Farm to school programs: exploring the role of regionally-based food distributors in alternative agrifood networks
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Farm to school programs are at the vanguard of efforts to create an alternative agrifood system in the United States. Regionally-based, mid-tier food distributors may play an important role in harnessing the potential of farm to school programs to create viable market opportunities for small- and mid-size family farmers, while bringing more locally grown fresh food to school cafeterias. This paper focuses on the perspectives of food distributors. Our findings suggest that the food distributors profiled have the potential to help institutionalize farm to school programs. Notably, their relationships with farmers may be a critical element in expanding the scale and scope of local school food procurement. Their ability to catalyze local school food procurement however, is limited by the structural context in which farm to school programs operate. Specifically, the oppositional school year and agriculture production cycle, and tight food service budget constraints disembed and limit the potential of farm to school programs to decrease the “marketness” of school food procurement and to shift it from a process based largely on price to one that is more territorially embedded. As farm to school programs continue to gain support, regionally-based food distributors that have the meaningful relationships necessary to re-embed the school food service market back into the larger society may be critical to enabling advocates to achieve their goals.
KeywordsAlternative agrifood networks Embeddedness Farm to school Food distributors Local food School food programs
Alternative agrifood networks
Community Alliance with Family Farmers
US Department of Defense Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program
US National School Lunch Program
Systems and Services Company
United States Department of Agriculture
This study was supported by the C. S. Mott Group Professor of Sustainable Food Systems at Michigan State University, North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, and Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station. The data for this manuscript is from the dissertation of Betty T. Izumi. The authors would like to thank Gail Feenstra, Daniel Jaffee, Steve Stevenson, Harvey James, and two anonymous reviewers for their invaluable input on this manuscript and the school food service professionals, farmers, and food distributors whose time and energy made this study possible.
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