Comprehensive Farm-to-School: A Mixed-Methods Case Study of the Classroom, Cafeteria, and Community
Farm-to-school (FTS) programs are supported at federal, state, and local levels as a cross-sectoral intervention to curb rising levels of obesity, strengthen local food systems, and improve school climate and academic outcomes. Comprehensive FTS programming, according to the “3-C” approach embraced by leaders in the FTS movement, includes interventions in three domains: the cafeteria, classroom, and community. FTS programming in these domains may include procurement of local food; school gardens; and education related to food, agriculture, and nutrition. Existing research supports the comprehensive FTS approach, illustrating that multi-component programs with strategies that are integrated across these environments improve outcomes for students. FTS programs have potential impacts in the sectors of public health, economic development, education, and environmental sustainability, and they involve a diverse range of stakeholders including students, teachers, school leadership, food service staff, local farmers, and state and national policymakers. However, literature on FTS programs is largely in the areas of health behavior and nutrition outcomes for students, and further investigations of other aspects may lead to improved programming.
The three distinct papers in this dissertation represent an unsequenced descriptive case study, in which each article explores one of the three FTS domains. The case study methodology allowed for in-depth mixed-methods data collection about a bounded system using multiple sources of information. The case for this research was a school district in northern California with a comprehensive FTS program supported by partnership with a local non-profit partner. The first study examines the classroom through teacher involvement in FTS programming using qualitative methods. Social cognitive theory is used as a framework to understand factors that impact classroom teacher involvement and propose strategies to support teacher involvement in FTS. The second study examines the cafeteria through research of a new school lunch program connected to the district FTS programming. Through mixed-methods data collection and analysis, the second article examines the factors that supported a school district in overcoming the barriers to instituting healthier meal options as well as a broad range of student outcomes. The third study examines the community through a qualitative exploration of the relationships between schools, families, and community partners at the case study site. Specifically, it examines FTS programming as an avenue for community partner involvement and family engagement in schools.
This research may support teachers, administrators, and non-profit partners in improving comprehensive FTS programming. These studies fill gaps in the research around the three domains of FTS, particularly the classroom and community, and they may contribute to further studies that seek to explore and compare the different aspects of FTS that lead to outcomes for students and schools. Each chapter may also be a resource for researchers in the fields of food, agriculture, and nutrition education; curriculum innovation; school food; and community-school partnerships.