By Hannah Leighton, Research & Evaluation Manager

Posted February 22, 2018

Metrics

Making an Impact on State Policy: FINE’s Metrics Research Influences the Mass Food Policy Council

Over the past year, FINE has worked with the Massachusetts Food Policy Council on a white paper designed to educate and advocate for farm to institution policy in the state. The white paper uses data from FINE’s 2015 campus dining survey (including a custom subset of Massachusetts public institutions) and 2016 distributor survey to help make the case for public policy supportive of the farm to institution market in Massachusetts. This collaboration provides a great example of how FINE’s metrics work can inform good farm to institution policy across New England.

“Metrics work is the foundation of strong policy,” the paper’s author, Noah Baustin, said in an interview with FINE. “To know where you want to go, you have to know where you are at; the FINE metrics work really was a significant resource for writing this white paper [1][2]."

Massachusetts Food Policy Council's White Paper on Farm to Institution Sales

DOWNLOAD THE WHITE PAPER

Background   

The white paper was developed as a result of priorities set out in the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan, an extensive Massachusetts food system review that was published by the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative in 2015. From that plan came the subsequent development of six topics that the Massachusetts Food Policy Council prioritized for 2017. One of those topics was “to support increased purchases of Massachusetts grown and produced foods, including increased purchases of local foods by state institutions, public and private educational programs, and meals programs [3].”

The white paper was designed to highlight what has already been accomplished in Massachusetts and what challenges still lie ahead, and to support policy recommendations designed to increase the amount of Massachusetts-grown food being served in institutions. Recommendations revolve around three topics:

  1. Support for farmers to help them extend their season, reduce prices, and increase volume to meet institutional demand;
  2. Funding and support for farm to school programs (including those that increase the amount of local food served and the infrastructure that makes processing and preparing local foods possible); and
  3. Support of in-state procurement guidelines and goals backed by assistance for tracking and measuring procurement [4].

How Can Metrics Inform Good Policy?

Baustin says that in producing this paper, he and the Massachusetts Food Policy Council wanted to establish a baseline of institutional procurement both through the numbers but also through qualitative research, and then pull out the "looking forward" pieces.

In order to establish that baseline, Baustin used data from the USDA Farm to School Census; a survey of Massachusetts farms and their institutional sales conducted by Massachusetts Farm to School; and FINE’s campus dining and distributor reports. FINE also provided a custom dataset of public Massachusetts colleges and universities for this research [5]. The 14 schools in that custom dataset reported an aggregated food budget of $48.1 million and reported serving almost 12 million meals throughout the previous fiscal year. The average local food procurement across the respondents was 11 percent [6]. 

Using this data, along with case studies and interviews, the paper outlines the current state of farm to institution in Massachusetts, identifies where notable challenges exist, and recognizes where policy has and could be implemented.

“The numbers are really on your side when it comes to Massachusetts educational institutions, and institutions in general, making up such a significant purchasing block,” Baustin says. “It is essential to be able to show legislators that spending time digging into farm to institution issues will offer a significant return on investment for the state and their constituents. Metrics are the foundation on which you can build that momentum.”

Deep Dive: Massachusetts Farm to Institution Policy Initiatives

The paper outlines a number of action items and policies that currently affect – or, if enacted, could potentially affect – farm to institution efforts. Perhaps the most notable piece of legislation that currently affects farm to institution in Massachusetts is a local preference law: Chapter 7 Section 23B of the general laws. This policy states that state agencies (including state colleges and universities) will:

  1. Prefer products grown in Massachusetts or produced using Massachusetts-grown products;
  2. Make a reasonable effort to procure Massachusetts products through their contracts and bid processes; and
  3. Purchase Massachusetts products unless the price of goods exceeds the price of non-Massachusetts products by more than 10 percent. It should be noted that this third piece of the law does not explicitly apply to colleges and universities, as do the other two parts [7][8].

The white paper also points out that regardless of the omission of colleges and universities in the ten percent allowance, the nature of Section 23B is more suggestive than mandating anyway. The paper states, “There is no enforcement mechanism, monitoring scheme, or reporting requirements that compel institutions to document their efforts to abide by the local procurement preferences outlined in Section 23B.” While policy that supports investment in local food can have positive effects, it is challenging to hold institutions accountable for their local procurement practices without a tracking tool built into the law.

