top of page

Investigating Nutrition Director’s experiences with Farm to School programming | 2014-2016

With Jennifer Jo Thompson, PI

& Usha Kaila, Undergraduate Research Assistant

FTS is a nation-wide effort to connect school nutrition programs with local farmers and broadly aims to connect school children with local, fresh, and healthy foods. The central FTS ideology—to teach kids where their food comes from—motivates field trips to farms, culinary lessons, cultural food days, and taste testing, to school gardens, greenhouses, and other related activities.


FTS is promoted as a "win-win-win" for local farmers (stable markets), local communities (community development) {Bagdonnis, Hinrichs and Schafft 2009}, and children (reduced rates of childhood obesity through nutrition and physical activity) (Joshi and Ratcliffe 2012). FTS programs may also counteract negative depictions of school nutrition, promoting school lunch as healthy, fresh, and delicious. However, FTS programs have also been subject to academic critiques that they reproduce neoliberal ideologies “from the ground up" for their reliance on volunteerism and reproduction of inequity (Allen and Guthman 2006).

FTS in the United States has expanded from ten programs in 1998 (Joshi et al. 2008) to over 42,500 schools as of 2015, with an estimated investment of over $789 million in local communities in school year 2013-2014 (Farm to School Census 2015). It was incorporated into the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) in 2010.

I worked on this project as a Graduate Research Assistant under the direction of PI Dr. Jennifer Jo Thompson. This research, which was part of an ongoing project on Farm to School (FTS) sustainability in Georgia, aimed to develop knowledge around motivation, challenges, successes and strategies faced by Nutrition Directors: key decision-makers whose participation is crucial to the success and sustainability of FTS programs.

This involved two years' participant observation at Northeast Georgia FTS leadership and enrichment activities to allow for complementary identification of challenges, successes, and strategies, as well as communication, leadership roles and other network dynamics that influence the success and sustainability of FTS programs. We also conducted semi-structured interviews with 17 Nutrition Directors across the state of Georgia, representing a variety of district sizes, geographic regions, and socio-economic make-up.


To investigate the role of social ties and social support for Nutrition Directors in FTS  and persistence, we also collected network participation data at Northeast Georgia FTS leadership and enrichment activities. The ultimate goal of this research is to promote sustainable, equitable FTS programming.

Our research had several outcomes, notably we find that 1) barriers to FTS sustainability can include such unforeseen factors as food safety; 2) while we do see inequities reproduced by some FTS programming, these are not inherent to FTS itself, but to the 'symbolic support' offered by many state legislatures without sustained funding or structural commitment.

Please see publications for more.

bottom of page