Past Research in Social Issues
Apprenticeship Alumni Survey
For the past 44 years, people from across the U.S. and around the world have been coming to UC Santa Cruz to learn organic farming and ecological horticulture skills and concepts. What began in 1967 as the UCSC Student Garden Project, an informal student apprenticeship with English gardener Alan Chadwick, has since grown into the internationally known Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture, offered each year through the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS).
In 2009 CASFS undertook a comprehensive survey of alumni both to document the impacts of the program and to get suggestions for ways to improve the Apprenticeship. The survey was designed to address two basic questions: Is the Apprenticeship accomplishing its goal of contributing to a more sustainable food system? To what extent did the program contribute to alumni’s activities? Results of the survey are summarized in Center Research Brief #14, in an article in the online Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems and Community Development, and in an online Powerpoint presentation developed by Jan Perez, Impacts of the Apprenticeship Program.
CASFS participant: Jan Perez. Cooperators: Damian Parr, UC Davis; Linnea Beckett, UC Santa Cruz.
Funding: Foundation for Global Community.
Related publications — Perez, J., D. Parr, and L. Beckett. 2010. Achieving program outcomes? An evaluation of two decades of Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture at the University of California, Santa Cruz Farm and Garden. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems and Community Development.
Brown, M. and J. Perez. 2010. Impacts of the apprenticeship program: An overview and summary of the alumni survey. Center Research Brief #14. Santa Cruz, CA: Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems.
Community Supported Agriculture on California's Central Coast
As part of a USDA-funded study of California’s central coast farming practices and food systems, the Center’s social issues staff examined the effect of alternative production, marketing, and research efforts on both ecological sustainability and social conditions for growers and consumers.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a marketing alternative that’s shown promise for keeping small-scale farmers in business and creating a connection between farmers and consumers. Center researchers used a written questionnaire, focus group interviews with CSA members, and interviews with CSA farmers to better understand whether central coast CSAs are fulfilling some of their promise, and identify constraints and opportunities of this system.
Results from the study show that CSAs have had positive results. CSA members are eating better and are showing evidence of being more connected to the source of their food. Farmers generally find CSAs to provide more security than most other marketing arrangements. Additionally, they are growing high quality produce and are incorporating ecologically sound farming methods into their production practices.
Although central coast CSAs offer an important alternative for both growers and consumers, they still face challenges for long-term viability. Issues such as member attrition (most frequently due to lack of choice for quantity or product mix), availability of organic food from other sources, and a culture based on cheap food, convenience and choice could hinder the growth of CSAs.
In the spring of 2003, Center researchers received funding to expand their study of CSAs to the state of California, focusing in particular on the relationship between food security and small-farm security.
CASFS participants: Patricia Allen, James Murrell, Jan Perez. Cooperator: Julie Guthman, UCSC Community Studies Department.
Funding: US Department of Agriculture, UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program. Related publications – Perez, J. 2002. Community supported agriculture on the central coast. The Cultivar 20:2, pp.1-3, 18. Perez, J. 2004. Communitiy supported agriculture on the central coast: The CSA grower experience. Center Research Brief #4, Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. Perez, J., P. Allen, M. Brown. 2003. Community supported agriculture on the central coast: The CSA member experience. Center Research Brief #1, Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems.
Consumer Perspectives on Sustainable Food Systems
Contemporary efforts to create change in the food and agriculture system increasingly focus on the potential power of consumer demand and choices. However, we know very little about consumers outside of opinions about price and convenience.
To learn more about consumer perspectives on sustainable food systems, Center staff conducted focus groups with consumers recruited from grocery stores and farmers markets. This work was part of a larger study on Central Coast food systems. The goal was to learn more about what consumers know about the food system, what they would like to know, and their views on social and ecological issues. Based on focus group results, we developed larger-scale survey to supplement the qualitative data with quantitative information. This written survey was sent to 1,000 households in April 2004 using names and addresses randomly sampled from the study area, which were provided by a marketing firm. The instructions indicated that the primary food purchaser for the household was to complete the questionnaire. The final response rate was 48.3%.
