University of Vermont

Cultivating Healthy Communities

Publications by Center Staff


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.

Bainbridge, M. L., Egolf, E., Barlow, J. W., Alvez, J. P., Roman, J., & Kraft, J. (2017). Milk from cows grazing on cool-season pastures provides an enhanced profile of bioactive fatty acids compared to those grazed on a monoculture of pearl millet. Food Chemistry, 217, 750-755. doi: 2016.08.134

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The demand for dairy products from grass-fed cows is driven, in part, by their more desirable fatty acid (FA) profile, containing more n-3 FA and conjugated linoleic acids (CLA) than conventionally produced dairy products. This study investigated the effects of pearl millet (PM) vs. cool-season pasture (CSP) on animal performance and milk FA in a grazing system. Eight Holstein dairy cows were used in a repeated measures design with four-week periods. Forage type had no effect on animal performance (estimated dry matter intake, milk production, fat, or protein). The contents of CLA and n-3 FA in a serving of whole milk (3.25% fat) increased when cows grazed CSP compared to PM. A serving of whole milk from cows grazing PM had a higher content of saturated FA and branched-chain FA. In conclusion, the contents of various bioactive FA were higher in milk fat of cows grazing a CSP compared to PM.


Qingbin Wang, Robert Parsons, Jennifer Colby, Jeffrey Castle. Value-Added Dairy Products from Grass-Based Dairy Farms: A Case Study in Vermont, Journal of Extension, ISSN: 1077-5315.

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On-farm processing of value-added dairy products can be a way for small dairy farms to diversify production and increase revenue. This article examines characteristics of three groups of Vermont farmers who have grass-based dairy farms - those producing value-added dairy products, those interested in such products, and those not interested in such products - and their needs for information and assistance. The three groups differ significantly relative to herd size, engagement in organic operation, land management, self-rated level of business success, and demographic factors, such as education. Topics for which information and assistance are needed include how to make and market value-added dairy products and how to finance such operations.


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.

Faulkner, J.W., J.L. Miller, T.J. Basden, D.B. DeVallance. Woodchip heavy-use area effluent quality, quantity, and hydrologic design considerations. Applied Engineering in Agriculture. In press.

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Woodchip heavy-use areas (aka 'out-wintering pads', 'woodchip pads') are attractive options for livestock producers wanting to protect pastures during sensitive times due to their reduced cost and increased animal comfort compared to concrete. The effluent production, and potential environmental impact, of these systems is uncertain and engineers need reliable guidance for design of corresponding wastewater handling systems. The objectives of this project were to 1) evaluate the hydrologic performance of a woodchip heavy-use area installed in the Northeastern United States over two years of operation, and 2) improve estimation of effluent production methods and design guidance using measured data. Precipitation and effluent volumes were measured over 23 months and nutrient concentration of effluent from multiple storms was analyzed. A water balance was determined. Measured data indicated that 24% of the incoming precipitation became effluent over the study period, but effluent production was much greater during the winter months (37%) than during the non-winter months (17%). Evaporation dominated water outflows from the system (67%-84%). Absorption and evaporation of moisture by the woodchip media, and resulting antecedent moisture condition, greatly influence effluent production. Regionally-specific runoff coefficients are compared to other design approaches and presented as appropriate for effluent volume estimation. Nutrient concentration of effluent was generally lower than reported values from other woodchip, earthen, and concrete open lot studies. Additional research is called for.

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.


Alvez, Juan P.. Abdon L. Schmitt Fo, Joshua C. Farley, Jon D. Erickson & V. Ernesto Mendez Transition from Semi-Confinement to Pasture-Based Dairy in Brazil: Farmers' View of Economic and Environmental Performances. Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, Volume 38, Issue 9, 2014, pages 995-1014.

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The production of ecosystem goods and services has increased significantly in the last 100 years, while the capacity of ecosystems to generate supporting and regulating services has decreased. In this context, agriculture and livestock production have become major concerns. At the same time, livestock, particularly dairy cows, play a key role and can serve to improve ecosystems, production, and rural livelihoods. We randomly selected and conducted semistructural interviews with 61 dairy family farmers from four cooperatives in the Encosta da Serra Geral Region of the Atlantic rainforest in Santa Catarina, Brazil. The goal was to analyze their production and viewpoints about environmental variables after adopting management-intensive grazing (MIG). The overall results showed that when farmers changed from semi-confinement and continuous grazing to MIG they perceived improvements in production, livelihoods, and ecosystem services. Moreover, according to farmers’ insights, MIG could be a tool to increase water and soil quality, animal health, alleviate poverty, and complement Brazilian conservation efforts.

