University of Vermont

Cultivating Healthy Communities

Publications by Linda Berlin


Anne Palmer, Raychel Santo, Linda Berlin, Alessandro Bonanno, Kate Clancy, Carol Giesecke, C. Clare Hinrichs, Ryan Lee, Philip McNab, Sarah Rocker. Between Global and Local: Exploring Regional Food Systems from the Perspectives of Four Communities in the U.S. Northeast. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, doi:

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Emphasis on local foods and local food systems has often meant that the importance of other scales goes unrecognized or underappreciated. While each scale has limitations, some food system experts now assert the benefits of the regional scale for its ability to foster a more sufficient, diverse, affordable, and resilient food system. This paper contributes to this debate by exploring people's perceptions of regionally produced foods. Seven focus groups were conducted with a total of 51 participants across four locations in the U.S. Northeast. Topics discussed included the importance of knowing where food is sourced, how people described their region, personal connections to the region, globalization of food, importance of food origin, perceived benefits and drawbacks of regional foods, and the sense of efficacy and engagement involving food. While many participants were familiar with the concept of the local food system, their perceptions of the regional scale were weaker, less formed, and more divergent. These focus groups provide foundational insights into emerging consumer definitions and values related to regional food systems, which may help develop appropriately targeted messages to reinforce regional benefits.

Kathryn Z. Ruhf, Kristen Devlin, Kate Clancy, Linda Berlin, Anne Palmer(2017). Engaging Multiple Audiences: Challenges and Strategies in Complex Food Systems Projects. Commentary in Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, doi:

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Complex projects must manage many challenges, including how to communicate about them. In this commentary, we present and assess the extension and outreach objectives, activities, challenges and outcomes of a complex, inter-disciplinary food systems research project called Enhancing Food Security in the Northeast through Regional Food Systems (EFSNE) project. As an integrated project - defined by USDA as including research, education, and extension - EFSNE focused on the regional food system of 12 Northeast states. EFSNE's Outreach Team met the project's outreach objectives by proactively sharing project findings with multiple audiences including participating low-income communities in a variety of ways. We outline the unique framework and rationale from which multiple outreach activities were conducted during the six years of the project. We also describe challenges we faced along the way, including the tension between research and community engagement, and the translation of complex research to multiple audiences. While complex systems projects often take several years to produce results, we believe that a contextually appropriate, coordinated and meaningful ways throughout the project provides significant benefits to multiple stakeholder audiences as well as to the project itself. We believe this compilation of our outreach strategies may inform similar work in other large, integrated complex regional research projects.


Simonne M. Eisenhardt, Ph.D, Linda Berlin, Ph.D., Regina Toolin, Ph.D. and Stephen J. Pintauro, Ph.D. Online College Energy Balance Course Improves Determinants of Behavior and Student Knowledge, Enliven: Journal of Dietetics Research and Nutrition, ISSN: 2378-5438.

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The objectives of this study were to (a) determine the effectiveness of a science-based, online, interactive, energy balance course and intervention at improving energy balance knowledge and determinants of behavior associated with eating a healthy diet and meeting physical activity recommendations and (b) to assess to what extent applications of behavioral theory are perceived by students to in?uence their knowledge and motivation/ability to eat a healthy diet and meet physical activity recommendations. A framework of behavioral theory was used to guide the selection of course strategies to improve goal-setting and self-regulation skills and to improve self-ef?cacy toward eating a healthy diet and meeting physical activity recommendations. A quasi-experimental study design was used to compare the responses to pre/post energy balance knowledge assessments and self-perceptions surveys of course participants (33) and non-course participants (26) ages 18 to 25. Paired samples t-tests compared pre/post responses to knowledge assessments and self-perception surveys. Independent samples t-tests compared mean changes in responses of the participants and the non-participants. Signi?cant increases were observed in energy balance knowledge (P lt 0.001), attitude (P = 0.006), and perceived behavioral control (P = 0.004) toward eating a healthy diet in the course participants when compared to course non-participants. Diet and physical activity recalls and analysis were perceived by students to have the greatest in?uence on motivation/ability to engage in targeted behaviors. The results of this study demonstrate that a science-based, online, interactive, energy balance course developed from behavioral theory can be effective at improving energy balance knowledge and dietary attitude and perceived behavioral control.