Our survey results indicate that growers, processors, and retailers could do a better job of providing their customers with information on the way that food is produced, processed, transported, and sold. They should recognize safety and nutrition as consumers’ top concerns, but they should also devote attention to ethical issues, particularly the humane treatment of animals, environmental impacts, and social justice issues. Because respondents identified labels as their preferred source of information about their food, eco-labels may be an appropriate way to address these matters.
A majority of respondents indicated a willingness to pay more for strawberries that embodied a living wage and safe working conditions, even at price premiums up to 71% higher. The rapid growth of organic food sales, as well as sales of fair trade products from other countries, suggests that promoting the ethical values (such as a living wage) represented in food will continue to be a promising marketing strategy.
Our ultimate goal was to identify potential directions for educational efforts on the social and ecological impacts of the current food system, particularly the issues that consumers will find most relevant to their concerns.
CASFS participants: Patricia Allen, Phil Howard, Jan Perez
Funding: US Department of Agriculture
Related publications – Howard, P. 2006. Central Coast consumers want more food-related information, from safety to ethics. California Agriculture 60:1, 14-19. Howard, P. 2005. Central Coast consumers' interest in food systems issues: demographic and behavioral associations. Center Research Brief #7. Santa Cruz, CA: Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. Howard, P. 2005. What do people want to know about their food? Measuring Central Coast consumers' interest in food systems issues. Center Research Brief #5. Santa Cruz, CA: Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. Howard, P. and P. Allen. 2008. Consumer willingness to pay for domestic ‘Fair Trade:’ Evidence from the United States. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 23(3), 235–242. Cambridge University Press.
Developing University-Community Partnerships
A special project grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture supported a variety of Center efforts to increase sustainability by developing university-community research projects. The three main objectives for the 2009-2010 project were to -
- increase community-university partnerships for studying and designing sustainable food systems in the Central Coast region.
- expand knowledge and research capacity on sustainable food system ideas and practices among university students, staff and faculty.
- increase understanding of the role of urban agriculture and local food systems in improving sustainability in the region
Examples of work that took place as part of the project include -
- research on the food system-related priorities of community organizations.
- research on innovative food system economic models.
- new UC Santa Cruz classes on food systems issues.
- campus and community workshops, discussions and events on food systems issues.
- funding for graduate work that will help create a more sustainable food system on the Central Coast.
- an assessment of local food systems' contributions to sustainability in the Monterey Bay region.
"Food Deserts" on California's Central Coast
This study examined the extent of food deserts (areas with limited access to affordable, nutrition food on California’s Central Coast. The purpose of this study was to identify areas where affordable, nutritious food is not abundant and to identify potential markets for small-scale growers. This study pioneered new approaches in the use of GiS for mapping regional food systems and food security.
CASFS participant: Phil Howard Cooperators: Brian Fulfrost, Environmental Studies Department, UCSC; Agricultural Land-Based Training Association; Second Harvest Food Bank
Related publication – Fulfrost, B., and P. Howard. 2006. Mapping the markets: the relative density of retail food stores in densely populated census blocks in the Central Coast region of California. Report to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Cruz and San Benito Counties and the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association. (pdf)
Increasing Value-Added Profits for Small- and Medium-Scale Growers: The Institutional Market
CASFS social issues researchers headed up a collaborative, 2-year study to analyze the viability of institutional markets such as , universities and colleges, hospitals and correctional facilities for small- and medium-scale growers, particularly those farming organically or using other environmentally sustainable farming methods. The research group will examine both the potential market for these growers, and the extent to which alternative distribution models help return profit to the farmers.