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.



Alvez, Juan P.; Schmitt, A.; Farley, J.; Alarcon, G.; Fantini, A.C. The Potential for Agroecosystems to Restore Ecological Corridors and Sustain Farmer Livelihoods: Evidence from Brazil. Journal of Ecological Restoration.

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The Atlantic Forest is a highly diverse biome, extending from the northeast to the south of Brazil. The diversity of elevation and climate of this biome allows for extraordinary biodiversity with high levels of endemism. The original territory of the Atlantic Forest concentrates 65% of the Brazilian population, providing fundamental ecosystem goods and services such as climate regulation, water supply, erosion control, and pollination. An estimated 100 million people in Brazil depend on the water provided by the Atlantic Forest rivers and streams. In spite of its importance, the Atlantic Forest is one of the most threatened and fragmented biomes worldwide. Slightly over 11% of the original Forest remain, which are mostly remnants (83%) smaller than 50 ha and within 100 m from forest edges, revealing high levels of fragmentation. Reconnecting forest fragments became a national policy at the end of the 1990s through the Pilot Program for the Tropical Forest Protection (PP-G7), financed by the World Bank. This program has resulted in both the establishment of protected areas and some small functional corridors between them in high priority areas, particularly in the Amazon region. In addition to the PP-G7 program, Brazil’s main Forest Act of 1965 mandates permanent preservation areas (PPA or in Brazil, APP) along rivers and streams in an effort to provide natural ecological corridors for fauna and flora species outside protected areas.

Alvez, Juan P. "Livestock Management, Ecosystem Services, and Sustainable Livelihoods". Doctorate Dissertation, (275 pg.) defended Feb. 2012. University of Vermont

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Agroecosystems are frequently degraded beyond their capacity to support vital ecosystem services and thus sustain farmer livelihoods over the long-run. Adopting a more sustainable diary management system is particularly important given the pressure of this dominant human land-use worldwide. This research analyzes farmers' perceptions and the effects of different dairy management methods on ecosystem services provision, milk production, farm quality of life, and environmental awareness in two contrasting studies in Santa Catarina, Brazil and Vermont, U.S. Management intensive grazing (MIG) was found to out produce traditional grazing in Santa Catarina,while contributing to improved biodiversity protection, animal welfare, and ecosystem services from greater pasture coverage and soil restoration. No production differences were found between MIG, confinement and traditional grazing in Vermont, however environmental and social variables saw similar improvements under MIG adoption. Education and access to information was critical for the adoption of better management practices and environmental awareness. Both cases inform integrated policy strategies to address production, conservation and sustainable livelihoods.

Becot, F., Nickerson, V., Conner, D. & Kolodinsky, J. 2012. Costs of Food Safety Certification on Fresh Produce Farms in Vermont. HortTechnology, 22(5) 705-714

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This article addresses the economic costs of good agricultural practices (GAPs) audits of small and medium size farms in Vermont. It focuses on the costs of infrastructure, equipment, and labor required to successfully pass a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) GAPs audit. In-depth interviews and surveys of produce farmers in 2011 revealed that the cost of GAPs certification ranges between $37 and $54 per acre, and an additional 7 hours were required each week during the growing season. Based on this exploratory research, certifying all the farms in Vermont would cost between $228,216 and $3,019,114. Our study explored all the criteria of the certification and measured the costs of GAPs from planning stages to daily record keeping more than one year after the certification was achieved. This study provides information to farmers who are considering GAPs certification. It also provides background information to agricultural service providers and policymakers planning for the future of the fresh produce industry.

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.

Colby, J. A Comprehensive Assessment of Factors Affecting Success on Vermont Grass-Based Livestock Farms, University of Vermont Department of Community Development and Applied Economics, Master's Thesis

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Vermont livestock farmers have used intensively-rotated grazing management systems for over 20 years but there is very limited information on their performance based on comprehensive evaluations. The purpose of this research is to examine how economic, environmental, social, and demographic factors have affected the self-reported success and satisfaction of Vermont grass-based livestock farms and identifies future opportunities and challenges for this unique group of farms.

