The Survey

(Download the report as a pdf)

In February 2014 we launched an online survey to identify the degree to which Ontario institutions were interested in exploring on-site food production arrangements, how feasible they thought those arrangements were, and what obstacles were in the way of seriously considering such initiatives.

We shared the survey invitation through a number of outlets:

  1. we sent out invites to all Ontario colleges and universities,
  2. we emailed all school boards,
  3. Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care (CCGH) sent a notice out to their contact list (nearly 400 hospitals and long term care facilities),
  4. CCGH also included info and link in their newsletter (1200+ subscribers),
  5. survey information was posted on SOIL and CCGH websites,
  6. Hillary Dunn (Agri-Food for Healthy Aging) sent the notice out to their 400+ stakeholders and also tweeted to her 500+ followers.

Due to a very low response rate, we decided to leave the survey open until the end of June. We also hired two graduate research assistants to start soliciting hospitals, schools, and long-term care facilitates over the phone. We were very fortunate to find two excellent and very committed graduate students (Elena Christy and Cassie Wever) who were able to reach the right people in a number of institutions. The in-person phone calls resulted in some fruitful discussions, and consequently the students were able to develop an extensive list of over thirty individuals who agreed to be contacted for the next stage of research (interviews).

Key Survey Results

The following are the key findings from the survey that summarize the responses and offer some insight into the institutional needs and expectations.

Institutions had a very wide range of total and available acreage available for food production:

    • Total acreage was anywhere from less than one acre for a number of smaller education and health centres, to 150+ acres for larger post-secondary campuses
    • The most common answers were for spaces between 1 and 3 acres and more than 10 acres (but less than 150)
    • Available acreage ran from 0.5 to 20 acres (including rooftops) or from 1-75%

Land was primarily used for:

    • parking and pavement (32)
    • lawn (31)
    • treed areas (24)
    • decorative gardens (14)
    • edible gardens (10)

Landscape maintenance was relatively evenly distributed

    • managed in-house (14 )
    • contracted out (11)
    • both (6)

Where did their interest in on-site food production come from?

    • Benefit to patients, staff and students (27)
    • Access to fresh food (22)
    • Showcasing/educational purposes (18)
    • therapeutic benefits (13)

What existing or potential barriers would prevent their institutions from considering on-site food production?

    • Lack of administrative capacity (21)
    • Concerns for liability (11)
    • General lack of interest (10)
    • Lack of land/limited space (9)
    • General maintenance (staff cost / funding) (6)

In future SOIL work, educational institutional would like to see the following measures of success:

    • Availability and participation of teacher mentors, dedicated student volunteers
    • Long-term sustainability of project (1 year +) after initial investment and momentum has passed
    • Positive impact on food choices of students/staff and overall satisfaction
    • Educational opportunities for students and community members
    • Produce used by on-campus food outlets or collected by food bank or agencies
    • Production of food that can be used by institutions with limited kitchen equipment (e.g. fresh vegetables for salad)
    • Tonnage of food produced
    • Demonstrated success with partnership between school boards and key agents
    • General output (financial, produce, community involvement) for money invested

Measures of success health care institutions would like to see included:

    • Clear evidence that the organization has benefited from the investment
    • How administrative (and public) acceptance and approval was reached
    • Demonstrate the positive health and nutrition effect on patients being served fresh food, both for overall patient wellness and/or to minimize patient stay (and reduce hospital’s costs)
    • How the produce was adequately used and did not go to waste
    • Dollar per square-foot revenue
    • Funds could be allotted to dietary staff for food preparation
    • The potential to grow on smaller plots and still have good yield
    • Reasonable finances to implement
    • Shared involvement and enthusiasm by staff and number of participants
    • Improved aesthetics of landscape
    • Contribution to healthier workplace for staff and patients, and relation to other wellness initiatives
    • Media coverage

While these survey results have no statistical significance (due to the low response rate) they provide important guidance for our future work. They portray a wide ranging set of resources, constraints, and expectations for on-site food production among Ontario institutions. They also give us some sense of the institutional motivations for considering on-site food production, and the success metrics that would be meaningful to those institutions.