Helling, A.P., D. Conner, S. Heiss, L. Berlin. 2015. Economic Analysis of Climate Change Best Management Practices in Vermont Agriculture. Agriculture. 5(3): 879-900

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Climate change impacts local agricultural systems in detectable and distinguishable ways from large-scale shifts in water, land, and weather patterns to regionally specific distributions of weeds, pests, and diseases. Best management practices for adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change include modifications to farm production through adjusted intensity and product types and changing land use through crop siting and tillage practices. Farmer perceptions of risk and profitability of best management practices are key determinants of adoption, which traditional incentive programs like the Environmental Quality Incentive Program attempt to address by providing financial and technical support. To ensure that payments offered through these programs that maximize adoption, regional incentive payments must be based upon locally established costs. This paper focuses on the cost of implementing and maintaining climate change specific best management practices (CCBMPs) for twelve diverse farms in Vermont. Specifically, three CCBMPs for Vermont are examined: cover cropping, management intensive rotational grazing (MIRG), and riparian buffer strips. Results show the average cost for cover cropping is $129.24/acre, MIRG is $79.82/acre, and a tree based riparian buffer strip cost $807.33/acre. We conclude that existing incentive payments for cover cropping and MIRG are below costs, likely resulting in under-adoption.

Schattman, R., L. Berlin, F. Bochner and M. Lawrence. 2015. Farmers' engagement with community food insecurity: Approaches, perspectives, and implications for Extension. Journal of Extension. 53(4): 4FEA2

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Hunger is an issue of growing concern nationwide, and farmers can play a critical role in helping individuals and families gain access to healthy, fresh, locally produced food. In 2011, we conducted interviews with 12 Vermont farmers who provide local food to low-income Vermonters through a wide array of activities including sale, donation, or other means. By better understanding how and why farmers work to address hunger in communities, Extension professionals can better support them to achieve the dual goals of food security and farm viability.

Laurel Valchuis, David S. Conner, Linda Berlin & Qingbin Wang. Stacking Beliefs and Participation in Alternative Food Systems Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, Volume 10, Issue 2, 2015, pages 214-229.

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A movement toward relocalizing communities' sources of food has been sparked in part by an urge to mitigate the adverse social, economic, and health impacts associated with a globalized food system. One example of an approach designed to mitigate these effects is the development of, and consumer participation in, alternative food systems (AFS). Factors that drive participation in AFS are largely unexplored. This article uses consumer interviews in Vermont to deepen our understanding of participation in AFS. We find that stacked beliefs about AFS drive participation, suggesting that barriers such as price and convenience may be overcome when these beliefs are more numerous. Implications focus on strategies for better promoting values and decreasing barriers in order to increase participation in and concomitant benefits of AFS.


Heiss, S., N. Sevoian, D. Conner, L. Berlin. Farm to Institution Programs: Organizing Practices that Enable and Constrain Vermont's Alternative Food Supply Chains. Agriculture and Human Values. (0n-line)

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Farm to institution (FTI) programs represent alternative supply chains that aim to organize the activities of local producers with institutions that feed the local community. The current study demonstrates the value of structuration theory (Giddens in J Theory Soc Behav 13(1):75-80, 1983; The constitution of society: outline of the theory of structuration. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1984) for conceptualizing how FTI agents create, maintain, and change organizational structures associated with FTI and traditional supply chains. Based on interviews with supply chain agents participating in FTI programs, we found that infrastructure, relationships, and pricing were seen as important factors that enabled and constrained FTI organizing. Additionally, we describe how FTI organizing serves to simultaneously reinforce and challenge the practices associated with traditional supply chains. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed as well as directions for future research.

(Forthcoming) Conner, D., N. Sevoian, S. Heiss, L. Berlin. The Diverse Values and Motivations of Vermont Farm to Institution Supply Chain Actors. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics. (1-19)

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Farm to institution (FTI) efforts aim to increase the amount of locally produced foods, typically fruits and vegetables, served by institutions such as schools, colleges, hospitals, senior meal sites, and correctional facilities. Scholars have cited these efforts as contributing to public health and community-based food systems goals. Prior research has found that relationships based on shared values have played a critical role in motivating and sustaining FTI efforts. We review previous studies, discussing values that motivate participation, and affect practices and relationships in FTI supply chains. We use semi-structured interviews to better understand supply chain actors’ values and motivations and how they affect behaviors, with the aim of informing efforts to increase the scope and effectiveness of FTI efforts. All participants are currently engaged in FTI efforts. We find a mix of social and economic values were present for farmers, distributors, and buyers. Our implications focus on the importance of shared values and relationships, the benefit of local food for businesses along the supply chain, and the potential of non-school institution markets as entry points for farmers.


Berlin, L., K. Norris, J. Kolodinsky, A. Nelson. The Role of Social Cognitive Theory in Farm-to-School-Related Activities: Implications for Child Nutrition. Journal of School Health. 83(8):589-595.

