Community Food Initiatives

Local and community food initiatives have been promoted as an opportunity to increase the health and sustainability of food systems by supporting markets for small-scale producers, reducing food miles, and increasing consumers’ awareness of and access to regional and seasonal food. Although local food initiatives are motivated by a desire to improve human and environmental health, they are also underpinned by neoliberal ideologies that may limit their transformative potential (Alkon and Mares, 2012; Holt Giménez and Shattuck, 2011). Sensitive to these tensions, my work draws on critical theory to understand efforts to expand equity, health, and well-being within community food systems.

Research / Projects:

Farm to School (F2S)

“Farm to school”(F2S) has been held up as an exemplar for the scaling-up of the local food movement by broadening markets for producers while improving children’s access to fresh, healthy foods (Feenstra and Ohmart, 2012). In an effort to understand the opportunities and challenges of bringing local foods into school nutrition programs, my lab conducted longitudinal research with school nutrition directors and other key players in the F2S movement in Georgia. We found that although there is strong enthusiasm for bringing local foods into school cafeterias, the directors of school nutrition programs face a number of ideological, structural, and practical barriers that limit the implementation of F2S. Most notably, we found that visits to local farms paradoxically threatened a commitment to local purchasing by spurring uncertainty among school nutrition staff about the safety of locally-grown foods (Thompson et al. 2017, Ag & Human Values, as well as several invited and scholarly presentations related to this work). This work, supported by UGA’s College of Ag & Environmental Sciences and Georgia Organics, is contributing to the development of on-farm food safety workshops that aim to reconcile expectations and strengthen trust between school nutrition and local growers.

Grow It Know It (GIKI)

To understand the impact of F2S programs on students’ engagement in school, science, and their community, my lab has partnered with a local middle school to examine the experiences of students and educators participating in “Grow It Know It,” a garden-based F2S collaboration in Georgia. Funded in part by a USDA National Needs Fellowship, my graduate student Andie Bisceglia spent 11 months interviewing students and teachers, and conducting in-depth participant observation of the school’s comprehensive, garden-based farm to school program and summer program. We found that this F2S program, in addition to teaching students about “sustainability” and broadening their thinking about food insecurity, is redefining success at school and building relationships across racial and economic difference through experiential education and collective responsibility (Bisceglia et al. 2020, Ag & Human Values). These are important outcomes that provide a counterpoint to critiques that F2S programs may problematically re-inscribe social inequalities in the food system and beyond (e.g., Allen and Guthman, 2006). This work has led to USDA funding to develop, implement, and study the outcomes of a training program for K-12 teachers based on the Grow It Know It model.

Produce Prescription Programs

We are examining novel efforts to provide produce “prescriptions” to households in underserved communities. By providing nutrition and culinary education, as well as vouchers for fresh fruits and vegetables redeemed at local farmers markets, these programs aim to improve health, reduce food insecurity, and broaden participation in community food systems. My engagement with this topic reflects my professional orientation as critical and engaged medical anthropologist: first, from within a community-engaged initiative to plan, pilot, and refine an program that responds to local food security needs; second, in an applied collaboration with colleagues in the Department of Foods and Nutrition to implement this program in rural Georgia using online education and supplemental produce, with seed funding from UGA’s College of Ag & Environmental Sciences, the Clinical and Translational Research Unit; and finally, as a critical anthropologist interrogating epistemological gaps (and their material consequences) between assumptions that underpin the nutrition and culinary education programs and the situated knowledge of participants (Stotz et al. 2020, J of Hunger & Env Nutrition; Stotz et al. 2019, J of Nutrition Ed & Beh). We have also received funding from the Sustainable Food Systems Initiative for a 2-year, graduate-level USDA National Needs Fellowship focused on this work.

I have also been incorporating this research into my service-learning course (CRSS 4020S/6020S), and training undergraduate and graduate students who are examining the impacts of a local program and identifying the best practices for these programs across Georgia.