In a follow-up email, Massachusetts agriculture commissioner and food policy council chairman John Lebeaux told FINE that “the most achievable actions include those that won’t cost a lot such as benchmarking and developing guidelines.” He points a number of recommendations, including:

  1. Develop guidelines for private institutions to create policies and standards for increasing local food procurement;
  2. Develop a central inventory of institutions, farmers, fishermen, processors, and agencies in the farm to institution network and;
  3. Develop guidelines for municipalities to increase the threshold below which they may make direct purchases to enable larger purchases from farms [9].

Winton Pitcoff, project manager for the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan, also suggests that in Massachusetts, where there are a lot of people and a limited growing area, addressing issues on the supply side is essential when we talk about farm to institution policy.

“The reality is that in Massachusetts, we’ve got more people than we’ve got food being produced,” Pitcoff says. “This is a great opportunity where you can really connect different parts of the food system.”

Helping farmers produce more food efficiently, whether through land access, preservation, education, or training, is essential in order to meet the demand. This is especially true when we talk about local preference laws on the demand side like the one above.

“What if the supply doesn’t exist?” Pitcoff poses, “At some point, the demand side has to get more connected to the supply side [10].”

Additional Legislation in Massachusetts

The paper also highlights two additional pieces of legislation that have been introduced that relate to farm to institution:         

H. 3459 “An Act relative to healthy eating in school cafeterias,” establishes a pilot program for adding and upgrading kitchen equipment in cafeterias so they can do more scratch cooking. “Scratch kitchens really expand the opportunity for local foods,” says Pitcoff. “More and more schools don’t have kitchens, and Massachusetts farmers don’t grow things you can just stick in the microwave.”

SB.242 / HB.327 “An Act regarding breakfast in the classroom,” which would require districts with 60% or more of students who qualify for free and reduced meals to serve breakfast after the bell, does not directly increase local food purchases. However, Pitcoff points out that if enacted, the bill will create an increase in demand and thus an opportunity for organizations like Mass Farm to School to bring more local food into schools through this program. 

Next Steps: Advancing Stronger State and Federal Policies in Support of Farm to Institution    

FINE’s new strategic plan has a goal of advancing stronger state and federal policies in support of farm to institution. We recognize that without a supportive policy environment, the farm to institution sector will never reach its full capacity to mobilize the transformative change we seek.

To begin this work we’ve launched a farm to institution policy working group composed of about 20 state food planners; policy advocates; and regional leaders in food justice, food worker rights and food infrastructure development from across all six states. These leaders will help define FINE’s policy role, establish a farm to institution policy platform, and create a detailed work plan. The group will meet for the first time in mid-March.

As we dig into this policy conversation, we continue to explore ways to share our metrics work with those working in and advocating for good food policy at the state and regional levels. As Baustin points out, utilizing research that has already been done is an important part of this process.

“There’s this really robust network of mission-based organizations in Massachusetts and New England that have already done significant [research] in these areas, such as Massachusetts Farm to School, FINE, and the University of Massachusetts system,” Baustin said. “These organizations and their published research were essential to the drafting of the FPC’s white paper. As other state and national organizations continue this work in other regions, I hope that this network continues to grow new connections and form new opportunities for collaborations.”

Footnotes 

[1] Baustin, N. (2018, Jan 10). Personal interview.

[2] Baustin no longers works with the MA Food Policy Council. He is currently Program Coordinator at Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA).  Quotes represent his views as an individual and author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Food Policy Council, MDAR, or his current employer CISA.

[3] Oehlke, B. (2018, Jan 10). Email.

[4] Baustin, N. White Paper on Farm to Institution Sales: Educational Institutions in Massachusetts [White Paper]. Retrieved on January 2, 2018.

[5] Find does not publish the names of colleges or universities, all data is kept anonymous.

[6] The paper lists a number of caveats to this measurement including differing definitions of local and two outliers that increased the average.

[7] Although colleges and universities were originally included, the Department of Higher Education and the Council of Presidents of Massachusetts State Colleges argued that this would interfere with their efforts to minimize student expenses and the language was removed.

[8] MA General Laws, Chapter 7, Section 23B

[9] Lebeaux J. (2018, Feb 5). Email.

[10] Pitcoff, W. (2018, Feb 2). Personal interview.