A mail survey was distributed to 1088 Vermont grass-based livestock producers in April 2011, yielding 229 responses, a 21.6% response rate. Survey respondents had an average age of 54, and 31.8% were female. Responding farmers managed a total of 51,528 acres of combined pasture, forest, and crop land, with 26.6% containing certified organic land and 20.1% with certified organic animals. Average farm size was 177 acres including 34% of acreage in perennial pasture and 38% in hay/pasture. For livestock, 32% ofthe farms grazed dairy, 38% beef, and 30% grazed sheep. Other livestock included goats, swine, horses, and poultry. Grazing management was very diverse with 75% of dairy cows were moved to new pasture every 3 days, while less than 44% of sheep and beef received new pasture every 3 days. The responses suggest that 68% reported grazing plants shorter than recommended. Business plans were in place on 28.8% of farms. The total gross income reported by participating farmers was $20.5 million, total net income was$1.6 million, and 61.1 % reported positive net profit. Woody plant species decreased by 5% or more on 57.6% of the farms described. Part-time farmers represented half of the responders, 38.1% of whom plan to farm full time within ten years. Full-time farmers had strong correlation to net profit, but 40.5% of full time farmers plan to decrease farming activities within the next ten years. Over 45% of responders interacted with non-family school age children in 2010 and the reported rates medical conditions were lower than state averages.

. Healthy animals, profitability, engaging the next generation, business longevity, and farming lifestyle were statistically positively correlated with self-reported success. Health insurance, decrease in woody plants, total acres owned, and presence of a business plan were positively correlated with satisfaction. Binary logistical regression identified the presence of a business plan, participation in amateur arts, increasing number of tractor hours, and increasing farmer education statistically impacted the predictability of success. The results indicate that the presence of health insurance, full-time farming, presence of a business plan, and soil testing statistically impact the predictability of satisfaction.

The results from this research will be used to guide Vermont agricultural policy by providing essential baseline information about the growing grass-based livestock sector, identify where education efforts need to be focused, and identify the challenges to adoption of more conservation based grazing management practices. Results will be shared with groups including NRCS, FSA, UVM Extension, and NOFA to improve educational programming, develop further investigation into questions revealed through the research process, and serve as a baseline for future comparison of grazing program return on investment.

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.


Alvez, J., Matthews, A., Schmitt Filho, A., & Farley, J. Indicadores de sustentabilidade para pecuária (Sustainability indicators for cattle farms). Resumos do I Encontro Chapecó, SC, Brazil. Pan-Americano sobre Manejo Agroecológico de Pastagens, Cadernos de Agroecologia, 6(1).

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Sustainability indicators are important tools for assessing agricultural practices and implement changes when necessary. We suggest that sustainability indicators tied to agroecological practices could reduce carbon footprint and increase livestock sustainability. However, indicators and variables considered in sustainability analyses should be linked to specific activities and not generalized.

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.

Farley, J., Schmitt Fo. A., Alvez, Juan P. Ribeiro de Freitas, N. "Ecosystem Services, Agriculture and Economic Institutions". Mountain Sky Group Articles.*

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Society must increase food production and restore ecosystem services or suffer unacceptable consequences. Unfortunately, conventional agriculture may be the single greatest threat to ecosystem function, while restoring farmlands to native ecosystems and reducing ecologically harmful agricultural inputs threatens food production. We fell into this predicament because we designed agricultural and economic systems that failed to account for ecosystem services, and the path forward requires redesigning both systems. Agroecology is a promising approach to redesigning agriculture, but perhaps the greater challenge is creating economic institutions that reward the provision of ecosystem services and hence provide the necessary incentives to scale it up to the desired level. Payments for ecosystem services (PES) are a policy mechanism designed to provide these incentives. However, the mechanism must be carefully tailored to promote agroecology among service providers and to capture adequate resources from service beneficiaries. The private sector either fails to provide the research and development required by agroecology, or else patents the resulting knowledge, decreasing its availability to those who need it. It also fails to provide fails to provide extension services, infrastructure and affordable credit. Public sector provision of these services has historically generated exceptional returns on investment. Similarly, the private sector is unlikely to voluntarily pay for most ecosystem services. Collective institutions however can restrict access to some services, like waste absorption capacity, then charge for their use. These institutions should be at the scale of the service provided. Revenue generated can then be used to fund international research centers to develop agroecology, national extension services to disseminate it, and affordable local microcredit schemes that finance adoption by farmers, but share the risk with service beneficiaries. The resulting knowledge and those ecosystem services not depleted by use should then be open access or all. The nature of the problem requires public sector solutions, while the scale of the problem requires public sector to public sector transfers. The solutions described here may not be ideal, but they are a useful starting point as we move forward.

