Expanding Food Bank Impact: Healthy Food Access and Sustainable Farm Production

Authors: Kelsea Ballantyne (MBA/MS), Rebecca Baylor (MS), Alice Bowe (MS), Jana Stewart (MPH/MS)
Advisors: SFSI affiliated faculty Ivette Perfecto and SFSI affiliated faculty Lesli Hoey
April 2015

The Greater Lansing Food Bank (GLFB) is a food bank in mid-Michigan that is rethinking its mission and service to the community. Rather than simply supply as much food as possible, it is instituting programs that help its clients to help themselves by alleviating poverty. 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 GLFB launched Lansing Roots, a farm business development opportunity that minimizes the barriers to starting a farm business. This program provides its participants with access to fresh foods, a supplemental source of income, and critical community building opportunities. Many refugee communities with farming backgrounds reside in the Lansing area, and benefit from the incubator farm program’s resources, including tools, technical training, affordable land, and cooperative marketing opportunities.

The purpose of this master’s research 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 food banks using a literature review and survey; 2) benchmarking of best practices for farm incubators through a literature review, survey, interviews, and GIS; 3) the creation of best practices for integrated food bank-incubator relationships; and 4) a glossy toolkit that GLFB can share with other Feeding America member food banks to guide implementation of similar programs. In short, this research helps to determine how incubators can be successful, 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. Read the full text here and read the incubator farm toolkit here.