Food for Thought: A New Way to Measure “Farm-to-Campus” Operations

By Hannah Leighton

In January 2022, Farm to Institution New England (FINE) will launch the New England Farm and Sea to Campus Data Center, a new system for collecting, measuring and reporting farm-to-campus activity …

“Farm to campus” is a growing movement to mobilize the influence and power of colleges and universities to shape the food system. Research done before the Covid-19 pandemic shows that New England colleges with dining services served more than 87 million meals and spent nearly $400 million on food and beverage annually. Decisions about what food to buy, where to buy it and from whom help shape supply chains, affect the health and nutrition of those eating at the institutions, and can support the communities of which the institutions are an integral part. In addition, colleges and universities are educating and shaping opportunities for future food systems leaders, food businesses and food consumers.

Farm to Institution New England works with the higher education sector to better understand and help shape the role higher ed plays in our food system. The pandemic has hugely impacted college dining and food systems work. Campuses face supply chain disruptions, staff shortages, closed dining halls and new levels of food insecurity in their communities. But as they have grappled with these disruptions over the past two years, they have also leaned on the years of partnership and collaboration with local food partners to get through this trying time. For FINE and our partners, we know that in order to continue building this foundation, we must ground our work in evidence and understanding of the changes.

As FINE and our campus partners geared up to assess the current state of farm-to-campus activity in the six New England states, we developed an innovative approach to data collection and sharing. In January 2022, we are launching the New England Farm and Sea to Campus Data Center, a new system for collecting, measuring and reporting farm-to-campus work.

The Data Center will be the one-stop shop for New England colleges to aggregate information about farm-to-campus efforts, generate reports, measure progress over time, network with other campuses, and more.

The Data Center will build on and streamline the data-collection process and decentralize data ownership across multiple stakeholders.

Multiple campus stakeholders will be able to enter data specific to their area of the food system. This includes:

  • Dining directors, managers and chefs
  • Campus farm managers
  • Food access/security leaders on campus (e.g. food pantry, student union, student-led food justice organizations).

Campuses will find questions about their general dining services, regional and sustainable food procurement, campus farms, food security efforts, tracking and traceability, community engagement and more. They will be able to share their results with administrators and other stakeholders while also benchmarking themselves in the region and finding new partners.


New England colleges with dining services can expect to receive an email in January with further instructions on how to log in and get started. In the meantime …

Get data points ready. FINE will start collecting them in January 2022.

Get tracking support as you’re collecting your data. The beta version of FINE’s new purchase tracker is available free to anyone looking for support with their regional and values-based procurement tracking. It even comes with a handy calculator. More functionality coming soon (Google or Excel).

View a demo and find other resources on FINE’s website.


Over the coming year, the Data Center will also be where FINE hosts analyses and summary data, interactive dashboards and other opportunities for policymakers, funders, researchers and farm-to-institution stakeholders to better understand the landscape we’re trying to positively impact. While this beta version is being launched in the campus sector, other institutions will eventually be able to use this space to network, find supply chain partners and see how their activities compare with others in the region.

FINE has collected data from New England colleges with dining services via survey since 2015. These surveys have resulted in two reports: “Campus Dining 101: Benchmark Study of Farm to College in New England” and “Campus Dining 201: Trends, Challenges, and Opportunities for Farm to College in New England.” Findings from these efforts have informed regional funders, policy makers, researchers and others who support farm-to-institution projects across New England.

Hannah Leighton is director of research & evaluation at Farm to Institution New England.

Related Posts:

Could Addressing College Food Insecurity Be a SNAP?

From Kitchen to Classroom: The Serious Study of Food

Learning to Eat: Who Knew the Ivory Tower Had a Kitchen?




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