June 15, 2018
Research is transforming food systems in urban communities, one award at a time. On May 21, 2018, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) celebrated its members and partners who received funding through the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, which was established by the 2014 Farm Bill and administered in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Five grants funded through the foundation were announced this May, totaling $4.4 million, for research in community food system interventions; these awards also came with an $8.9 million match by companies, universities, and organizations. Currently, many nutritional security programs and food system interventions operate in isolation; research projects like these seek to change that.
NSAC congratulates all grantees on their projects, in particular the enterprising NSAC members (spotlighted below) who received awards or will be partners on awarded projects.
Sustainable Food Center’s Joy Casnovsky is spearheading a project that examines the “Farm For Less” farm stands, mobile markets, and healthy corner stores in the Eastern Crescent of Austin, Texas. The goal of the Farm For Less program, which is located in majority minority and low-income neighborhoods, is to increase the availability of healthy food options through community driven efforts. Their project is driven by a need to confront the incredible growth of Austin and the accompanying affordability crisis that is driving people out of their homes and neighborhoods.
“The thought behind our food access strategies is to enlist community-based and neighborhood specific tactics that do not have unintended consequences of driving up property values or drastically altering the physical landscape,” said Casnovsky.
Partnering with the UTHealth School of Public Health, Casnovsky and Dr. Alexandra van den Berg Ph.D, along with van den Berg’s research team, will use nearly the nearly $1 million grant to develop a quasi-experimental longitudinal study designed to capture the impact of new food access points on consumption, food security, and obesity.
For example, the project will compare the health outcomes of participants who use the farm stands, mobile markets, healthy corner stores, The Happy Kitchen/La Cocina Alegre® cooking and nutrition program, or a combination. The project will also study the effectiveness of additional strategies under Fresh for Less, such as piloting Double Dollars in brick and mortar retail, which doubles Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables. These and other collected data will be integrated into a model for optimal implementation and recommendations for scaling up.
LiveWell Colorado, an NSAC Member, is partnering with Colorado State University on a Denver-based evaluation of food system policies and initiatives and seek to optimize existing food system efforts. Dr. Becca Jablonski, Assistant Professor and Food Systems Extension Economist with CSU, hopes to address how urban food policies can be re-envisioned to support efforts across the state:
“The timing is excellent because Denver and several surrounding counties just received funding to re-evaluate their policies,” Jablonski said. “This project gives us an awesome opportunity to bring more people to the table who can work on determining how urban food policies can support not just urban communities and economies, but entire regions.”
Jablonski and her team will utilize data about Colorado producers, retailers, and consumer behavior to generate a computational model on the current food system. The model will develop hypothetical intervention solutions that analyze the tradeoffs between different food policies. With their $1 million grant, the project can connect food security and access efforts with agri-business, natural resources, and economic development communities.
“We really value our partnerships,” said Jablonski. “Sometimes these projects are missing a piece, so having partners who understand agricultural issues and other partners who get food security and food access is really important.”
Wendy Moschetti from LiveWell Colorado, a partner for the project, agrees, “We’re always looking for initiatives that are trying to make access where it’s missing, especially in communities of color, while strengthening food systems. We’ve been working closely in partnership before, so this just makes sense. It’s a golden opportunity to do some real research and test what interventions have real impact.”
The Food Trust is a partner on a funded project in Ohio, working with the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine’s to develop strategies to maximize equitable impact in communities. This $433,152 grant project will focus on community nutrition, food security, and economic opportunity interventions that will serve neighborhoods both within and outside of Cleveland.
Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future is a partner for the University of Albany’s nearly $1 million awarded project on fresh produce recovery and redistribution in Albany, NY. The project will look at policy interventions at a local, state, and national level that identify how tax incentives, date-labeling education, and other variables effect the nutrition and health outcomes for food insecure populations. They hope to expand their research beyond the region to have a national impact.
More information on these and other awarded projects is available on the Foundation’s website.