food programs and finds that FTS is strikingly similar to traditional school programs in objectives, but differs in approach. Yet, in their efforts to fill in the gaps created by political and economic neoliberalization, FTS advocates are in essence producing neoliberal forms and practices afresh. These include those associated with contingent labor relationships, private funding sources, and the devolution of responsibility to the local, all of which have serious consequences for social equity. The paper also discusses how FTS programs are employing the rhetoric of neoliberal governmentality, including personal responsibility and individual success, consumerism, and choice. While these may be tactical choices used to secure funding in a competitive environment, they may also contribute to the normalization of neoliberalism, further circumscribing the possibilities of what can be imagined and created to solve social problems.