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Some people might have a preconceived idea of what a grocery store in a low-income neighborhood is like — how it looks, the kinds of foods it stocks, and how well its customers are served. Consumption Team member John Eshleman did, but that was before he became intimately familiar with a tool developed to capture the substantial diversity that exists among food stores.
The circuitous path that most food follows from farm to table is largely unknown to industry outsiders. In fact, this food supply chain is so complex that ten EFSNE researchers — including economists, engineers, and a food-systems expert — are working together to better understand it, so they can identify what can be produced and distributed optimally in the Northeast.
If we want to know how much food the Northeast could produce for its consumers, then figuring out how much it already produces is a good place to start. That's no small task, given that the Northeast has nearly 24.7 million acres of land in yearly agricultural production, and millions of consumers. Yet, it is a task the Production Team completed recently, estimating the region's "self-reliance" for more than 100 foods.
One primary objective of the EFSNE Outreach Team is to share information and insights generated by the project to its stakeholders. Among the project’s many contributions to date is the innovative use of various modeling methodologies. The Outreach Team is about to launch a learning community around this topic.
Based in Pittsburgh, PA, Penn State Senior Olivia Lindsey spent six months interning with the EFSNE project. From conducting site-based research to organizing community events, her internship activities bolstered her appetite for a career in food systems work.
Community involvement is at the heart of the EFNSE project, and our researchers rely on community members’ help for many aspects of the project. During the last year, researchers on the Consumption Team conducted their first round of shopper intercept surveys, asking members of each of the project’s nine partner communities to take a break from their grocery shopping to participate in the survey. All told, they surveyed 902 shoppers at 17 stores.
In all but the shortest supply chains, food moves through wholesale distribution centers on its way from farm to consumer, and the location of these distributors can have a big impact on the efficiency of a food system. Members of the Distribution Team want to know how these distributors’ locations would need to change to support a more regionalized food system. To find out, they developed a new mathematical model.
How much food could actually be produced in the Northeast? It’s a complex question, and answering it is a slippery undertaking, because it depends on any number of weather, soil, land-use, and crop-genetic and management variables. One way to approach such a complicated question is to try to answer it for a single crop. That’s what members of the Production Team recently did, using one of the EFSNE market basket foods — the potato — as their subject.
One of the unique aspects of the EFSNE project is its systems approach, linking production, distribution, and consumption processes in a logical way, while recognizing that changes to one part of the system will affect the whole. Knowing how certain changes — like climate change or a sudden price increase — may affect a regional food system requires the use of modeling. Modeling allows researchers to ask “what if” questions and to explore possible outcomes of different scenarios.
As part of the EFSNE project’s education objectives, team members at Tufts University launched a new course aimed at giving students the opportunity to conduct food system research on topics that complement the project.
During the first year of the EFSNE project, the Outreach Team was instrumental in establishing a national eXtension Community of Practice (eCoP) around Community, Local and Regional Food Systems. This year, the eCoP has made remarkable progress in membership, leadership, and programming, and is taking on a life of its own. The progress of the eCoP to date represents a key milestone for the Outreach Team.
If there’s a single thread that ties together the various research efforts of the EFSNE project, then surely it’s food. But not just any food. Eight foods, in particular, serve as the focal point of the project: apples, bread, cabbage, canned peaches, frozen broccoli, ground beef, milk, and potatoes. Together, they constitute the “full-diet market basket” that is so often referenced throughout these pages.
The EFSNE team held its third team-wide meeting in Saratoga Springs on September 6-7, 2013. The meeting provided the 37 attendees an opportunity to learn about the activities and achievements of each of the six previously established subgroups, and to discuss as a team the next steps in the remaining half of the project timeline.