CASFS participants: Patricia Allen, Gwendoly Keith, Jan Perez Cooperators: Shermain Hardesty, Cooperative Extension specialist, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis; Gail Feenstra, Jeri Ohmart, and Tracy Perkins, UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SAREP). Anya Fernald, Kristen Schroer, and Marisol Asselta, Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) Funding: US Department of Agriculture’s Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES)
Related publications – Allen, P. 2008. Farm to institution programs. Family Farm Forum, USDA CSREES. Nov. 2008. Available online. Brown, M. 2006. Center researchers lead USDA-funded study of farm-to-institution programs. The Cultivar 24(2): 1–3. Brown, M. 2007. First year of farm-to-institution study offers insights into potential, challenges. The Cultivar 25(1,2): 7–8.
Community Alliance with Family Farmers, Building Local Food Programs on College Campuses, available online. Brown, M. 2009. Study examines food system priorities, perspectives of college students. The Cultivar 27 (1): 5.
Innovative Business Models
In 2008 CASFS initiated a research and education project to explore how business can be a catalyst and an agent for positive change within the food system. We pursued key research questions, assessed innovative business practices and models, and collaborated with farmers, workers, consumers, NGOs, and other food system stakeholders in order to study and build capacity for economic models that advance the triple bottom lines of economic integrity, environmental soundness, and social equity. What is a “Triple-Bottom-Line”? The triple bottom-line combines the equal concerns of “people, planet, profit” when making business decisions. This refers to addressing issues of economic integrity alongside efforts to both alleviate strain on the environment (or repair it) as well as providing social benefits to stakeholders such as employees, customers, and the community. There is no one-size-fits-all measurement for the triple-bottom-line and indeed each business creates their own unique definition of it. This work includes:
- Stakeholder Engagement: Center research Rebecca Thistlethwaite developed an Advisory Committee made up of diverse individuals with expertise in various aspects of business, the food chain, research, and policy. The Advisory Committee met to discuss the research questions, methodology, potential collaborators, and outreach planning. The goal was to have a real world “sounding board” to ground the research and to connect it to other work going on throughout the country.
- Case Study Research: Center researcher Rebecca Thistlethwaite developed case studies (now available online) of businesses around the country with diverse ownership structures at different levels of the food system “from seed to table.” Businesses studied include nonprofits, investor-owned corporations, co-ops, sole proprietorships, and other business models, and she is making a special effort to include those that are owned by women and minorities. The goal was to highlight the successful elements within each model and across all of these models so that others may learn from and potentially replicate aspects of their businesses in order to scale up these models and practices to become the mainstream.
- Community of Practice: Via conferences (such as The Business of Sustainability conference held on January 20, 2010; read more about the conference and available resources), workshops, webinars, and publications, we collaborated with like-minded organizations to share best practices, honestly discuss challenges, understand the role of policy, and inspire new ideas and leaders to create a transformative movement to change the paradigm of business in the food system.
CASFS participants: Rebecca Thistlethwaite, Bill Leland, Hilary Melcarek
Funding: Appleton Foundation, Eucalyptus Foundation, US Department of Agriculture
Perspectives and Strategies of Alternative Food Initiatives in California
People are working to construct new initiatives and civic organizations that challenge the existing food system and seek to build alternatives. Consumers, activists, and farmers have organized a growing number of alternative food initiatives (AFIs) that seek to incorporate values such as regionalism, seasonality, community, environmentalism, and food security into the food system.
In 2001, the Center’s social issues researchers received a grant from the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (UC SAREP) to continue their study of groups and programs spearheading AFI efforts in California. The study’s central question was: How are alternative food initiatives conceptualizing and creating change in the agrifood system? In order to answer this question the researchers conducted 37 interviews with organization leaders of nine different types of AFIs and nine focus groups with AFI participants.
Their findings show that there are many Californians concerned about the food system, and that they share a perception that food system problems have systemic and structural, rather than individual, causes. Despite this analysis, California AFIs are much more focused on local issues and activities than on broad issues and large-scale actions, with participants deeply engaged where they feel they can make a significant difference on a local level. While AFIs share general beliefs about problems and solutions in the agrifood system, they tend to work in isolation from each other.
CASFS participant: Patricia Allen. Cooperators: Margaret FitzSimmons, Mike Goodman, Keith Warner, UCSC Environmental Studies Department.
