Date of Award

Winter 2018

Project Type


Program or Major

Natural Resources

Degree Name

Master of Science

First Advisor

Catherine M Ashcraft

Second Advisor

Mary Adamo Friedman

Third Advisor

Miriam Nelson


Food insecurity is a persistent issue in New England. In 2016, food insecurity levels in New England ranged between 9% in New Hampshire and 13.8% in Maine (Feeding America, 2018) . Food policy councils (FPCs) are one method to bring together community members and food systems stakeholders to address inequities in the food system, such as food access. However, implementing food democracy and, in particular, engaging under-represented groups in food systems decision-making remains challenging for FPCs. This research surveyed all 26 FPCs and networks in New England to identify how councils engage the public. Interviews and document analysis inform in depth case studies of two food policy efforts: the Portland, Maine School Food Security Assessment and the MA Food Systems Plan. Public participation opportunities in these two cases are analyzed based on four elements of effective public participation identified from the literature: process and fairness, representation, information and resources, and outcomes. Finally, attributes of FPCs and the policy process that influence effective public participation are analyzed.

The landscape of New England FPCs is crowded and heterogeneous. Just over half of the councils, 15, work on policy efforts, which include school policy, food access, production, distribution and processing, and plans and assessments. Of these 15, most operate at the municipal or county level, about half are housed in government, and many include multiple food system sectors and underrepresented groups in public participation opportunities. Like most of the New England FPCs, in both Massachusetts and Portland, Maine, policy efforts engaged diverse stakeholders through multiple methods. However, the case studies highlight interesting differences in how diverse stakeholders were engaged in the policy efforts, which had more of an impact on the public participation effectiveness than the FPC attributes. These differences include who was engaged (e.g. professionals working in organizations providing services or underrepresented individuals themselves), the method by which they participated (e.g. working groups, leadership team, interviews, surveys), and their level of engagement (e.g. consultation or empowerment). These findings highlight important questions for FPCs to consider about representation and empowerment of underrepresented audiences in food policy efforts.


Related Resources:

Porter_MS Defense Presentation.pdf (1069 kB)
The MS Thesis Defense slides presented are available here.