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Sustainable disposal of edible food byproducts at university research farms

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Purpose ‐ Research at agricultural universities often generates food crops that are edible by-products of the research process. The purpose of this paper is to explore the factors that affect decision-making around the disposal of these crops. Understanding decision-making suggests how universities might include food crop production into campus sustainability assessments. Design/methodology/approach ‐ A qualitative, ethnographic approach is used as, little is known about decision-making on edible crops at universities; decision-making was expected to be highly location-specific and complex. In-depth interviews with operations staff and participant observation were used. Findings ‐ Decision-making is decentralized and often reflects the values of individual staff regarding the value of the food. Staff use an informal cost-benefit analysis that reflects the economic, social, environmental trade-offs of their perceived disposal options. Many decisions reflect a sustainability ethic regarding the higher use-value of food crops while others reflect instrumental concerns about disposing of unwanted waste products. The complexity of decision-making suggests it would be difficult to develop a quantitative instrument that would provide meaningful data for a campus sustainability assessment. Practical implications ‐ Food production provides another opportunity to improve campus sustainability efforts. Also, qualitative work may be useful to understanding such systems. Originality/value ‐ The paper highlights a part of the campus food systems that is rarely studied: the campus as a food producer. It also provides an in-depth illustration of how qualitative methods may be used to inform the design of campus assessments.
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Keywords: Agriculture; Research organizations; Sustainable development; Universities; Waste disposal

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2007-01-16

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