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Navigating Local and Sustainable Foods: Development of an Evidence-based Environmental Sustainability Decision-Making Framework for Institutional Food Service Providers


Graham Catalyst Grants

Catalyst Grants are offered in the fall and winter to support a range of short-term, small-scale collaborative activities. These grants are intended to help better define an issue or decision maker needs, gather resources and develop partnerships, and determine next steps. Activities may include, but are not limited to, convening workshops or a conference, preparing white papers, and project planning for larger collaborative projects that would be eligible for Transformation Grants or other funding opportunities.

Project Summary

Expanding interest in local, fresh, sustainable food production has been driving innovation and change around the globe. Many Michigan institutions have been increasing efforts to offer fresh, local foods, but are often challenged by Michigan’s limited growing season. While options for producing near year-round local produce in Michigan have increased, differences in production dynamics, yields, energy demands, and other resource inputs make informed choices on the most “sustainable” option difficult. Further, defining sustainability in an institutional context and establishing quantifiable metrics for evaluating choices is often outside the operational capacity of institutional food service providers. This means that the environmental implications of the farm-to-institution movement are unknown, even as markets for local growers and fresh options for consumers are increasing.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) has become the de facto method for environmental sustainability comparisons between alternative systems. Far too often, however, insufficient data on production inputs and practices, especially of novel alternative production systems, are collected to support LCA studies. To overcome this gap in data availability, this project developed a data collection tool to support such data collection, engaged with distant production operators to gather data, and established an operational Freight Farm at the UM Campus Farm for in-house evaluation and data collection.

Project output

As part of this project, an Alternative Crop Production System - DATA COLLECTION TOOL was developed for public use.  Both the TOOL and its DESCRIPTION may be downloaded from the URL links below.

University of Michigan - Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute
Research Areas
Food & Agriculture
Food Systems and Consumer Products