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Farm-to-school (FTS) programs are gaining attention for many reasons, one of which is the recognition that they could help stem the increase in childhood overweight and obesity. Most FTS programs that have been evaluated have increased students' selection or intake of fruits and vegetables following the incorporation of FTS components. However, the wide range of activities that are typically part of FTS programs make it difficult to pinpoint which components have the greatest potential to improve students' health behaviors. Within the field of nutrition education, theory-based interventions that target the key underlying factors influencing health behavior offer the most promise


Conner, D., F. Becot, D. Hoffer, E. Kahler, S. Sawyer, L. Berlin. "Measuring current consumption of locally grown foods in Vermont: Methods for baselines and targets," Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems and Community Development.

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Numerous studies have measured the economic impact of increased consumption of locally grown foods, and many advocates have set goals for increasing consumption of locally grown foods to a given percentage. In this paper, we first apply previously developed methods to the state of Vermont, to measure the quantity and value of food that would be consumed if the USDA Dietary Guidelines were followed. We also assess the potential of locally grown foods to meet these guidelines, finding that meeting dietary guidelines with a local, seasonal diet would bring economic benefit, in this case, US$148 million in income for Vermont farmers. A missing piece of information has been: what is the current percentage of locally grown food being consumed in a given city, state, or region? The Farm to Plate Strategic Plan, a 10-year plan for strengthening Vermont's food system, attempted to answer this question. To date, we know of no credible set of methods to precisely measure the percentage of food consumed that is locally grown. We collect data from a variety of sources to estimate current local consumption of food. We were able to measure and account for about US$52 million in local food expenditures, equal to about 2.5% of all food expenditures in Vermont. We then discuss limitations and suggestions for improving measurement methods moving forward.


Yon, B., R. Johnson, L. Berlin. School Nutrition Directors’ Perspectives on Flavored Milk in Schools. Journal of Child Nutrition & Management. 37(1)

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The offering of flavored milk in schools is a controversial topic. U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations now require that flavored milk in schools is fat-free. The perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes of 21 school nutrition directors (SNDs) about the offering and student acceptance of lower-calorie, flavored milk were explored using a focus group, interviews, and written survey. Survey responses and transcripts were analyzed using the constant comparative method. Four broad categories emerged: how SNDs respond to milk and policy changes, the importance of milk in school, the school cafeteria as a learning environment, and SNDs' role as advocates for good nutrition. School children's consumption of milk to ensure adequacy of key nutrients was perceived as important. Lowering calories in flavored milk was perceived as a better solution than eliminating milk. This study provides further evidence supporting the importance of engaging SNDs in policy making, evaluation, and nutrition education.



Berlin, L., R. Schattman, J. Hamilton. Working Towards the Common Table: The Policy and Program Implications of Vermont's Unified Approach to Social Justice, Food Insecurity and Local Food. Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition. 7(4): 426-435

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Hunger and food insecurity are growing concerns in the United States and around the world. Recently, the US Department of Agriculture released a report indicating that 13.6% of Vermonters are food insecure (up from 9.6% in 2004–2006) and 6.2% are hungry (termed very low food security). At the same time, there is significant financial risk associated with food production and the challenges that Vermont farmers face in achieving business viabil- ity. Unconnected strategies that either enhance food access or build economic success for agriculture may work at each other’s expense. Hence, there is a growing need for efforts that simultaneously support access to high-quality, local food for low-income Vermonters while ensuring fair return to Vermont farmers.

Roche, E., D. Conner, J. Kolodinsky, E. Buckwalter, L. Berlin, A. Powers. Social Cognitive Theory as a framework for considering farm to school programming. Childhood Obesity. 8(4):322-328

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BACKGROUND: Farm to School (FTS) programs are designed, in part, to improve childhood health and nutrition and may be implemented as a strategy to prevent childhood obesity. FTS programs have largely emerged out of grassroots efforts, and theory has not explicitly guided program development or implementation. This research considers the effectiveness of social cognitive theory (SCT) as a framework for FTS programming.

METHODS: In 2010, a survey was administered to 632 elementary schoolchildren in Vermont. Six indices were developed from 46 variables that measured personal characteristics and experiences with regard to fruits and vegetables, as described in the SCT.

RESULTS: These indices were the basis for cluster analysis, which identified three distinct clusters. Bivariate analysis showed significant differences among the clusters in the children's likelihood of meeting the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). The significant differences observed among the clusters suggest that SCT is an appropriate framework within which FTS interventions may be considered.

