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The community-based work carried out by members of the Consumption Team has had an unintended ripple effect — it has spawned several local-level activities aimed at improving access to healthy and regionally produced foods.
One way to increase a region’s capacity to meet its food needs is to bring new land into production; another is to change the mix of crops produced on existing farmland. But what are the potential yields we could expect from new or converted land? That’s the question behind a new tool developed by the Production Team — a productivity index that will help quantify the production capacity of all the arable land in the Northeast.
In early June, the Scenarios and Modeling (SCEMO) and Production teams held a two-day in-person meeting in New York City to plan for the modeling work that will take place during the last year of the EFSNE project. The team also discussed their role in the cross-project writing that remains, and made preparations for the project conference slated for December. The group was hosted by team member Michael Conard at Columbia University.
On a five-year project, turnover is a fact of life. The best kind of turnover happens when students working on the project receive their degrees and advance in their careers. One of these “project alumni” is Elaine Hill. Now an assistant professor of public health sciences and health economist at the University of Rochester Medical Center, Hill worked with the EFSNE project from 2011-2014 as a graduate student at Cornell University. We caught up with Hill over the summer to reflect on her time with the project and to learn more about what she’s up to now.
Congratulations to Dr. Zach Conrad, who received his doctoral degree from the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy in August. While conducting his dissertation research, Conrad also was a student member of the EFSNE project’s Production Team for more than four years, serving as a research assistant to Drs. Tim Griffin and Christian Peters at Tufts University.
Next month, more than 100 people will gather for a conference in Greenbelt, MD, to mark the last phase of the EFSNE project. Attendees will learn about EFSNE project findings and engage in conversation and collaboration with other food system researchers, practitioners, advocates, and funders.
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.