Farley, J.; Schmitt, A.; Alvez, Juan P.; Ribeiro de Freitas, N. How Valuing Nature Can Transform Agriculture. Solutions Journal, Vol 2, No. 6. pp. 64-73

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Society must increase food production and restore vital ecosystem services or suffer unacceptable consequences. Unfortunately, conventional agriculture may be the single greatest threat to ecosystem function. At the same time, reducing ecologically harmful agricultural inputs or restoring farmlands to native ecosystems threatens food production. We fell into this predicament because we designed agricultural and economic systems that failed to account for ecosystem services, and the path forward requires redesigning both systems. Agroecology—which applies ecological principles to design sustainable farming methods that can increase food production, wean us away from nonrenewable and harmful agricultural inputs, and restore ecosystem services—promises to be an appropriate redesign of agricultural systems. We focus on the example of management-intensive grazing (MIG), which mimics natural grassland-grazer dynamics. Compared to conventional systems, MIG increases pasture growth and cattle production, reduces the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and enhances biodiversity, water quality, nutrient capture, and carbon sequestration. Redesigning economic institutions to reward the provision of ecosystem services and provide the public goods required for the global-scale development and dissemination of agroecology practices still presents a serious challenge. Payments for ecosystem services (PES) are a promising mechanism through which those who benefit from ecosystem services can compensate those who provide them, for mutual gain. Numerous schemes already exist that pay landowners for land uses that sequester carbon, regulate and purify water, and enhance biodiversity, but their effectiveness is debated. We propose a form of PES in which the potential public beneficiaries of ecosystem services at the local, national, and global scales fund the research and development, extension work (i.e., farmer education, usually supported by government agencies), and affordable credit required to scale agroecology up to the level required to provide for a growing global population.

Faulkner, J.W., W. Zhang, L.D. Geohring, T.S. Steenhuis. Tracer movement through paired vegetative treatment areas receiving silage bunker runoff. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. 66(1):18-28.

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The need for less resource-intensive agricultural waste treatment alternatives has lately increased. Vegetative treatment areas (VTAs) are considered a low-cost alternative to the collection and storage of various agricultural wastewaters. As VTAs become more widespread, the need for design guidance in varying climates and landscapes increases. The purposes of this study were to investigate runoff movement and nitrate-nitrogen concentrations within two VTAs and to use the results to improve VTA design and recommendations for management. Silage bunker runoff movement through the selected VTAs following a 7.8 mm (0.31 in) rainfall event was characterized using a chloride tracer. Both surface and subsurface runoff movement was analyzed using tracer concentrations and a simple binary mixing model. Results show that concentrated surface flow paths existed within both VTAs, and surface flow in general was more prevalent in the VTA that received a higher hydraulic loading. Rapid preferential flow to shallow monitoring wells was also observed. A shallow restrictive soil layer likely exacerbated surface flow but restricted runoff water and nitrate-nitrogen from leaching to deeper groundwater. The nitrate-nitrogen did not appear to be directly linked to runoff movement, but concentrations as high as 28 mg L-1 were observed in downslope surface flow in the wetter VTA. A more comprehensive VTA design process is called for that accounts for shallow soils and antecedent moisture conditions. Regular maintenance and design measures to prevent the formation of concentrated flow paths are also critical to the prevention of surface discharge.

Faulkner, J.W., W. Zhang, L.D. Geohring, T.S. Steenhuis. 2011. Nutrient transport within three vegetative treatment areas receiving silage bunker runoff. J Env Mngmt. 92(3):587-595.

