Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Nutrition and Food Sciences

First Advisor

Meredith T. Niles


Worsening climate changes effects are predicted to increase the severity and frequency of extreme weather events (EWE), which can disrupt food systems, from the local to global level, and compromise community food security. In the rural U.S., food insecurity, poverty, low economic growth, and population loss are prevalent, and rural communities often lack the physical capital to bolster community resiliency to climate change adaptation. In 2011, Tropical Storm Irene (TS Irene) in Vermont was the most damaging EWE the state’s history. Severely damaged roads, infrastructure, homes, and land, rendered many rural towns isolated for up to several days. The levels and types of social capital (bridging and/or bonding) affect social cohesion, which in turn influences how the community responds to an EWE. Rural Vermont communities isolated by TS Irene had to respond to a disruption of basic needs, including food security, without the ability to depend on outside resources. We investigate how social capital influenced these community responses to TS Irene, and how the community actions affected community food security. To better understand how social capital influences community response to food insecurity following an EWE, we created a social capital framework on food security. We then conducted thirty-three semi-structured interviews in three Vermont communities known to have been severely affected by TS Irene, and isolated for several days. Using grounded theory, analysis resulted in social capital having a profound influence on community responses to food security following an EWE. Additionally, the type of social capital – bonding and/or bridging – affected both how the community mitigated food insecurity in the short-term, and upheld food security in the weeks following TS Irene. We found that not only do high degrees of social capital affect community response to acute food security needs after an EWE, but also that a community’s sense of place is different depending on the level of community social capital present prior to an EWE. The community response also shaped the community’s perception of, and ability to creating social capital five years after the event. Previous research indicates social capital is important in both community food security and climate shock responses. We discuss the need for rural development and community social capital to build rural resilience and adaptation for future EWE. As such, we suggest that promoting the development of social capital within rural communities through community development - creation of public events, investment in public infrastructure and schools, and the promotion of locally owned and operated businesses - can build resiliency and adaptation to future EWE by promoting the growth of community social capital, both bonding and bridging, within rural communities.



Number of Pages

113 p.