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Addressing Food Insecurity Among College Students at U.S. Universities

An on-campus food bank and garden will help address food insecurity in college students.

Photo of Adrienne Kleintop
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Delaware Valley University Food Systems Institute

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Other

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.


Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Doylestown, Pennsylvania, U.S.

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Delaware Valley University has three locations totaling over 900 acres in Bucks and Montgomery counties in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania.

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

In 2013, the Food Systems Institute (FSI) committee was established at DelVal by faculty representing multiple disciplines in the humanities, sciences, and agriculture to explore food systems from an interdisciplinary perspective. The FSI develops, fosters, and encourages cross-disciplinary collaboration and education on all aspects of food production, distribution, and consumption. FSI builds upon the institution’s historic strengths to offer cross-cutting programming that integrates agriculture with historic, cultural, political, economic, environmental, and geographic approaches to food within local, urban, and global contexts.  The FSI developed a Food Systems minor that emphasizes interdisciplinary and experiential knowledge and connects multiple fields related to anthropology, history, agricultural production, nutrition, public policy, and business. The interdisciplinary minor was approved in 2017 and first offered in the 2017-2018 academic year.  In addition to the minor, the FSI also organizes different events on campus related to food systems and food security. The events are attended by DelVal faculty, students, staff, and individuals from the surrounding community.  A few examples of recent FSI programming include: the screening and panel discussion of the film Food Evolution, Live Streaming of the World Food Prize: 2017 Borlaug Dialogue; presentation by Dr. Maria Velez de Berliner, President of Latin Intelligence Corporation, on Food as a Tool of Diplomacy and a Weapon of War; round-table discussion about Urban Agriculture; and film screening and discussion with Andreas Hernandez; the director, Soil, Struggle and Justice, Agroecology in the Brazilian Landless Movement, and hosting HungerU, a mobile exhibit that provides education about food security. In addition to the academic program and outreach activities, the proposed project will focus on directly addressing food insecurity on campus through the creation of a campus food bank and garden.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Delaware Valley University (DelVal) is a small, private, non-profit, comprehensive university located in the suburbs of Philadelphia in the United States.  DelVal has a focus on experiential learning, and currently offers more than 25 different undergraduate degrees in agriculture and environmental sciences, life and physical sciences, humanities, and business.  DelVal also offers select graduate programs. Originally founded as the National Farm School, DelVal is a leader in experiential education and maintains a commitment to “science with practice.” All students are required to complete an internship and an additional experiential learning project to graduate. The unique facilities at DelVal provide hands-on, experiential learning opportunities related to food systems. Spread over three campuses, with more than 900 acres dedicated to agricultural production, the University continues to build upon its historic focus on agriculture and serves as a living laboratory for programs in multiple food, agricultural, natural resources, and animal sciences fields. In addition to the main campus, two additional properties, the Roth Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and the Gemmill Center are also available for teaching and are used for agricultural production.  The Roth Center for Sustainable Agriculture is a living laboratory which is based on three fundamental principles: 1) Long-term profitability 2) Good stewardship of environmental resources and 3) High quality of life for the farmer and community.  The guiding principles of the Roth Farm are closely aligned with the DelVal Food Systems Institute, and the Roth Farm is envisioned as the location for the proposed DelVal Food Bank which will serve students.  In addition to utilizing the proposed food bank, students could also work at the Roth Farm.  This would enable them to gain hands-on experiential education and also to learn about profitability and land stewardship.  Students could also apply their work at the Roth Center towards completing an interdisciplinary minor in Food Systems. A range of fresh fruits and vegetables and eggs could be produced at the Roth Farm and then donated to the Food Bank.  This would allow for diverse healthful and nutritious food choices available for students at the DelVal Food Bank. For example, research indicates that college students are not meeting the minimum number of fruits and vegetables and as high as 69% of surveyed college students reported not meeting the minimum five servings of fruit and vegetables per day (Huang, 2003). In addition to providing food, the Food Bank can be used to provide education on healthful food choices.   