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Silage bunker runoff can be a very polluting substance and is increasingly being treated by vegetative treatment areas (VTAs), but little information exists regarding nutrient removal performance of systems receiving this wastewater. Nutrient transport through the shallow subsurface of three VTAs (i.e. one VTA at Farm WNY and two VTAs at Farm CNY) in glaciated soils containing a restrictive layer (i.e., fragipan) was assessed using a mass balance approach. At Farm WNY, the mass removal of ammonium was 63%, nitrate was 0%, and soluble reactive phosphorus (SRP) was 39%. At Farm CNY, the mass removal of ammonium was 79% in the West VTA, but nitrate and SRP increased by 200% and 533%, respectively. Mass removal of ammonium was 67% in the East VTA at Farm CNY; nitrate removal was 86% and SRP removal was 88%. The East VTA received a much higher nutrient loading, which was attributed to a malfunctioning low-flow collection apparatus within the settling basin. Results demonstrate that nutrient reduction mechanisms other than vegetative uptake can be significant within VTAs. Even though increases in nitrate mass were observed, concentrations in 1.65 m deep wells indicated that groundwater impairment from leaching of nitrate was not likely. These results offer one of the first evaluations of VTAs treating silage bunker runoff, and highlight the importance of capturing concentrated low flows in VTA systems.

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.

Surdi, J., Schmitt Filho, A., Farley, J., Alvez, J. P., & Satschumi, H. O fluxo de serviços ecossistêmicos na agricultura familiar da Encosta da Serra Catarinense (The flow of ecosystem services in family farming of the Encosta da Serra Catarinense). Resumos do I Encontro Pan-Americano sobre Manejo Agroecológico de Pastagens, Chapecó, SC, Brazil. Cadernos de Agroecologia, 6(2), 1-6.

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Considering the predominance of family farming in the state of Santa Catarina, Brazil, a more sustainable livestock production has proved crucial. The objective of this study was to understand dairy farmers' awareness about ecosystem services. Sixty dairy farmers working under the Voisin system were randomly selected through structured interviews. Results revealed that farmers perceived that soils were more structured, moist and covered under Voisin system. In addition, the annual silage production and supplementation decreased due to the improvement of naturalized pasture. Farmers also observed an increase in carrying capacity. After the adoption of the Voisin system, farmers began to deliver water through water-tanks in the paddocks, decreasing animal access to water sources. Thus, it was observed that pasture-based milk production improved the farm environment, causing an apparent increase in the flow of services of this pastoral agroecosystems.


Farley, J., Schmitt F. A., Alvez, Juan P., Rebollar, P. M. The farmer's viewpoint: Payments for ecosystem services and agroecologic pasture based dairy production. Advances in Animal Biosciences (2010) 1: 490-491.

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Ecosystems provide a variety of services essential to human survival and well-being. For example, forests provide food and fiber, regulate climate and water, generate cultural benefits such as recreation, and create habitat for biodiversity. All economic production requires both energy and raw materials provided by nature, and unavoidably produces high entropy waste. Most raw material inputs into economic production otherwise serve as the structural building blocks of ecosystems. When economic activities remove ecosystem structure and return waste, the the result is a loss of function, including ecosystem services. Perhaps the most important problem our society currently faces is how to allocate ecosystem structure between conversion to economic production and conservation to provide ecosystem servies, both of which are essential to our well-being (Farley, 2010) Different agriculture systems proivide distinct conditions for the flow of ecosystems services. Farmers are required to produce food on an increasingly degraded environment for an ever growing population. Markets compensate for goods from the provisioning functions (food, raw materials, ornamental). Provisioning functions are tangible and can be tradable, such as the case of dairy products. On the other hand, the market does not account of the value from regulating functions such as water, forest, habitat and biodiversity protection among others (Alvez, 2010). When best management practices are adopted livestock management, especially dairy farming has the potential to promote ecosystem services such as water supply and regulation, soil formation, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, food provision, as well as supporting rural livelihoods (Meurer et al., 2009). The aim of this study is to assess farmers' perception about the flow of Ecosystems Services (Farley, 2010) associated to the transition from confined dairy production to pasture based dairy system called management intensive grazing - MIG (Meurer et al., 2009).

Faulkner, J.W., Z.M. Easton, W. Zhang, L.D. Geohring, T.S. Steenhuis. 2010. Design and risk assessment tool for vegetative treatment areas receiving agricultural wastewater: Preliminary results. Journal of Environmental Management. 91(8):1794-1801.

