Year of Publication

2012

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Dr. Patrick Mooney

Abstract

Research has demonstrated the crucial role fresh fruit and vegetable consumption plays in maintaining good health. However, most Americans do not consume adequate amounts, and low-income Americans consume the lowest quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables. The Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) and Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) attempts to rectify this situation by providing vouchers to low-income women, children, and elders that can be used only at farmers’ markets for the purchase of locally grown, fresh fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, FMNP and SFMNP exhibit variable and often low benefit utilization. This variable and often low benefit utilization is unique among all other federal food assistance programs. Given the importance of fresh fruit and vegetable consumption to health and the incomplete understanding of low-income food-related behaviors, this research endeavored to understand the unique benefit utilization patterns exhibited by FMNP.

Utilizing the theoretical framework of Pierre Bourdieu, benefit utilization was conceptualized as an inherently social activity occurring within the field of food acquisition. Through the use of extensive interviews with FMNP and SFMNP officials, field observations, and secondary data analysis, data was collected to determine the relevant capitals and features of the field contributing to benefit utilization. Cultural capital was deemed to be particularly important to benefit utilization vis-à-vis the requirement to enter the subfield of the farmers’ market to redeem their vouchers. Compared to SFMNP participants, FMNP participants exhibited lower and often multiple deficits of the types of cultural capital needed to successfully use the vouchers at farmers’ markets. However, the local fields in which the farmers’ markets operated also had a significant impact on benefit utilization. For example, Appalachian counties exhibited higher rates of benefit utilization that were statistically significant compared to non-Appalachian counties. This resulted in several policy recommendations including the distribution of recipes, interagency collaboration, and repeated opportunities to enter the subfield of the farmers’ market to encourage higher benefit utilization in FMNP and SFMNP.

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