Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Farm to School, local, vegetable messaging, nutrition behavior, vegetable choice, social marketing, lunchroom

Major Advisor

Amy Mobley

Associate Advisor

Marlene Schwartz

Associate Advisor

Nancy Rodriguez

Associate Advisor

Miriah Russo Kelly

Associate Advisor

Michael Puglisi

Field of Study

Nutritional Science


Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


Farm to school (FtS) initiatives within a school setting may include purchase of local foods, nutrition education, and school gardening. Previous FtS research has indicated a positive impact on child nutrition behaviors and body weight but less is known about how and what aspects of local foods within school meals impact child nutrition behaviors. The specific aims of this project were to: 1) Determine which benefit(s) of eating local vegetables are most salient to 3rd-5th grade students for a local vegetable message campaign intervention and compare if message preferences varied by age, gender and school district, and 2) Determine the impact of a local FtS food procurement and messaging intervention on changes in elementary school students’ local vegetable choices and nutrition-related behaviors.

Using an interactive survey in Phase 1, 3rd-5th grade students (n=202) ranked preferred messages regarding benefits of eating locally grown vegetables (freshness, health/strength, farmers, environment, community/school, and food safety). Chi-Square and Fisher’s Exact test results revealed that overall, students preferred messages about strength (p=0.03) and their school (p=0.03). Rural/suburban schools preferred the environment message compared to urban students (p=0.007), male students preferred the strength message compared to females (p=0.02), and older students preferred the fresh taste message compared to younger students (p=0.04).

Phase 2 consisted of a quasi-experimental study with three groups of 3rd-5th grade students: “Local Message (n=81)”, “Nutrition Message (n=79),” and “Control (n=79)”. Local vegetables (beets, butternut squash, zucchini, green beans, and kale) were served twice during lunch over 16 weeks in each group. In addition, bi-weekly nutrition education lessons and a tailored messaging campaign were included in the “Local” (“Strength” and “School” vegetable messages) and “Nutrition” (MyPlate messages) groups. An ANCOVA with post hoc Tukey analysis revealed students in the “Local” group had significantly improved vegetable attitudes (p=0.0001), preferences (p=0.001), overall vegetable behavior score (p=0.002), and local beet choice (P=0.004) compared to the control. Overall, the findings from this research provide preliminary evidence that local vegetable messaging in schools cafeterias may improve students’ food choices and nutrition behaviors but further research is needed to determine the generalizability of the results.