• Understanding Emergency Food Systems in the era of COVID-19

    By Rebecca Gyawu & John Reich Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, communities across the nation were already facing many hardships, including food and nutritional insecurity. The pandemic is worsening these hardships and making more people food insecure as unemployment increases, resulting in more people relying on emergency food systems. At FFAR, we wondered how best to address the root causes of food and nutritional insecurity, rather than simply reacting to them. The challenge is that numerous funders and community organizations across the country are doing the hard work of addressing food and nutritional insecurity in communities – and they have been doing so for decades. While progress has been made, why do these problems still exist? It is partly because the problem is complex. It is hard to “solve” food and nutritional insecurities when these problems are intertwined with so many other issues, including employment, health, education, transportation, food access – just to name a few. FFAR builds public-private partnerships to fund food and agriculture challenges. As a scientific research funder, we saw an opportunity to increase our understanding of the food system, and the relationships within that system, to pinpoint high-impact investment areas. With scarce resources to address food and nutritional insecurity, a better understanding of which investments will lead to the most positive change could make a world of difference to current and future populations. Hence, we created the Tipping Points Program. LEVERAGING FFAR-FUNDED RESEARCH The five Tipping Points projects span different dimensions of the food system. The program funds five projects in communities across the US to optimize investments in low-income communities and understand how local policies impact the local food system and regional farmers. While the researchers have different foci and serve diverse communities, they all engage with community organizations and the communities themselves to propel the development of data-driven models. The models aim to understand which investments are going to be the most impactful, and the positive and negative consequences of those investments. Two years into the program, some of the projects are discovering that investments outside the traditional food and nutritional security sector may have the most impact. In the future, we hope that the insights from these models can lead to more equitable, just and sustainable food systems. Now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to understand the food system as a whole to ensure vulnerable populations are not left behind as more people are relying on the emergency food system, taxing an already stretched system. Given our researchers’ relationships within their communities and their appreciation for the interconnectedness of the food systems, FFAR sees an opportunity to understand how the emergency food system is reacting to this crisis, and where investments can help the most vulnerable. To capture this information, FFAR is providing additional support – about $100,000 to each project. Many of the Tipping Points researchers are learning from each other as well as collaborating with Feeding America to use their food insecurity data. As we move forward, we are exploring ways for our grantees to communicate the lessons they are learning to organizations fighting hunger and to also learn from others in this field.


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  • FFAR Funds Emergency Research to Address Coronavirus