Funding: UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program
Related publications – Allen, P., M. FitzSimmons, M. Goodman, and K. Warner. 2002. Shifting plates in the agrifood landscape: The tectonics of alternative agrifood initiatives in California. Journal of Rural Studies 19: 61-75. Allen, P. M. FitzSimmons, M. Goodman, and K. Warner. 2003. Alternative food initiatives in California: Local efforts address systemic issues. Center Research Brief #3, Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems.
The Political Construction of California School Food Policies and Programs: A Preliminary Study
Nationwide, schools serve 6.5 billion meals each year, affecting children, parents, teachers, and food producers and processors. Since their inception in 1946, school food programs have undergone little change until recently. But in the past several years, fiscal crises of school districts along with concerns about child nutrition and economic concentration in the food system have led to various innovations in school food programs and policies. These include banning on-campus sales of fast foods, soft drinks and other foods high in fat and sugar. In addition, some school districts have joined with the sustainable agriculture movement to develop farm-to-school food requisitioning programs, bringing together two seemingly unrelated issues—child health problems and the viability of small farms. Farm-to-school programs aim to increase the nutritional value of children’s school meals while simultaneously providing a secure market option for small-scale growers.
A study initiated in 2003 examined some of California’s innovative school food projects to determine how school food programs are determined and developed. The project addresses a variety of questions, including: How and why are different school food projects and programs developed? What roles are played by community demographics and locality? How are school policies negotiated among various constituents? Who gets included and why? How do some districts become innovators while others do not? How do budgetary considerations and/or entitlement availability affect what takes place? How do federal and state policies and programs shape what can be done?
In addressing these questions, the researchers hoped to identify some of the most effective school food programs and pinpoint what has made them successful. This preliminary work will form the basis of a broader research effort to assess the potential of school programs in furthering the development of sustainable food systems.
CASFS participant: Patricia Allen. Cooperator: Julie Guthman, Community Studies Department, UC Santa Cruz
Related publication – Allen, P., and J. Guthman. 2006. From "old school" to "farm-to-school": neoliberalization from the ground up. Agriculture and Human Values 23 (3): 401-415
UCSC Food Systems Survey
With the ongoing efforts to develop a more sustainable campus food system at UCSC, researchers in the Center’s social issues group are interested in assessing student, staff, and faculty attitudes, concerns and support for a variety of food system issues. Center researcher Jan Perez worked with members of the campus’s Food Systems Working Group, including UCSC Dining Services, Community Agroecology Network, and Students for Organic Solutions to develop a web-based survey designed to find out what the UCSC community thinks about food system issues. Survey results helped the groups find potential support for their work, tailor education efforts, and determine campus attitudes toward the future of sustainably produced food at UCSC. The UCSC Office of Budget and Planning implemented the survey.
Asked to identify food issues and other current issues that were important to them, survey respondents ranked protecting the environment, food access for low-income people, improving food safety, improving job conditions of workers in the food system, and reducing the use of pesticides in the food system highest. The food issues that were the least important to people were limiting genetic and developing local food systems. In fact, 8% of the respondents were “unsure” about the importance of local food systems—the most people to pick that category.
Respondents were also asked to rate their level of interest on a number of topics. Food safety and nutrition were the primary interests people have in their food, followed by topics that encompass the impact of food production on others (wages, working conditions and treatment of animals) and the environment. The topics garnering the least interest are the distance food travels, and the influence of large corporations.
Other questions addressed interest in various “eco-labels” such as organic, humane treatment of animals, water quality, locally produced, and Fair Trade; whether respondents were willing to pay more for food produced with social justice criteria (fair wages and working conditions); and how often people purchased Fair Trade, organic, or locally produced food.
CASFS participant: Jan Perez Cooperators: UCSC Dining Services, Community Agroecology Network, and Students for Organic Solutions
Funding: US Department of Agriculture, Central Coast Grant
Related publication – Perez, J., and P. Allen. 2007. Farming the college market: results of a consumer study at UC Santa Cruz. Center Research Brief #11. Santa Cruz, CA: Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems.