By Hannah Leighton, Research & Evaluation Manager

Posted March 28, 2018


Farm to Campus: An Update on our Key Findings

Over the last several months, FINE has been conducting a non-respondent survey as a follow-up to our 2015 Campus Dining Survey. The non-respondent survey was implemented to determine whether the perspectives of the non-respondents were similar to those of the original respondents, especially in regard to their food service operations and local food procurement.

The original survey was designed to help us understand how New England colleges and universities procure local food; to shed light on the challenges that exist in building local food programs; and to establish a baseline of local procurement for the sector as a whole. The survey had a 50 percent response rate (105 of New England’s 210 colleges and universities). Data collected from the survey has been used in a number of ways by FINE and our partners and is available on our metrics dashboard, in our campus dining report, and through a farm to campus dining webinar. While 50 percent is a very good response rate, we were hesitant to extrapolate the results (especially in regard to local food procurement) to the full population of colleges in New England.

The non-respondent survey was sent out in October of 2017. Of the 102 non-respondent colleges, 31 returned surveys, for a 30 percent return rate. In this review, farm to college “respondents” are defined as those 105 respondents to the initial and more robust farm to college survey that was administered in 2015; “non-respondents” are defined as the 31 colleges that completed the abbreviated survey in late 2017.

Operating Structure of College Dining Services

A chi-square statistic showed that non-respondents and respondents were equally likely to be self-operated or managed by a food service management company. 73% of respondents and 77% of non-respondents reported that they were operated by an FSMC.

Independent t-tests showed that respondents and non-respondents also had very similar average food budgets and served a similar number of meals annually. 

Local Food Procurement

There was no statistical difference between respondents and non-respondents in terms of whether or not they purchased local products for their food service; 95 percent of respondents and 90 percent of non-respondents reported buying local products for their food service.

Statistical tests showed that non-respondents spent less on local food than respondents did (on average,16.4 percent and 20.8 percent respectively). This suggests that the non-respondent colleges are likely spending a smaller proportion of their total food budgets on local food than suggested by the original respondent pool. Given the analysis undertaken, the median (which is 17.5% for both respondent and non-respondents) is likely more representative of the proportion of local food procurement (of total food budgets) across all New England colleges  

Next Steps: Non-Respondent Data & Reimplementation of the Full Survey 

Results of the survey show us that non-respondent colleges are very similar to respondents in terms of their operation (self-operated very FSMCs) and the amount of food they are serving (both meals and food budget). They also are just as likely to purchase local food for their food service as respondents. However, some statistical differences can be found in the extent of local purchasing. Over the next year, FINE will be re-implementing the full campus dining survey we originally fielded in 2015. This survey will allow us to measure change from the baseline, and examine any changes in the farm to campus landscape in New England.