    WASHINGTON (July 21, 2020) – The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is highlighting food system deficiencies. While the food system is successfully providing for Americans during this crisis, many are encountering empty grocery shelves. Simultaneously, producers are struggling to reach consumers due to concerns with processing, distribution and demand. To understand and address these challenges, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) is expanding existing grants to Feeding America and five Tipping Points Program awardees. The supplemental FFAR funding will quantitatively assess how food systems, and especially emergency food systems, operate and adapt in times of stress. FFAR is not requiring grantees to secure matching funds, allowing them to focus on the pandemic response. Earlier this year, FFAR awarded Feeding America a $1 million grant to evaluate the effectiveness of the organization’s Regional Produce Cooperatives, which direct a greater variety of produce to food banks at lower costs. Today, FFAR is providing $100,000 in supplemental funding to analyze data with the goal of increasing produce consumption and decreasing food insecurity. “We are grateful to FFAR for their support in utilizing our research to better understand the effects of the pandemic on both the local and national food system” said Tom Summerfelt, vice president of research at Feeding America. “This funding is helping Feeding America assess the food insecurity landscape and work with others to find solutions to hunger in their communities.” Feeding America is assessing how food banks use various supply chains to procure food for clients. The organization is also analyzing data to understand the use of food banks during the pandemic, predict how COVID-19 will impact food systems in the next two years and prepare for future food system shocks. “FFAR was established to fill research gaps and provide access to affordable, nutritious food. Our mission is especially crucial during this pandemic, when more Americans are in need of food assistance,” said FFAR Executive Director Sally Rockey. “We have a duty to study the effects that COVID-19 is having on our nation’s food systems and fortify them against future crises.” FFAR’s existing Tipping Points Grantees work with community organizations within five US cities to understand various aspects of the local food system and improve health and economic outcomes through quantitative modeling of the food system. Food system investments in urban communities often work on isolated factors to improve health, equity and economic development. However, food systems are complicated networks that intersect with the environment, housing, education, the economy and other factors. Understanding how these factors interact informs the best use of limited investments to improve health and economic outcomes in these communities. FFAR is providing a total of $482,642 in supplemental funding the five Tipping Point grantee to examine the trade-offs associated with policy and programming interventions in response to COVID-19. The FFAR supplemental funding is also spurring collaboration between Tipping Points grantees and Feeding America. The Tipping Points grantees are using Feeding America’s data to inform the Tipping Point models. Joy Casnovsky, Sustainable Food Center and Dr. Alexandra van den Berg, The University of Texas Health Science Center Austin, Texas FFAR Award Amount: $83,356 The FRESH Austin study is using supplemental funding to examine the impact of the pandemic on access to fresh, nutritious food in the Austin area. The research team is working with other Tipping Points grantees to simulate different food access scenarios in response to COVID-19 and evaluate the impact on food purchasing and consumption behaviors. The resulting model will inform local policy decisions to help optimize the food system in Austin in the post-COVID era. Dr. Beth Feingold and Dr. Xiaobo X. Romeiko, University at Albany Albany, New York FFAR Award Amount: $99,987 Dr. Feingold’s team is using the supplementary funding to study how COVID-19 is impacting food access in New York’s Capital Region, with specific attention on understanding how the fresh produce recovery and redistribution arm of the Capital Region food system is absorbing the shock. The team anticipates that their findings will reveal the benefits and tradeoffs associated with policy and program interventions in response to COVID-19. Dr. Darcy Freedman, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine Cleveland, Ohio FFAR Award Amount: $100,000 Dr. Freedman is building on her Tipping Points grant developing participatory system dynamic models to inform food systems transformations and promote equity. Supplementary funding is extending this work to better understand how a common system shock like COVID-19 will produce differential impacts at the neighborhood level, given unique starting points. The team will model the effects of COVID-19 in neighborhoods with high, medium and low food security before March 2020. Their findings will be used to tailor food system solutions to diverse neighborhood contexts. Dr. Steven Gray, Michigan State University Flint, Michigan FFAR Award Amount: $99,230 Emergency food is a particularly important part of the food system in Flint. Dr. Gray is investigating how emergency food programs, including food banks, schools and Meals on Wheels, intersect with the retail sector. Flint’s emergency food program and the retail sector are both fragile due to the struggling local economy, the city does not have the tax-base to sustain retail stores and many residents rely on a supplemental food system that is not driven by supply-demand economics. The research team is assessing how residents are obtaining food during the pandemic to highlight potential barriers and examples of success, while understanding how it has changed due to COVID-19. Dr. Becca Jablonski, Colorado State University Denver, Colorado FFAR Award Amount: $100,000 Dr. Jablonski’s research team is evaluating how food is provided through emergency feeding programs, including SNAP, food banks and schools; and who uses these services; the costs of these services; the food provided; and its dietary quality. The research team is surveying low-income households with school-aged children to understand the availability of food across supply chains, the price of these goods and producer profitability. ### Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization originally established by bipartisan Congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, builds unique partnerships to support innovative and actionable science addressing today's food and agriculture challenges. FFAR leverages public and private resources to increase the scientific and technological research, innovation, and partnerships critical to enhancing sustainable production of nutritious food for a growing global population. The FFAR Board of Directors is chaired by Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum, Ph.D., and includes ex officio representation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Science Foundation. Connect: @FoundationFAR | @RockTalking


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  • Ohio State Mansfield and FFAR Launch $2 Million Food System Project