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Vegetative treatment areas (VTAs) are commonly being used as an alternative method of agricultural process wastewater treatment. However, it is also apparent that to completely prevent discharge of pollutants to the surrounding environment, settling of particulates and bound constituents from overland flow through VTAs is not sufficient. For effective remediation of dissolved agricultural pollutants, VTAs must infiltrate incoming wastewater. A simple water balance model for predicting VTA soil saturation and surface discharge in landscapes characterized by sloping terrain and a shallow restrictive layer is presented and discussed. The model accounts for the cumulative effect of successive rainfall events and wastewater input on soil moisture status and depth to water table. Nash-Sutcliffe efficiencies ranged from 0.65 to 0.81 for modeled and observed water table elevations after calibration of saturated hydraulic conductivity. Precipitation data from relatively low, average, and high annual rainfall years were used with soil, site, and contributing area data from an example VTA for simulations and comparisons. Model sensitivity to VTA width and contributing area (i.e. barnyard, feedlot, silage bunker, etc.) curve number was also investigated. Results of this analysis indicate that VTAs should be located on steeper slopes with deeper, more-permeable soils, which effectively lowers the shallow water table. In sloping landscapes (>2%), this model provides practitioners an easy-to-use VTA design and/or risk assessment tool that is more hydrological process-based than current methods.

Zhang, W, J.W. Faulkner, S.K. Giri, L.D. Geohring, T.S. Steenhuis. 2010. Effect of soil reduction on phosphorus sorption of an organic-rich silt loam. Soil Sci Soc Am J. 74(1):240-249.

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Phosporus flux from agricultural landscapes to surface waters may cause eutrophication. In the northeastern United States, P transport largely depends on P sorption of soils in variable source areas or in land treatment systems. Soil redox fluctuation commonly occurs in these areas. Nevertheless, the effect of soil redox on P sorption has been variable in the literature. This study investigated P sorption of an organic-rich northeastern glaciated silt loam (Langford) under air-dried, field-wet, and reduced conditions using batch P sorption experiments. Additionally, the influence of farm wastewater on soil P sorption was studied. Major results indicated that soil reduction increased the maximum amount of P that can be sorbed (S max) and decreased the aqueous P concentration at which P sorption and desorption are equal (EPC0), both determined from a modified Langmuir isotherm model. The slightly reduced field-wet soils had no significant difference in Smax due to limited soil reduction. Using the diluted wastewater as the sorption solution matrices instead of 0.01 mol L-1 KCl solution, the soils generally exhibited greater Smax and lower EPC0 except for the EPC0 of a reduced surface soil, implying more complex P sorption in the field. Identified P sorption mechanisms include phosphate precipitation, ligand exchange with organic matter, and adsorption onto Fe hydroxides. Transformation of Fe compounds during soil reduction is primarily responsible for the changes in soil P sorption.

Abbreviations: DOC, dissolved organic carbon; ICP-AES, inductively coupled plasma-atomic emission spectrometry; OM, organic matter; SRP, soluble reactive phosphorus; TC, total carbon; TN,total nitrogen; VSA, variable source area; VTA, vegetative treatment area.


Alvez, Juan P. and Murphy, W. Irrigation, Nitrogen, and Soil Amendment Effects on Pasture Forage Yield and Quality. Journal: Renewal Agriculture and Food Systems.

Berlin, L., R. Bell, W. Lockeretz. Purchasing foods produced on organic, small, and local farms: a mixed method analysis of New England consumers. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 24(4):267-275

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Research focused on consumer behavior and attitudes toward organic, small-scale and locally produced foods can help organic producers understand consumer values, and in turn develop production and marketing approaches that match these values. This research on New England area food shoppers included focus groups, individual interviews, and a mail survey, all of which helped us to identify relationships between organic food buying and consumers' views of the food system. Comments made in focus groups and individual interviews revealed a frequent blending of the concepts of local, small-scale and organic, and their associated benefits. Subsequent mail surveys identified similar tendencies, although respondents made some distinctions among the reasons why they bought food from the three farm categories. When there were differences, respondents tended to attribute greater importance to reasons to buy from local farms, as compared to organic or small farms. The six questions for which the differences across farm categories had the lowest P-values were related to the environment, rural economy, rural landscape, farmers, product freshness and product taste. However, freshness, taste, nutritional quality and safety were some of the most compelling reasons that were attributed to all three farm categories. The challenge for the small, local and organic producer will be to continue to hold the consumer's attention as the general perception of organic farming shifts to a more industrialized model.

Maurer, F., Schmitt, A., Farley, J., Alvez, J., Oldra, A., DaRolt, L., & Francisco, F. (2009). Serviços Ambientais e a Produção de Leite sob Pastoreio Voisin na Agricultura Familiar: Ativos Ambientais que Devem ser Considerados. Revista Brasileira de Agroecologia, 4(2), 3830-3834.

