Expanding Food Bank Impact: Healthy Food Access and Sustainable Farm Production (2015)

Client Organization: 
Greater Lansing Food Bank
Project Location : 
Lansing, Michigan
Summary of Project Idea: 

The Greater Lansing Food Bank (GLFB) has a 30-year-old community garden program that provides support to about 100 community gardens and 450 low-income home gardens, ultimately helping around 7,000 individuals access food through gardening each year. In Fall 2012, the Greater Lansing Food Bank launched Lansing Roots, a farm business development opportunity that targets the source of hunger: poverty. Many refugee communities reside in the Lansing area, and many of these individuals come from farming backgrounds. A farm incubator like Lansing Roots can provide this demographic and others with employment opportunities, sustenance, and community building. Lansing Roots helps would-be farmers start a farm business by reducing the barriers to entry through shared infrastructure, technical training, and cooperative marketing opportunities.

The purpose of this master's project is to evaluate the effectiveness and feasibility of this incubator-food bank relationship. Other food banks in the Feeding America network have reached out to GLFB for advice on implementing similar programs. However, this is a unique pairing of entities with little precedence in the literature; typically farm incubators are independent organizations and rarely, if ever, are food banks in the role of organizer. This project therefore includes: 1) benchmarking of best practices for farm incubators through the use of literature reviews, surveys, interviews, and GIS; 2) an evaluation of Lansing Roots adherence to those identified best practices; 3)  recommended strategies to increase Lansing Roots effectiveness; and 4) a glossy deliverable that can be shared with the Feeding America food bank network as a guide for implementing new food bank-incubator programs. In short, this research helps to determine how incubators with varying goals can be effective, as well as whether food banks are adequately positioned to be stewards of such farm-based programs. Identifying a method for food banks to help their clients feed themselves would have profound impacts on communities that are food insecure.

SEAS Program Areas: 
Behavior, Education, and Communication
Sustainable Systems
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Ivette Perfecto and Leslie Hoey
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Alice Bowe, MS Environmental Informatics/Sustainable Systems
  • Kelsea Ballantyne, MBA/MS Behavior, Education and Communication
  • Becca Baylor, MS Behavior, Education and Communication
  • Jana Miller, MPH/MS Behavior, Education and Communication
Project Status: 
Past Project