      Mansfield, OH and Washington, D.C. (May 2, 2019)– The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded a matching grant to the Ohio State University at Mansfield to launch a $2 million urban sustainable food system project that will increase access to fruits, vegetables and other specialty crops while supporting the local economy. The project was developed and is being managed by Associate Professor of Environmental History Kip Curtis at The Ohio State University at Mansfield. The microfarm network will progress over three years, allowing  researchers and growers to calibrate the growing, harvesting and marketing processes for the local setting. In the meantime, a parallel interdisciplinary research team will measure the ways in which this embedded local production system impacts a range of local issues from food insecurity, to urban beautification, to food literacy and educational achievement. The Mansfield Microfarm Project will provide both training and microfarm kits to approximately a dozen initial producers, and help them farm cooperatively and aggregate their produce for marketability. The microfarms will create a food production system that, when fully operating, will produce and sell enough fresh produce to become fully-sustainable economic drivers in the Mansfield-area economy. “This pilot effort of microfarms will establish a food system in the city of Mansfield that can collectively generate the volume and quality of specialty crops to compete for commercial markets,” said Curtis. “It will keep local dollars circulating within the community, rather than exporting them out, while promoting healthier lifestyles by providing residents with access to fresh, local produce right there in the neighborhood.” The project started in 2016 when Dr. Curtis brought his concept to faculty and staff participating in the Initiative for Food and AgriCultural Transformation (InFACT), an Ohio State Discovery Themes initiative, which then catalyzed a cross-disciplinary conversation to develop the project. Curtis also led a group of six Ohio State Mansfield students in the design and construction of a demonstration urban microfarm on the Ohio State Mansfield Campus, which consisted of two high tunnels, housing raised plant beds, as well as several outside plant beds on a one-third-acre lot. They completed construction in the fall of 2017. When fully implemented, the local production pilot system will represent a scalable fresh produce marketing core for local vegetable producers. “Inconsistent access to affordable nutritious food is a problem that plagues communities nationwide,” said FFAR’s Executive Director Sally Rockey. “This project has the potential to transform agriculture production while simultaneously fostering local economic development. We are excited to pilot the microfarm model and explore the impact for the Mansfield community.” “This project is fundamentally focused on developing and fine-tuning an urban microfarm aggregation system designed to create genuine opportunity for participant producers in Mansfield, Ohio,” said Curtis. “The potential impact, however, extends well beyond the original microfarmers and one small urban aggregation system. If successful, such models present opportunities for urban growers in other redeveloping cities across Ohio and beyond.” The FFAR grant provides one-to-one matching funding to develop and study a pilot community-based sustainable food production and aggregation system in Mansfield, Ohio. The match was made possible in large part through partnerships with the North End Community Improvement Collaborative, Mind and Body Align and Braintree Business Solutions, as well as the generous support of the Fran and Warren Rupp Donor Advised Fund of the Richland County Foundation. The FFAR funding is also matched in part by donations from the new Sustainability Institute at Ohio State, as well as in-kind support from researchers in Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Fisher College of Business, Knowlton School of Architecture, Department of History, Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and College of Social Work. “This is truly a community effort,” Curtis said. “Our partners really hit it out of the park with their generous support for the vision.” ### Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization originally established by bipartisan Congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, builds unique partnerships to support innovative and actionable science addressing today's food and agriculture challenges. FFAR leverages public and private resources to increase the scientific and technological research, innovation, and partnerships critical to enhancing sustainable production of nutritious food for a growing global population. The FFAR Board of Directors is chaired by Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum, Ph.D., and includes ex officio representation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Science Foundation. Connect: @FoundationFAR | @RockTalking CONTACT: Colleen Klemczewski, 703-204-2605, cklemczewski@foundationfar.org About Ohio State Mansfield: The Ohio State University at Mansfield offers an academic environment that’s challenging but supportive as students become part of an academic tradition that leads the way in shaping tomorrow’s world. Students discover world-class teaching minds passionate about connecting to other disciplines while discovering new ways to see the world. With access to Ohio State’s more than 200 majors, Ohio State Mansfield is where learning comes to life. Research, internships, education abroad and service learning opportunities prepare students for their careers in ways they never expected.


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  • 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  


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  • FFAR and AgLaunch Host Convening Event in Memphis to Prioritize Research and Commercialization Objectives for Cropping Systems of the Future

      Memphis, Tennessee (Nov. 29, 2017) – The Foundation for Food and  Agriculture Research, a nonprofit established through bipartisan congressional support in the…


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  • FFAR Awards $295,000 Grant to Strengthen Urban Agriculture Systems for Farmers and Communities

    University of California, Berkeley Researchers Will Use Integrated, Collaborative Research to Promote Economic and Ecological Resilience for Urban Farms WASHINGTON– The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), a nonprofit…


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  • Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research Convenes International Leaders to Discuss Next Frontiers in Indoor Agriculture at IBM Research Headquarters

    Caleb Harper, principal investigator and director of the Open Agriculture (OpenAG) initiative at the MIT Media Lab, delivered…


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  • FFAR Awards $1 Million Grant to AeroFarms for Research to Improve Quality of Leafy Greens

    The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), a nonprofit organization established through bipartisan congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, today announced a Seeding Solutions grant awarded to…


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