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Evaluation Framework

Farm to School Evaluation Framework
Developing a Farm to School Evaluation Framework for Canada 
Farm to School initiatives are being adopted with great enthusiasm across Canada because of their potential to improve student nutrition and food literacy while contributing to vibrant, sustainable regional food systems, climate change mitigation and Indigenous food sovereignty. Farm to school programs use a cross-sectoral approach to aim to transform the systems that influence how students eat and learn about food at school. 

Farm to School is a relatively new approach in Canada, and literature on the topic is limited as compared to the US. Farm to school efforts in Canada to date have focused on developing programs, and not as much on research. 

Farm to Cafeteria Canada is currently developing a Farm to School Evaluation Framework / Toolkit for Canada to enable practitioners, researchers and policy makers to better articulate, track, measure and communicate the impacts of farm to school activities and policies. The framework will include agreed-upon research questions and priority outcomes worthy of consistent measurement along with related indicators and measures. The framework will also make strong links to other policy priorities such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals, healthy school communities, student well-being, and the momentum towards sustainable regional food systems. 

Why do we need a Farm to School Evaluation Framework for Canada?

In 2014, the US National Farm to School Network undertook a collaborative process to develop a cross-sectoral Evaluation Framework for farm to school to guide practice, research and policy development for the growing field. The results of this process included the articulation of a series of priority outcomes, measures and indicators that could be tracked at the program, research and policy levels, as well as the development of the US Benefits of Farm to School fact sheet that shares the positive impacts of farm to school that have been documented through research. 

To date Canada has developed an emerging map of the Canadian farm to school landscape, released a handful of peer reviewed journal articles about various aspects of farm to school plus some grey literature as documented in Benefits of Farm to School: Evidence in Canada. We have also articulated emerging empirical evidence of how farm to school initiatives in Canada align with the new Canada’s Food Guide.  

Given Canada’s unique context, there would be great benefit from the development of an Evaluation Framework for Farm to School in Canada to enable practitioners, researchers and policy makers to better articulate, track, measure and communicate the impacts of the farm to school approach.

There is a huge opportunity for farm to school to expand and to thrive in Canada. We hope that the development of a Canadian evaluation framework for farm to school will make a strong contribution to the great momentum we’re seeing in this field.

What are the Project Objectives and Potential Outputs of the Proposed Framework?

A Farm to School Evaluation Framework for Canada will:

  • Engage people in multiple sectors in committing to action and evaluation activity in this field.
  • Guide how projects can consistently articulate and implement program elements, track and monitor program activities and report on outcomes.
  • Provide agreed-upon research questions and priority outcomes worthy of consistent measurement along with related indicators and measures.

The framework PROCESS will also seek to:

  • Further illuminate the landscape of activity underway across Canada designed to get more healthy, local foods on the minds and on the plates of students by:  
    • Identifying promising farm to school practices and evaluation activities that are underway. 
    • Identifying validated tools for measuring priority outcomes.
    • Sharing information and tools widely across Farm to Cafeteria Canada and partner e-platforms.
  • Raise awareness about farm to school in Canada and strengthen Farm to Cafeteria Canada’s national F2S network.

Over the longer term we anticipate that the framework will allow stakeholders to:

  • Better communicate farm to school programs and their impacts to their communities.
  • Identify and conduct research on farm to school areas of impact that need further study.
  • Identify farm to school practices and related policies that have demonstrated benefits.
  • Recommend practices and policies for implementation and evaluation.
  • Identify barriers and opportunities that decision makers can act upon. 

What will be the process of developing a Farm to School Evaluation Framework for Canada?

The process of developing a Farm to School Evaluation Framework for Canada will involve:

  • Convening an Advisory Committee from different sectors and lenses who will help clarify project goals and outcomes, overarching principles, key audiences, key sectors to base the framework on, criteria for selecting indicators, and other guidelines to direct the project work.
  • Involving a wide set of project advisors who can review documents and provide input into the process from their frame of reference as the process unfolds.
  • Drafting a Theory of Change as well as evaluation matrices that will include priority outcomes and indicators, and potential evaluation tools for key sectors. These will build on those of the US as well as previous discussions to inform a framework for Canada.
  • Holding a national process that includes virtual discussions to advance thinking on what priority outcomes and indicators should be included in an evaluation framework. 
  • Developing a framework / toolkit as well as additional outputs based on the input of everyone involved.
  • Gathering promising practices, evaluation reports, assessment strategies, and evaluation tools.

How can everyone inform the framework?

To inform the development of the evaluation framework and accompanying tools, Farm to Cafeteria Canada and its F2SCDI project partners will be organizing a modified Delphi process, which will engage diverse audiences in building agreement on priority outcomes and indicators for farm to school activities in Canada. This process will include virtual discussions in the fall of 2020. 

The purposes of these engagement opportunities will be: to educate, inspire and engage interested audiences in the farm to school approach and its benefits; and to inform the development of the Evaluation Framework. These discussions will be guided by the question “what evidence do you need to support farm to school efforts?”

For additional information or to participate in this process, please contact Carolyn Webb, Regional Lead for Farm to School in Ontario, at cwebb@sustainontario.ca

The development of this evaluation framework has been an initiative of the Farm to School: Canada Digs In! partnership: 

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