CONCLUSIONS: The findings show that there are distinct food-related attitudes and behaviors that differ widely by the SCT informed clusters and that can be used to inform FTS programs.


Berlin, L., R. Schattman, J. Hamilton. Working towards the Common Table: How Vermont Addresses Social Justice and Food Access with Local Food and Why it Matters. Opportunities for Agriculture Working Paper Series 2(5). Food Systems Research Collaborative at the University of Vermont Center for Rural Studies.*

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Hunger and food insecurity are growing concerns in the United States and around the world. Consequently, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) designated Global Food Security as one of the five focal areas for the National Institute for Food and Agriculture. Recently, the USDA released a report indicating that 13.6% of Vermonters are food insecure (up from 9.6% in 2004-2006) and 6.2% are hungry ("very low food security") compared to the national averages of 13.5% food insecure and 5.2% hungry (Nord, Coleman-Jensen, Andrews, & Carlson, 2010). At the same time, farmers in Vermont are struggling. The average net income of Vermont farms according to the USDA's 2007 Agriculture Census was $22,816/ year. This indicates the financial risk associated with agriculture and the challenges that Vermont farmers face in achieving business viability.

Unconnected strategies that either enhance food access or build economic success for agriculture may work at each other's expense. Hence there is a growing need for efforts that simultaneously support access to high quality, local food for low-income Vermonters while ensuring fair return to Vermont farmers. Approaches driven by this dual-goal have great potential to strengthen communities and further social equity, both important tenets of sustainable agriculture.

Pintauro, S.J., S. Regimbald, S. Burczy, A. Nickerson, P. Buzzell, L. Berlin. Evaluation of a Nutrition and Health Educational Online Computer Program for Older Adults. Journal of Nutrition and Food Sciences. 1:117

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Background: Many older adults are at increased risk for nutritional deficiencies and foodborne illnesses. The objective of this study was to develop and evaluate the effectiveness of a user-friendly computer application that provides nutrition, food safety, and health information tailored to the needs of older adults. Methods: To determine the effectiveness of the program, a 12-month intervention study was conducted in which subjects were assigned to an experimental (HE-HA) group (access to the computer program) or a control (CON) group (no access to computer program). Computers were placed in each of two Vermont rural congregate meal sites. One site served as the HE-HA group site and the other as the CON site. Forty-one adults congregate meal users (HE-HA group: n=16; CON group: n=25) age ? 55, were recruited to participate in the study. The Nutrition Screening Initiative (NSI) checklist, food behavior checklist, and computer attitude surveys were completed by participants at baseline, 3, and 12 months. Focus groups were conducted between 8 and 9 months. Between and within group over time differences were statistically analyzed by Chi-square analyses and repeated measures ANOVA. Results and Conclusions: A significant positive impact of our program was noted on fruit and vegetable consumption (p less than 0.005) and attitude regarding use of computers (p less than 0.02). Focus group results indicated that all HE-HA participants claimed to have changed at least one aspect of his/her diet and that the Website contributed to this positive change. They also noted that the help of the “peer mentors” was a significant factor in their positive experience with using the Web application and with the use of computers in general. In this study, we demonstrated the successful use of a nutrition and health computer application in improving both nutrition behavior and computer skills and attitudes in older adults.


Kolodinsky, J., J.R. Harvey-Berino, L. Berlin, R. Johnson, T.W. Williams. Knowledge of Current Dietary Guidelines and Food Choice by College Students: Better Eaters Have Higher Knowledge of Dietary Guidance. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 107(8):1409-1413.

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College students enrolled in university dining plans are exposed daily to a food environment characterized by foods high in energy, fats, and added sugars, and low in nutrient density. Their decisions about what to eat are currently made in an environment where no nutrition labeling is required. To fill the gap in current literature regarding whether or not increased nutrition knowledge of dietary guidance actually translates into positive behavior, this cross-sectional study investigated self-reported eating patterns of 200 college students. An Internet-based survey was used to identify how closely respondents followed the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005, and whether their eating patterns were related to their knowledge of dietary guidance. It was observed that, for fruit, dairy, protein, and whole grains, increased knowledge is related to increased likelihood of meeting dietary guidelines. Moreover, when asked about individual food choices, nutrition knowledge was related to making more healthful choices in every case. Ultimately, increased knowledge of dietary guidance appears to be positively related to more healthful eating patterns. This suggests that guidelines such as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005, in conjunction with effective public-awareness campaigns, may be a useful mechanism for promoting change in what foods consumers choose to eat.

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Last modified February 20 2018 12:54 PM