Matthews, A., Alvez, Juan P., Cooper. C., Kestenbaum, D., Purchase N. Dairy Stewardship Alliance: Sustainability Indicators for Dairy Farms. UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture*

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Which sustainable practices contribute to increasing environmental stewardship on dairy farms? The Dairy Stewardship Alliance study has developed and vetted sustainability indicators for dairy farming. To be sustainable, practices guided by the indicators must enhance the natural environment and herd health, support profitability and improve the quality of life for farmers and their communities.

Zhang, W, J.W. Faulkner, S.K. Giri, L.D. Geohring, T.S. Steenhuis. 2009. Evaluation of two Langmuir models for phosphorus sorption of P-enriched soils in New York for environmental applications. Soil Science. 174(10):523-530.

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The phosphorus (P) sorption isotherm experiment is a widely used tool in environmental applications for assessing soil's vulnerability to P loss to runoff or drainage. The sorbed legacy P (S0) (i.e. the P retained in soils from previous P applications) participates in sorption processes, but cannot readily be determined in a sorption experiment. Thus, it is important to accurately estimate S0for P-enriched soils (e.g. the soils that heavily receive fertilizer, manure, farm wastewater, or sewage sludge). Two curve-fitting procedures (i.e. one-step method and two-step method) with Langmuir models have been used to estimate S0 and other sorption parameters, including the P sorption maxima (Smax), the bonding energy constant (k), and the zero-sorption equilibrium concentration (EPC0). This study evaluated these two methods on sixteen samples of Langford, Volusia, and Mardin channery silt loam soils at surface (0-8 cm) and subsurface (61-91 cm) in New York. The results indicate that the two methods agreed well in estimating Smax, and the estimates of kwere close. The S0 estimates by the two methods had a good agreement for surface soils, but a poor agreement for subsurface soils, which may be of little concern because of small S0 of subsurface soils. Although the one-step method yielded greater EPC0 estimates, the EPC0 estimates by the two methods had an excellent linear correlation for P-enriched surface soils, suggesting that both methods could work equally if only the relative magnitudes of EPC0 among soils are needed. Overall, both methods are acceptable to fit the Langmuir isotherms.


Faulkner, J.W., T.S. Steenhuis, N. van de Giessen, M. Andreini, and J.R. Liebe. 2008. Water use and productivity of two small reservoir irrigation schemes in Ghana's Upper East Region. Irrigation and Drainage. 57(2):151-163.

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To examine the impact of small reservoir irrigation development in Africa, the performance and productivity of two small reservoirs and irrigation schemes in the Upper East Region of Ghana were investigated in this study. Hydrologic data measured included daily irrigation volumes and daily evaporation. Farmer cost inputs, excluding labor, and harvest data were also recorded. There was a strong contrast in water availability between the two systems, the Tanga system having a higher amount of available water than did the Weega system. The concept of relative water supply was used to confirm this disparity; Tanga was an inefficient system with a relative water supply of 5.7, compared to a value of 2.4 for the efficient Weega system. It was also concluded that the dissimilar water availabilities resulted in the evolution of very different irrigation methods and coincided with different management structures. Where there was more water available per unit land (Tanga), management was relaxed and the irrigation inefficient. Where there was less water available per unit land (Weega), management was well structured and irrigation efficient. The productivity of water (US$ m-3) of the Tanga system was half that of the Weega system, when analyzed at a high market price for crops grown. In terms of productivity of cultivated land (US$ ha-1), however, the Tanga system was 49% more productive than the Weega system. The difference in the productivity of land is primarily a result of increased farmer cash inputs in the Tanga system as compared to the Weega system. The difference in the productivity of water can be attributed to the varying irrigation methods and management structures, and ultimately to the contrasting water availability. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


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.

Book Chapters


Schmitt, A.; Farley, J.; Alvez, Juan P.; Alarcon, G.; May Rebollar, P.; Integrating Agroecology with Payments for Ecosystem Services in Santa Catarina's Atlantic Forest, In: Muradian, R. & Rival, L. Governing the provision of environmental services. Springer. ISBN 978-94-007-5175-0.

* Works denoted with an asterisk (*) are not peer-reviewed.

Last modified February 07 2018 09:41 AM