by | Mar 9, 2022

In early February, CREE attended the 2022 National Agricultural Communications Symposium (NACS) to present various research projects associated with The Center. Read below to learn more about the research that was presented.

Giving Graciously: Determining Motivations and Barriers to Volunteer Behaviors of U.S. Adults During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Meredith Oglesby, Lauri Baker, Catherine Campbell, Angie Lindsey, Ricky Telg, and Hikaru Peterson

As COVID-19 caused a public health crisis and economic slowdown, charitable organizations faced an increase in demand. Charitable organizations are responsible for distributing food and resources to households in need each year. Volunteers are a key part of distribution and service to these charitable organizations, however the COVID-19 pandemic led to changes associated with volunteer opportunities. Volunteers play a major role in distributing food and aid during times of crisis, so it is important to understand the motivations and barriers to volunteering during COVID-19.

The purpose of this study was to determine volunteers’ behaviors, their motivations, and the barriers to volunteering during the pandemic. Two research objectives guided the study: 1) determine volunteer behaviors of U.S. households during COVID-19 and 2) determine motivations and barriers for households to volunteer either time, food, and/or money during COVID-19. The study was guided through key pieces of the theory of planned behavior, which explained volunteer behaviors. A third-party company, Qualtrics, was consulted to obtain a non-probability opt-in sample of U.S. residents 18 years of age or older. The sample included 1,004 U.S. adults representative of the U.S. population. Participants answered questions based on volunteer behaviors, barriers and motivations to volunteering, and demographic information.

Results showed that 24% of respondents volunteered during the COVID-19 pandemic (March 2020-August 2021). The major barriers to volunteering were fear of being exposed to COVID-19, fear of exposing others to COVID-19, fear for personal safety (non-COVID-19 related), and regulations or recommendations governing large gatherings. The major motivations for volunteering during the pandemic included wanting to give back to their community, feeling a sense of solidarity or shared purpose, finding comfort and/or a way to cope with sadness, considering that they might need help in the future, and keeping individuals occupied during COVID-19. There was also a significant difference in intrinsic and extrinsic barriers, as well as intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Extrinsic motivations were more of a reason people chose to volunteer, while intrinsic barriers were more of a reason people did not volunteer. Overall, motivations to volunteer had higher means than the barriers.

The findings of this study suggest that COVID-19 may have made it more difficult for people to volunteer. Implications for charitable organizations include considering these barriers and motivations when recruiting volunteers. This research supports that in times of crisis organizations should have clear guidelines and readily available information for volunteers. Future research is needed to determine the differences in volunteer behaviors throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as restrictions were altered, vaccinations became available, and virtual volunteer opportunities were offered.

How can I get my food?: Survey research to understand consumers’ barriers to acquiring food in the COVID-19 pandemic

Anissa Zagonel, Lauri M. Baker, and Hikaru Peterson

Changes and issues within the food supply chain during COVID-19 have required grocery shoppers to alter food purchasing behaviors (Nakat & Bou-Mitri, 2021). Food systems are complex but assessing consumers’ perceived barriers of where and how to purchase food in a pandemic can be a first step in creating solutions for the nation’s food needs during disruptions. Community-based social marketing (CBSM) informed this study because of its deliberate focus on identifying barriers and benefits associated with behavior change (McKenzie-Mohr, 2011). CBSM’s first recommended step is identifying barriers with a final goal of developing campaigns to offer consumers behavior-change options that encourage benefits and remove or diminish barriers. 

The purpose of this study was to understand Americans’ barriers to purchasing food early and late in the COVID-19 pandemic. Data for this study were gathered July 14 through August 19, 2021 using an online Qualtrics survey (= 1,004). A 5-point Likert scale was used to assess participants’ perceived importance of factors (1 = not important to 5 = extremely important) in deciding where and how to buy food for their households during two time periods: Early Pandemic (March-April 2020) and Late Pandemic (July-August 2021).

Means of 10 factors were compared using paired sample t-tests. Means for factors were all above 3 in both time periods, and all but the personal safety risk factor changed significantly from the early to late pandemic timeframe. The mean differences were: safety from food borne illnesses (MD = .06, = .04); risk of contracting COVID-19 (MD = -.19, < .001); availability of source-specific or culturally appropriate food (MD = .14, < .001); degree of quality control (MD = .10, = .001); environmental impact (MD = .13, < .001); cost of services (MD = .19, < .001); reliability and/or convenience (MD = .12, < .001); customer service (MD = .17, < .001); personal safety risk (MD = -.03, = .40); and product availability (MD = .08, = .01).

Results indicate Americans saw all barriers in this study as being important factors in deciding when and how to purchase food during the COVID-19 pandemic. The importance of most factors increased from early to late pandemic and were related to elements within the supply chain, such as availability of specific products and impacts from disruptions, like customer service and environmental impacts. The concerns that decreased in importance were related to personal risk and health. It is likely that later in the pandemic people were more informed of the virus and were able to receive vaccinations or take precautions but were frustrated that the breakdown in the supply chain continued to leave them without their preferred food choices and a lack of workers to alleviate consumer concerns.

