From food access to food sovereignty

Striving to meet university student needs


  • Kate J. Darby Western Washington University
  • Lena Hemmer Western Washington University
  • Renee Holt Western Washington University
  • Terri Kempton Western Washington University
  • Melanie del Rosario Western Washington University
  • Jon Stubblefield Western Washington University
  • Grey Webster Western Washington University



Food Insecurity, Food Justice, Food Sovereignty, Higher Education, Campus Farm, Food Pantries, Neoliberalism, Washington State, United States, Qualitative Research


The ongoing neoliberalization of higher education has meant that college and university students at state institutions face declining state support for their education, increasing debt, precarious post-graduation job opportunities, and a dominant cul­tural emphasis on personal responsibility rather than collective care. These neoliberal conditions exacerbate structural inequities (along various axes, including race, economic status, disability, etc.) within student populations. This paper explores two aspects of inequity in food insecurity among students: specific challenges and inequities students face by virtue of their position as college students, and intersectional inequities faced by some stu­dents by virtue of other identities to which they belong. This paper presents findings from two research efforts at Western Washington University, a public university in the USA Pacific Northwest. First, we share findings from a 2018 qualitative, interview-based study of food-insecure students on the campus. We then draw from our experiences as practitioners and present critical reflections on our own campus food security efforts, differentiating between those that address food security (access), food justice, and food sovereignty. Our findings from the qualitative study suggest that students feel a sense of personal responsibility for their food insecurity, and that food-insecure students both rely on social networks for support and feel stigma­tized by their food insecurity. Our critical reflec­tions on campus programs reveal that most of the traditional food security efforts (e.g. emergency aid, food pantries) neglect to either effectively support BIPOC students and others most affected by food insecurity, or provide a sustained community-support mechanism for food-insecure students in general. We position food sovereignty-oriented programs as a way forward in addressing the inter­sectional inequities faced by students, and also in bolstering communities of support.


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Author Biographies

Kate J. Darby, Western Washington University

Ph.D.; Associate Professor

Lena Hemmer, Western Washington University

Undergraduate Student. Lena Hemmer is now an experiences guide for Recreation Equipment Incorporated (REI).

Renee Holt, Western Washington University

Graduate Student

Terri Kempton, Western Washington University

Outback Farm Manager and Fairhaven Teaching Professor

Melanie del Rosario, Western Washington University

Graduate Student. Melanie del Rosario is now a junior associate at Veda Envi­ron­mental in Bellingham, Washington.

Jon Stubblefield, Western Washington University

Financial Aid Counselor

Grey Webster, Western Washington University

CEED Program Coordinator

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How to Cite

Darby, K., Hemmer, L., Holt, R., Kempton, T., del Rosario, M., Stubblefield, J., & Webster, G. (2023). From food access to food sovereignty: Striving to meet university student needs. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 12(2), 97–117.



Justice and Equity Approaches to Student Food (In)Security Peer-Reviewed Papers