Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 23, Issue 4, pp 401–415 | Cite as

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

  • Patricia Allen
  • Julie Guthman
Open Access


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.


Alternative agrifood institutions California Community food security Devolution Farm-to-school programs Neoliberalism School nutrition Sustainable agriculture 



The research reported herein was financially supported by the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at University of California at Santa Cruz. The authors wish to thank Carol Shennan for her ongoing support as well as those members of UCSC's Agrifood Research Group who commented on this paper in particular. The paper was also strengthened by the comments of three anonymous reviewers and Laura B. DeLind. Amy Morris and Hilary Melcarek provided excellent research support in addition to editorial ideas. The flaws and hyperbole can be attributed to the authors alone.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food SystemsUniversity of California at Santa CruzSanta CruzUSA
  2. 2.Department of Community StudiesUniversity of California at Santa CruzSanta CruzUSA

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