Socio-ecological economic impact analysis of food systems initiatives using mixed methods and community-based research approaches
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Many NGO and government community development programs seek to alleviate complex problems related to food systems and agriculture. Yet, without integrated social, ecological, and economic impact analysis we cannot understand or communicate the value of such interventions. For this research, we partnered with food and agriculture organizations using participatory action research approaches to co-develop and test tools for holistic program analysis. We then used these tools to conduct and co-produce a holistic analysis and evaluation of program impacts. The first chapter provides background and context for the body of the dissertation. Chapter two details work with Hunger Free Vermont to analyze the impacts of universal school meals in Vermont on multiple domains of child development, including schools’ social climates, student academics and behavior, family–school relationships, and school finances. In total, we surveyed 240 staff at 57 K-12 universal meal schools in Vermont in 2017. Our research shows that universal meals yield positive results for Vermont children and schools. Policymakers and researchers have found this data relevant and useful, as it represents an early statewide study of K-12 universal meal programs. Chapter three begins by reviewing existing literature on tools that analyze the socio-ecological economic sustainability of farms and finds that there is a gap in tools that are simple to administer at minimal time and low financial costs to the farmer. Drawing from existing tools, we then created a novel self-analysis toolkit and piloted it with our two community farm partners who focus on providing agricultural opportunities to refugees and immigrants. We found that the toolkit may be helpful in providing guidance to farms on their strengths and opportunities regarding sustainability. In addition, it may be useful in communicating the broad ecosystem service benefits of agroecologically managed farms to bolster support for sustainable agriculture from policymakers and funders. Chapter four describes work with the same two community farm partners to develop and implement an open-ended interview instrument inquiring about the quality of life (QOL) benefits immigrant and refugee farmers experience from participating in such programs. For this research we conducted 19 interviews, guided by grounded theory, and found that these farmers experience broad health benefits that improve their QOL, while also revealing that they experience challenges related to farming and being an immigrant or refugee. The farmers gave recommendations that will be useful in improving supports for these farmer organizations and immigrant and refugee farmers in the United States more broadly. Chapter five concludes the dissertation with a summary of the results and deliverables of the three studies. Finally, chapter five ends with discussion of the limitations of the research and future opportunities growing out of this research.
Number of Pages
Taylor, Josiah J., "Socio-ecological economic impact analysis of food systems initiatives using mixed methods and community-based research approaches" (2023). Graduate College Dissertations and Theses. 1709.