New FINE Campus Dining Report Shows New England Colleges Spend $67.7 Million on Local Food Annually

Hannah Leighton, Director of Research and Evaluation

*Headline applies to the 110 colleges that responded to FINE's 2018 campus dining survey

Farm to Institution New England (FINE) is pleased to announce the release of Campus Dining 201: Trends, Challenges, and Opportunities for Farm to College in New England.



The report summarizes the results of FINE’s 2018 survey of New England colleges and universities with dining services. The survey was a follow-up to our 2015 survey and report which established a baseline understanding of local procurement on college campuses in New England and has informed our research and programmatic efforts since its release. The 2018 survey asked many of the same questions about local procurement activity, as well as additional questions about tracking local foods, regional food definitions, training and technical assistance needs, and the relationship between dining services and campus food pantry programs.

The survey was sent out to the 200 New England colleges with dining services in mid-2018. Of the 200 colleges, 110 responded to the survey (a 55 percent response rate). A total of 81 colleges that responded to the 2018 survey also responded to the 2015 survey. The participating colleges accounted for 70 percent (or 534,130 undergraduates) of the undergraduate enrollment among the 200 colleges. The original survey tool and anonymous survey responses can be found on the data sources page of FINE’s metrics dashboard.

Photo by Althea Mortenson, courtesy of Mounty Holyoke College

Results show that responding colleges served 87.2 million meals over the last fiscal year. Ninety three percent of responding colleges reported purchasing local food for their dining services. On average, responding colleges spent more than a fifth (21.5 percent) of their annual food budget on local food (spending $67.7 million on local food). FINE estimates that all New England colleges spent between $110 and $115 million on local food during a year’s time in 2017-18.

While the percent of budget and the total amount spent on local food did not increase in a statistically significant way between 2015 and 2018 for those campuses that took part in both surveys (21 percent and $56.8 million respectively, in 2015), survey results do suggest that colleges may be using more meaningful tracking systems to report these numbers. Only a fifth (20.6 percent) of all the surveyed colleges reported that they do not use a tracking tool to track their local purchases, substantially down from the last time the survey was done, when 35 percent of respondents reported not using a tool to track local purchases. A full list of tools used can be found in the report.

We encourage you to read the full report for more information on specific food items that colleges are sourcing locally and those they report are difficult to source locally (and those that show up on both lists, like seafood); procurement goals; distributors used; self-operated colleges and food service management companies; and much more. Read on to hear about some of the ways FINE and our partners are using the results of the survey to inform our work in 2019 and beyond.

Photo by Jeff Conci, Courtesy of UConn Dining Services and the Spring Valley Student Farm

Defining and Tracking Local and Regional Foods

We know that institutions and others along the supply chain are defining “local” food in a variety of ways. For that reason, FINE has not assigned a definition of “local” in our surveys, but rather asks survey respondents to tell us how they define “local” and to provide responses based on that definition. This is consistent with other local food surveys, including the USDA Farm to School Census. In 2018, the most prominent definitions of “local” reported by responding colleges were: food that has been raised, grown, or harvested within 250 miles, within 150 miles, and within the six New England states (see Fig 1).

Fig 1: Responding New England Colleges’ Definition of “Local” Food Grown, Harvested, or Raised, 2017-2018

Our 2018 survey indicates that, in addition to defining and tracking “local” food, some institutions also define and track food as “regional.” Because FINE is a regional organization, we are eager to better understand how institutions are procuring and tracking food grown, raised, or harvested from within the six New England states. Therefore, in 2018, respondents were asked if they use a distinct definition of “regional” food and whether or not campuses were currently tracking food purchased from the six New England states as a whole. Results reveal that fewer colleges and universities have a “regional” definition than a “local” definition; out of 99 respondents, only 20 indicated that their institution has a separate definition of “regional” food. However, of over 100 respondents, 64% said they are able to track food grown, raised, or harvested in New England, regardless of whether campuses have adopted a definition of “regional” food.

At FINE, we find this response encouraging and we are exploring what it would mean for institutions to adopt a regional definition and to track food procured from all six states. In late 2018, we launched a working group to discuss setting a visionary target for New England institutions, in support of the broader New England Food Vision. This institutional target will include a regional procurement goal, so identifying what we mean by "local" and "regional" food has been a big part of those conversations. We have spent the last several months creating the framework for this target and making sure we understand how a regional target will align with existing standards and goals in place. We will share more about these efforts as they develop. If you are interested in joining our conversations about a visionary target for the New England institutional sector, please email

Campus Farms and Food Pantries and the Need for Expanded Research

Fresh local products for campus dining facilities may be sourced from on-campus facilities, such as campus farms or gardens. Overall, 45 percent of the 2018 survey respondents reported that their campus has a campus garden or farm. Of those colleges that had a garden or farm, 63 percent utilized at least some amount of product from the garden or farm in dining services, and close to a third (32 percent) reported purchasing the products from the campus farm or garden (see Fig 2).

Fig 2: Number of Participating New England Colleges with Campus Gardens/Farms, 2017-2018

About one-third of responding colleges reported they had a campus food pantry. In half of these (17 percent of all responding colleges), dining services provided food for the pantry. A full two-thirds of campuses reported that they did not have a food pantry (Fig 3).

Fig 3: Campus Food Pantry and College Dining Services Relationship with Pantries, 2017-2018

FINE’s ongoing research efforts are designed to better understand how institutions are prioritizing local food, procuring it, and making it accessible to the most amount of people. Survey responses around campus farms and food pantries give us a small glimpse into how these pieces fit into the full farm to campus landscape, but more research is needed. The relationship between local food and food insecurity, and the relationship between campus farms and increased local food procurement on campuses, are two areas FINE hopes to explore in 2019. We are beginning to address these questions within the Campus Farm Working Group of the New England Farm & Sea to Campus Network, which FINE helps coordinate. To join the conversation, please email

Later this year, we will also be launching a new platform for collaborative research partnerships that will bring students and FINE researchers together to tackle these and other big research topics. If you are university faculty, a researcher based in a New England college or university, or a student currently involved in farm to institution research, we want to hear from you. Email and let us know what you are working on so we can keep you informed as we develop this platform.

Introducing FINE's newest research report, Campus Dining 201: Trends, Challenges, and Opportunities for Farm to College in New England:



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Visit FINE's New England Farm to Institution Metrics Dashboard for research reports, webinar recordings, state profiles, supply chain indicators, and more supporting data. And stay tuned for details about our upcoming webinar where we will continue to unpack the results of the campus dining survey.