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

The total cost of higher education in the U.S. including tuition and room and board has been steadily rising and is cause for alarm. For example, the College Board reported that the average total cost of tuition and fees for 2019-2020 was $21,950 for in-state public university students, $38,334 for out of state public university students, and $48,870 at private non-profit universities and that these figures had increased from 2.5-3.3% from the previous academic year, and at a rate of approximately 2.2% each year over the past decade. (College Board, 2019).  The average total cost of attendance for the 2020-2021 academic year at DelVal is $59,480 including tuition and room and board for undergraduate students living on campus and $48,200 for students living off campus.  In fall 2019, of the 1,924 total undergraduate students, 50.1% lived on campus, and 49.9% lived off-campus.  The total cost at DelVal includes various student meal plans  which range from $725 for 75 meals per semester ($1450 per year) to $4125 per semester ($8250 per year) for an unlimited meal plan for 2019-2020. For meals, students on campus have choice of the DelVal campus dining hall, which serves a range of food types and is open 24/7 and “the pub” which has fast food items. Research suggests that the rise in college tuition has impacted the food security status of college students, particularly for upper-class or commuter students not served by meal plans.  A survey of 237 undergraduates at a large public American university in the Mid-Atlantic region reported that 15% of students were classified as food insecure with an additional 16% classified as at risk of being food insecure (Payne-Surges, 2018).  A survey of 441 non-freshmen undergraduate University of Hawaii at Manoa students reported that 21% were classified as food insecure with an additional 24% classified as at risk of being food insecure and with students living off-campus at the highest risk of food insecurity (Chapparo, 2009).  An additional survey of 209 freshmen from an urban southwestern U.S. University stated that 32 -37% of students reported being food insecure in the previous month or previous three months (Bruening, 2016).  Finally, a large study of 1,882 undergraduate students at the four public Illinois universities reported that 35% were classified as food insecure (Morris, 2016).  As the current situation is expected to continue into the future, interventions are needed in order to mitigate food insecurity in U.S. college student populations.  With a reported 2.2% increase in tuition per year, it is estimated that in 30 years by 2050, the average cost of tuition at a private, non-profit university will double to almost $96,000 per year.  The continued increase in tuition will likely provide further economic strain on students putting them at risk for food insecurity and poor diet. Policies and technologies that function to address college student food insecurity are needed to reverse this trend.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

The objectives of our proposal are to: 1) Build a community food bank to serve our student population located at the DelVal Roth Center for Sustainable Agriculture 2) Develop an experiential learning program for students to gain hands-on crop production experience at the Roth Center in connection with the food bank and Food Systems minor 3) Recruit local partners to promote and further invest in the food bank and 4) Develop educational material around healthful diets to incorporate into the food bank. The food bank will be located on one of our campus satellite farms, the Roth Center for Sustainable Agriculture, which consists of 124 acres and is currently used for sustainable and organic agricultural practices.  The Roth Farm also has a large 30” x 90” high tunnel to produce food throughout the winter as well as in the field during the summer. Having the food bank located away from the main campus would remove some of the stigma associated with utilizing a food bank and provide better anonymity for students. Students could also volunteer or receive academic credit for working at the Roth Farm to grow food for the food bank.  The food bank could also be applied towards completion of the Food Systems minor.  For example, the Food Systems minor includes a “Follow the Fruit” course and a senior portfolio. The Roth Center and the student food bank could become the focus of student individual projects both for the “Follow the Fruit” course and the senior portfolio and to help students understand the complexity of food systems. In addition, fresh fruit, vegetables, and eggs from the Roth Farm would also help to ensure that students have access to a healthy diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables.  The project could be expanded further to incorporate education around balanced and healthy dietary choices. In addition, local partners will also be recruited to help support the Food Bank.  The Food Systems Institute currently works with many local partners who could help volunteer or could provide food donations for the food bank. The proposed food bank is unique in that it will specifically serve college students. As a case study in addressing college student food insecurity, it could potentially be repeated at other campuses.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

