Beyond procurement

Anchor institutions and adaptations for resilience




Anchor Institutions, Local Foods, COVID-19, Pandemic, Food Access, Food System Resilience, Food Shortages, Farm-to-Institution


According to prior research, local food purchases at anchor institutions (AIs) support community development and food system resilience. AIs are placed-based organizations, such as schools, uni­versi­ties, and hospitals, that support their commu­nities by virtue of their mission. The COVID-19 pan­demic presents a unique opportunity to exam­ine how these institutions can support food system resilience during a period of increasing food inse­curity and supply chain disruptions. This study uses mixed methods, including interview and survey data, to investigate how foodservice operations at New England AIs adapted to COVID-19 and sup­ported local food systems throughout the pan­demic. The findings demonstrate that AIs experi­enced shortages of everyday food items among their broadline distributors—large, national distrib­utors that carry a wide variety of food products. However, AIs adapted to these shortages and found alternate sources for these products thanks to mutually beneficial relationships with local pro­ducers. Having relationships with both local and national distributors was an important source of functional redundancy within institutional food supply chains, reducing institutions’ reliance on a single supplier and enhancing their resilience. This finding suggests that local purchasing relationships help AIs adapt to systemic disruptions, further incentivizing farm-to-institution programs. This study also found that AIs engaged in a wide array of food access initiatives during the pandemic, including pop-up grocery stores and serving free or reduced-price meals. These initiatives supported staff members and communities through food shortages and increased food insecurity. We sug­gest that these diverse food access initiatives, some of which were created in response to COVID-19 and many of which were in place before the pan­demic, are an accessible way for AIs to support food system resilience in capacities beyond procurement.


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Author Biographies

Naomi Cunningham, University of Vermont

Graduate Research Assistance, Community Development and Applied Economics.

Ms. Cunningham is now Grants Management Specialist, Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Develop­ment.

David Conner, University of Vermont

Professor, Department of Community Development and Applied Economics, University of Vermont

Claire Whitehouse, University of Vermont

Master’s Candidate, Food Systems Program

Henry Blair, University of Vermont

Research Specialist, University of Vermont Extension, UVM Extension St. Albans Office

Jessica Krueger, University of Vermont

Undergraduate Research Assistant, College of Agriculture and Life Science



How to Cite

Cunningham, N., Conner, D., Whitehouse, C., Blair, H., & Krueger, J. (2022). Beyond procurement: Anchor institutions and adaptations for resilience. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 11(3), 57–73.

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