A recent article led by Growing Food Connections investigator Jill K. Clark was released in the Journal of Agriculture and Human Values summer edition. The paper documents the perspectives of Cooperative Extension Educators on their role in shaping the food system. By conducting virtual focus groups with Extension Educators in communities engaging in food systems practice, the authors find that mobilizing resources to address food systems change relies on consensus among educators regarding goals and strategies for change. Findings suggest that Extension Educator goals for food systems change often focus on inclusion of marginalized actors by bringing resources, via projects, to under served producers and consumers. Because Extension Educators are politically neutral, changing the market paradigm via policy is often not a part of the extension framework. Click here to read the full article.
Clark, Jill K., Molly Bean, Samina Raja, Scott Loveridge, Julia Freedgood, and Kimberley Hodgson. 2016. Cooperative Extension and Food System Change: Goals, Strategies, and Resources. Agriculture and Human Values. 33.2.
Recent attention to communities “localizing” food systems has increased the need to understand the perspectives of people working to foster collaboration and the eventual transformation of the food system. University Cooperative Extension Educators (EEs) increasingly play a critical role in communities’ food systems across the United States, providing various resources to address local needs. A better understanding of EEs’ perspectives on food systems is therefore important. Inspired by the work of Stevenson, Ruhf, Lezberg, and Clancy on the social food movement, we conducted national virtual focus groups to examine EEs’ attitudes about how food system change should happen, for what reasons, and who has the resources, power, and influence to effect change. The institutions within which EEs are embedded shape their perceptions of available resources in the community, including authority and power (and who holds them). These resources, in turn, structure EEs’ goals and strategies for food system change. We find that EEs envision working within the current food system: building market-centric alternatives that address inequity for vulnerable consumers and producers. EEs bring many resources to the table but do not believe they can influence those who have the authority to change policy. While these findings could suggest EEs’ limited ability to be transformative change agents, EEs can potentially connect their efforts with new partners that share perceptions of food system problems and solutions. As EEs increasingly engage in food system work and with increasingly diverse stakeholders, they can access alternative, transformational frames within which to set goals and organize their work.