In addition to high reported rates of food insecurity among college students, food insecurity  is associated with higher rates of depression (Bruening, 2016), including depression symptoms that affect academics along with poor overall health (Payne-Sturges, 2018). Several reports have linked student food insecurity to poor grades (Martinez, 2018; Patton-Lopex, 2014). Students cannot focus on their academics while struggling to afford food, and this negatively impacts academic performance, graduation, and retention rates.  In addition, students may also suffer from poor diet quality as a result of not being able to afford or access quality food which can predispose them to chronic diseases and poor health.  The proposed project to develop a campus food bank for students along with experiential education opportunities to grow food for the food bank can reverse the current course.  With an available food bank on campus, students will be able to easily access nutritious food. The food bank will be open for a set number of hours each day, and the food bank schedule will be shared with all students on campus.  By partnering with other organizations, food donations can be acquired.  In addition to fresh fruits, vegetables and eggs from our farms, the food bank can include canned non-perishable items obtained through donations.  Students can also volunteer or receive academic credit to work on the Roth Farm with the harvest going to the food bank.  Students can develop individual projects around the food bank or apply their experiential education towards completing a minor in Food Systems.  With the challenges addressed, the student population at Delaware Valley University will have lower rates of food insecurity and will have been exposed to education about healthful eating patterns and also have access to fresh fruit and vegetables to improve their diet.  It is expected that this will translate into improved overall health and academic performance of these students.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

This vision proposes to study and address food insecurity in college student populations.  Recent research and commentary have addressed the rising cost of college tuition in the U.S., and how this affects the food security status of college students. Using Delaware Valley University, a small private suburban university as a case study, the DelVal Food Systems Institute will address food insecurity in the college population by addressing the following themes.

  • Environment:  One of the major objectives of the DelVal Roth Center for Sustainable Agriculture is to promote good stewardship of environmental resources.  This is achieved by utilizing methods of sustainable and organic agriculture to minimize environmental impacts from crop production.  Students will have the opportunity to learn and practice sustainable agriculture methods while also growing food to donate to the food bank.
  • Diets: One of the objectives of this project is to develop educational materials and programming around healthful diet choices.  The food bank can incorporate fresh eggs, fruit, and vegetables from the Roth Center for Sustainable Agriculture and at-risk students will be able to access this food through the student food bank. 
  • Economics:  The economic situation of rising higher education costs in the U.S. has resulted in reports of high rates of food insecurity among college students.  Students and families may struggle to afford the high costs of tuition, room and board, textbooks, and other fees. This project proposes to develop internal resources such as a campus food bank and student garden to provide food for at-risk students.
  • Culture: The proposed project will create a sense-of community and improve the campus culture by addressing the issue of food insecurity on campus.  Students will be able to grow food to feed both themselves as well as their classmates.
  • Technology: The proposed food bank will rely on many types of technology to ensure food safety.  For example, equipment will be needed to safely clean harvested fruits and vegetables from the Roth Center.  In addition, a refrigeration unit will be needed to store all food properly.  Students volunteering or receiving credit for working at the Roth Center Food Bank will also receive training on how to use the equipment and follow safe food handling practices. 
  • Policy: Although this project will focus on one college campus as a model case study, the results of this project can be disseminated through publications and presentations, and may help to raise awareness around the issue of food insecurity and college students.  This in turn may result in policies to ensure that college students at U.S. Universities remain food secure.

The student food bank will fit into our overall academic program in Food Systems which currently includes a Food Systems minor.  The learning outcomes of our Food Systems minor also exemplify the above themes and include: 1) obtain a global perspective of food systems,understand complexity of soil-to-mouth food production; 2) gain knowledge in the science of food production; 3) identify the environmental impacts of agriculture on native flora and fauna; 4) appreciate the importance of food in human culture; and 5) recognize a One Health approach to the interactions of food and disease.  As part of the minor, students can take interdisciplinary courses that cover all six of the above themes.  Our Food Systems minor combined with a student food bank program will function to raise awareness about food insecurity among college students and to reduce the incidence of food insecurity on U.S. college campuses.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email


Join the conversation:

Photo of Lydia Newell Cross Nicholson

Adrienne Kleintop We have been doing a great deal of research and building programs around the issue of student food insecurity at UMD and would love to connect with you. Food insecurity is also a central theme in our Food Vision Prize submission Universities as a Living Laboratory Closing the Food System Loop my email is if you would like to connect.

Photo of Adrienne Kleintop

Lydia, thank you very much for reaching out. I will be following up with you via e-mail. Your submission and work is very impressive, and it would be great to learn more about your work at UMD.

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