FFAR Awards $4.4 Million to Research Teams Working to Transform Food Systems in Colorado, Michigan, New York, Ohio and Texas to Deliver Better Health, Economic Opportunities for Urban Communities

Multidisciplinary Research Teams will Build Upon and Identify Opportunities to Improve Impact of $34.5 million in Existing Food System Investments  

Research led by Joy Casnovsky of the Sustainable Food Center will explore how efforts in Austin, TX to improve access to fruits and vegetables are impacting residents’ purchasing decisions and health outcomes.  Here, farm stand facilitators make fresh vegetables available to community members.

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, a nonprofit established through bipartisan congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, today announced five grants totaling $4.4 million for research to improve interventions designed to enhance community food systems. The FFAR awards were matched by 38 companies, universities and organizations for a total investment of $8.9 million toward improving local health and economic opportunities.

Many food and nutritional security programs and food system interventions in urban communities work independently on isolated factors within the food system to improve health and economic development. FFAR-funded researchers are using systems modeling to gain new insight into how different programs designed to improve food and nutritional security within a community interact and relate to health outcomes. Increasing understanding of how different programs impact one another will allow communities to develop sustainable system-level transformations. Researchers funded through the Tipping Points program are collaborating with multiple stakeholder groups to determine beneficial ways to connect existing approaches.

“Multiple interventions working within a local food system have the potential to build upon one another to create a synergistic impact,” said Sally Rockey, Ph.D., executive director of FFAR. “The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research is pleased to support research efforts to understand how we can bring existing groups and resources together to promote sustainable food system transformations that deliver better health to communities.”

Grants supported by the Tipping Points program were awarded to five principal investigators and their research teams. The competitive call for proposals required applicants to secure funding to match the FFAR grant and leverage investments already being spent on food and nutritional security programs and food system interventions within communities by incorporating them into these FFAR-funded studies. The following five research projects will examine and build upon $34.5 million in existing interventions and studies. Research results will inform future investments and policies to improve health and economic outcomes.

Joy Casnovsky, MPAff, Sustainable Food Center, is examining the impact of an existing community driven effort in Austin, Texas to increase residents’ access to healthy foods. Implementation of the city-funded Fresh for Less farm stands, mobile markets, and healthy corner stores in the Eastern Crescent of Austin, a majority-minority, low-income area of the city, aim to improve the health of the community by increasing the availability of healthy foods and engaging residents in these efforts. With a $996,560 FFAR grant, Casnovsky and Dr. Alexandra van den Berg, Ph.D,and her research team at UTHealth School of Public Health will be using a quasi-experimental study design to follow a longitudinal cohort of residents, and examine the impact of these new food access points on fruit and vegetable purchasing and consumption, food security, and obesity. The research team will develop an agent-based model to simulate varying expansion scenarios and their expected impact on health behaviors. The results from this study will provide critical information for the optimal implementation and scale-up of future food accessibility strategies.

The FFAR grant is being matched by Austin Public Health.

Beth Feingold, Ph.D., University at Albany, is receiving a $433,152 FFAR grant to evaluate the components of fresh produce recovery and redistribution in New York’s Capital Region. Feingold, along with her co-PI, Xiaobo Xue, Ph.D., and their team, is compiling and collecting data in partnership with local stakeholders to create a dynamic model of this arm of the food system. This research will help identify local inefficiencies, opportunities for growth, and system resilience.  The main goal of the project is to estimate how local, state, and national food system policies and interventions, such as tax incentives for farmers and date-labeling education, might influence produce recovery strategies, donations, quality and access, and therefore jointly impact environmental emissions and nutrition-related health benefits for populations experiencing food insecurity. Their systems model could have application in other geographic areas.

The FFAR grant is being matched by Bellwether Collaboratory , Capital Roots, The Food Pantries for the Capital District, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Radix Ecological Sustainability Center, University at Albany Foundation, and the University at Albany School of Public Health – State University of New York.

Darcy Freedman, Ph.D., Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, is developing decision-making tools to maximize the equitable impact of food systems efforts in Cleveland, Ohio. With a FFAR grant of $936,418, research will begin by exploring the synergistic relationships of existing initiatives within the food system. Strategies to improve community nutrition, food security, and economic opportunity, such as the development of new businesses related to food and incentives for healthy foods, will be examined. Creating a system dynamic model with this research will provide a tool for community partners to strategically tailor, sequence, and integrate their initiatives in neighborhoods both within and outside of Cleveland.

The FFAR grant is being matched by Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Center for Health Affairs, City of Cleveland Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, Cleveland State University, Greater Cleveland Food Bank, Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland, The Ohio State University (OSU) Extension Cuyahoga County, OSU John Glenn School, OSU SNAP-Ed, Saint Luke’s Foundation, The Food Trust, Unify Project and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center.

Steven Gray, Ph.D., Michigan State University, is working to identify leverage points for positive transformation in the Flint, Michigan food system. As a result of the city’s economic decline, aid from all levels of government and organizations are working to decrease the rise in food insecurity and malnutrition. With a $1 million FFAR grant, Gray is collaborating with multiple stakeholders to determine how these interventions from all levels can work together. A series of workshops will be held to identify the factors that inhibit positive change as well as to develop a plan to utilize current resources more efficiently. This research will help develop a model food system to support collective action that promotes healthy and affordable food access for the Flint community.

The FFAR grant is being matched by C.S. Mott Foundation, Community Foundation of Greater Flint Michigan Department of Education, Michigan Fitness Foundation and Michigan State University.

Becca Jablonski, Ph.D., Colorado State University, and team are evaluating the potential for Denver based food system policies and initiatives to support food system efforts throughout the state. Research will include various sources of data to characterize Denver, Colorado’s producer, processor, retailer and consumer behavior to build a computational model of the current food system and develop hypothetical intervention scenarios. The $1 million FFAR grant will help connect food security and access efforts with the agri-business, natural resources and economic development community through a tool that can help communities understand tradeoffs associated with different food policy, programming, and initiatives.

The FFAR grant is being matched by Colorado Food Policy Network, Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Association, Colorado Potato Advisory Committee, Colorado Wheat Research Foundation, Colorado State University, City/County of Denver, LiveWell Colorado, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Denver Urban Gardens, Field to Market, IP3 and Kaiser Permanente for a total $2 million project.

Learn more about the Tipping Points program.

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