This project was conducted in collaboration with the Good Food Council of Lewiston-Auburn (GFCLA) and the Bates College Harward Center. The GFCLA was formed “to create and support improvements to the food system of the Lewiston-Auburn community” (goodfood4la.org). The focus of this project was to assess the institutional purchasing landscape in Lewiston-Auburn particularly because GFCLA believes that a critical strategy for increasing access to healthy local foods is building the capacity for institutional purchasing, or the purchase of large volumes of product by institutions, into the Lewiston-Auburn area (Sanger and Zens, 2004). Even though Lewiston-Auburn is known as the second biggest metropolitan area in Maine and has a relatively large consumer base due to the various large institutions in the area (hospitals, colleges, and nursing homes), a gap remains between the consumers and producers (Walter, 9/14/14). The goal of this research was to investigate the current role of local foods in institutional purchasing, and to pinpoint future opportunities for institutional purchasing of local foods within the urban landscape of Lewiston-Auburn.
Our project is deeply connected with the issue of food insecurity within the Lewiston-Auburn community. Food security is defined as access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life (Poppendieck 1999, 95). It is important to keep in mind that food security is not limited to hunger, but rather carries with it economic and social implications. Urban areas are often associated with having access to resources that rural areas generally cannot access. This has led policy makers in urban communities to not place food issues at the top of their agenda, and instead consider housing and financial issues as a larger priority. In Maine, food insecurity rates are quite high and alarming; for example, in 2009, 15% of households in the state were food-insecure (USDA ERS, 2011), making it the most food insecure state in New England (Love 2014, 2). Particular to Lewiston, “the communities are strong, but the food system that feeds them clearly needs repairing. Access to good food is a significant challenge for many Lewiston residents, which has a measurable, daily impact on health, leading to such diet-related problems as obesity and diabetes” (Good Food Council of Lewiston-Auburn 2013, 3). For example, supermarkets in Lewiston are generally 40% less expensive than community markets, yet these supermarkets are not located in the lower-income areas. Instead, the cheaper food option in these areas are fast-food restaurants (Walter, 2011, 160). In hopes of moving towards food security in the Lewiston-Auburn community, our group concentrated on institutional purchasing of local foods. Our main focus was conducting the initial research of institutional purchasing and conducting interviews with relevant actors such as key informants and food service directors.
The primary results from our project definitively outlined for us common barriers public schools, hospitals, and higher education institutions in the Lewiston-Auburn community face in purchasing locally. These barriers range from money to simple interest in local foods, and despite any success stories, tend to completely block institutions from purchasing locally. However, by collecting information and highlighting trends from different institutions, we have created a positive platform for change that the Good Food Council will be able to utilize in the future to provide education and needed assistance towards incorporating local food in their respective institutions.
Siegel, Hannah; Polanco, Kathy; Allerton, Hanna; and Crespo, Barbara, "Community Food Systems in the Lewiston-Auburn Landscape: Accessing and Increasing Institutional Purchasing" (2014). Community Engaged Research Reports. 12.