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As the EFSNE project enters its fifth year, the Consumption Team is marking a major milestone: the completion of its shopper intercept survey effort. Over the course of three years, team members surveyed some 2,700 shoppers, paving the way for researchers to answer several questions about the food-shopping experiences of those surveyed.
Production of livestock feed is no small thing in the Northeast, accounting for the use of roughly half of the region’s land in farms, according to earlier work by the Production Team. Now team members have taken their analysis one step further, estimating how many animals this acreage can support, and whether it’s enough to satisfy the region’s demand for animal-based foods like meat, dairy, and eggs.
From undergraduate interns conducting intercept surveys to graduate students analyzing land-use data to postdoctoral scholars performing spatial analyses with crop models, the EFSNE project has engaged with dozens of students and trainees. Members of the Education Team are working to document some of this student engagement by administering a survey to all of the students who have been involved with the project to date.
There are more than a dozen food stores being studied by the EFSNE project team, an activity that would be impossible if not for the cooperation of the owners and managers who run those stores. Whether providing space for the Consumption Team to conduct intercept surveys or participating in interviews with the Distribution Team, these retailers are integral to the success of the project. And in November, several of them helped in an additional way, by traveling to Maryland to participate in a two-day workshop with EFSNE project researchers, graduate students, and community liaisons. Their participation proved to be beneficial both for the project team and for each other.
Members of the Distribution Team are conducting case studies to understand some of the factors affecting the ability of stores to serve their consumers in low-income neighborhoods. The team has conducted detailed interviews with each of our collaborating retailers, most but not all of whom are independent store operators. The information collected includes factors affecting their ability to sell healthy foods and regionally sourced foods as well as factors that influence their ability to stay in business. The team then collects information on two market basket foods per store, so that all eight foods in our market basket are represented randomly in the case studies. In this article, team member Kristen Park shares some of the lessons learned from one of these stores and its procurement of cabbage and potatoes.
Jillian Gordon and Shannon McCullough are two Penn State undergraduate students who were both drawn to a Pittsburgh-based EFSNE internship for the same reason: the chance to work in a city. But Pittsburgh beckoned them in different ways.
The questions driving the work of the EFSNE project team are complex, to be sure. But recently, some team members were struck by a much simpler question: “What would happen if the researchers, grocery store owners and community leaders in our study locations had the opportunity to sit and talk and learn from each other?” So they did what any researchers would do: they secured some funding and set out to answer the question. The result was a two-day meeting that immersed 26 people in rich dialogues that offered valuable insights to everyone involved.
On January 13, the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council released a new report which offers a framework for assessing the health, environmental, social, and economic effects of the US food system.
Two stories recently published in regional newspapers shine a light on some of the independent grocery stores in the Northeast.
At a community center and a convent, at a business development center and a food pantry, and in several other locations across the Northeast, people have been talking very intentionally about food during the past few months. These facilitated conversations, or focus groups, are one of the Consumption Team’s major research activities aimed at understanding people’s experiences accessing healthy food in their communities.
For the past decade, there have been numerous public and private interventions in the US aimed at increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables, yet the actual per capita daily intake of these foods remains well below the levels recommended by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). In the case of dark leafy greens, for example, one recent estimate suggests that consumption would have to double before coming close to the USDA’s recommendations (Eaton et al., 2013). This raises an important but largely ignored research question: if the demand for dark leafy greens increases, what impacts will this have on supply chain structure and performance? To shed light on this important policy question, members of the Distribution Team developed a supply chain model of the U.S. cabbage sector that includes production, storage, transport and consumption.
City parks, abandoned lots, sprawling rooftops, and median strips — when put into production, these plots of land can become surprisingly fruitful urban farms and gardens. Given that the Northeast is home to several large cities, it only makes sense to ask what their capacity might be for meeting some of the region’s food needs.
A new course launched this spring at Tufts University offered students a first-hand look at the suite of sophisticated tools that scientists use to study food systems. Titled "Food Systems Modeling and Analysis," the course was designed to equip students with an understanding of the methods and data sources used to conduct various food systems models and analyses. Students also became acquainted with the major research findings that have resulted from the use of food system models to date.
Next month, a group of EFSNE project team members will come together with grocery store owners/operators and community leaders from several of the project’s study locations for an interactive learning opportunity. The workshop is being organized jointly by the Outreach Team and Consumption Team, and members from each of the EFSNE project’s research teams will participate.
The virtual Food System Modeling Learning Community that the Outreach Team launched earlier this year has since held two interactive learning sessions during which food system researchers shared information with each other about how they use modeling in their own research programs.
If the Education Team needed an ambassador, it could be Lauren Chenarides. A doctoral candidate in Agricultural Economics at Penn State, she is one of a number of students benefiting from the team’s efforts to train future food system scientists. But she’s also done some of that training herself, teaching a course that immersed 40 Penn State undergraduate students in the concepts of food access, food security, and regional food systems.
As the Outreach Team makes plans to extend the work of the EFSNE Project into its eight project sites, there is one thing team members know for sure: each of the communities is different. A one-size-fits-all approach simply won’t work. To help determine the best approaches for engaging with project communities, the team first wanted to find out how ready each community is to enhance access to healthier foods.
In an earlier newsletter, we reported on the Production Team’s development of a new geospatial crop-modeling tool called the Geospatial Agricultural Management and Crop Assessment Framework (GAMCAF), which was used initially to quantify the region’s production capacity for a single crop: the potato. But that was just the beginning for GAMCAF. Now the researchers have incorporated a corn-crop model and climate data into the platform, allowing them to examine even more production scenarios for the region.
The national eXtension Community of Practice (eCoP) around Community, Local and Regional Food Systems (CLRFS), which the Outreach Team was instrumental in establishing, has just announced its public launch. The eCoP is designed to provide information and networking opportunities for educators, community-based practitioners, policy makers, farmers/growers, families, and those individuals involved in building equitable, health-promoting, resilient, and economically balanced food systems.
The cover story of the July 2014 issue of CSA News is a six-page feature about the EFSNE project.