Next steps for this data and in a CBSM campaign would be to select best strategies to alleviate these barriers for consumers. Since barriers were related to grocery shopping and purchasing products, using an incentive strategy and a convenience strategy could be helpful. Incentives used to draw consumers to using alternative food purchasing methods should be visible and large enough to be considered, such as a discount on a certain dollar amount of groceries. Additionally, the alternative food purchasing method should be easily accessible and operate smoothly to ensure a convenient process. Finally, concise and persuasive messaging and communication materials should be included in this campaign’s strategies.

Where on the Web: A Study Examining Social Media Use by Fruit and Vegetable Producers

Olivia K. Doyle, Lauri M. Baker, and Ricky Telg

More than ever, consumers are interested in where the food they eat is coming from which has led to their increased involvement with the local food movement. Many Americans are a minimum of three generations removed from the farm (Vilsack, 2014), and although disconnected, agriculture is still an important component in people’s everyday lives due to their need for food, fuel, and fiber. The internet is one avenue consumers can use to seek information about local food in their area. Over 7.6 billion people use the internet globally, and this number increases daily (Kemp, 2019). Many internet users are using social media platforms as information sources (Westerman et al., 2014). Social media is one outlet fruit and vegetable producers throughout the nation could use, and are already using, for marketing their products (Haire, 2020). The COVID-19 pandemic caused supply chain disruptions and shed light on the importance of local food and direct to consumer marketing. At the onset of the pandemic Florida Farm to You was quickly created to alleviate impacts on agricultural producers and provide an avenue to directly market available commodities to consumers.

The purpose of this study was to determine if fruit and vegetable producers were using social media. It was specifically of interest to understand the use of social media by producers participating in local food initiatives like Florida Farm to You. Uses and gratifications theory informed the design of this study (Katz, et al., 1973). Uses and gratifications theory seeks to explain why an individual chooses to use a specific media based on different gratifications such as entertainment, information, personal identity, personal relationships, and social interaction (Dainton & Zelley, 2019).

In this study, the researchers considered the uses and gratifications of social media use by fruit and vegetable producers in the year 2020. To address the purpose of this study, a census sample of Florida fruit and vegetable producers involved in the Florida Department of Agriculture (FDA) Farm to You program was used. A list was provided by the FDA in the form of an excel file from the web team manager. The list included all producers who had submitted to the Farm to You program between its launch on April 9, 2020, and June 8, 2021. Researchers filtered it to only include fruit and vegetable producers. The list provided by the FDA included 195 fruit and vegetable submissions; 78 were not useable for analysis.

Results of this study indicate producers are using social media to connect with consumers, but there continues to be an opportunity for growth. The primary focus of producers in this study was Facebook with over half of the producers not taking advantage of opportunities to sell directly to consumers on Instagram. Agricultural communicators should continue to work with farms on how to use social media, particularly during a crisis. With consumer’s growing interest in local food, fruit and vegetable producers have the opportunity to narrow the gap between agricultural production and consumers through social media marketing. Future research should investigate the types of posts related to selling local foods and evaluate the effectiveness.

Changes in Consumer Purchasing Behavior of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables During the COVID-19 Pandemic 

Lauri M. Baker, Hikaru H. Peterson, and Cheryl R. Boyer 

In times of disruption, like the public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, obtaining fresh fruits and vegetables can become both challenging (agrifood supply chain problems) and concerning (safety from contracting disease). A survey was developed to ascertain how consumer purchasing decisions changed during three time periods in the pandemic (Early: March-April 2020; Mid: August-September 2020; and Current: June 2021). The instrument was deployed through a Qualtrics (Seattle, WA) panel during the months of July and August 2021. Participants were 18 years of age or older and the sampling was stratified over income, race, and region of the U.S. The final sample contained 1,004 participants.

Dollars spent on fruits and vegetables remained consistent for the majority of Americans throughout the pandemic. The survey established use of types of food outlets and logistics for the three different time periods. For those who used farmers markets and community-supported agriculture (CSA) there was an increase early in the pandemic for ordering online for at-home delivery or curbside pickup, which decreased over time. Equally popular were the online ordering for bundled at-home delivery, online ordering for at-home delivery, and phone and online ordering for in-store or curbside pickup. Phone ordering for at-home delivery from farmers markets and CSAs was the least used acquisition type. The greatest used acquisition type from farmers markets and CSAs was in-store purchases. Regional differences existed in percentage of the budget spent on fresh fruits and vegetables during the pandemic, but there were no changes in dollars spent in different time periods by region. Education level, number of children, income, and total people in the house impacted changes in dollars spent; however, the impact was minimal.

More analysis and research is needed in this area. Consumers intend to use online ordering and pickup for farmers markets and CSAs in the future, but to a lesser degree than in-person. More details on this research is available at