Evaluating Impacts and Tradeoffs of Food System Interventions
Cities across the country are increasingly promoting food policies to support vibrant, healthy communities. However, little research examines how urban food system policies affect an entire region, including growers in rural areas.
Colorado State University researchers are evaluating the potential for Denver-based food policies to support food system efforts throughout the state. The team is studying potential economic, environmental, social and health impacts resulting from the proposed implementation of the Good Food Purchasing Program. This program is designed to transform the way public institutions purchase food by creating a transparent and equitable food system build on five core values: local economies, health, valued workforce, animal welfare and environmental sustainability.
The researchers are building an agent-based model, which allows for the simulation of complex systems and the behavior that may result from the autonomous actions of agents between each other and with their environment. Integrating economic data, social decision-making factors, biophysical crop data, and life cycle assessment allows the researchers to model complex rural to urban food chains across several Colorado commodities, including potatoes, wheat, beef and peaches.
In focusing on rural-urban linkages, this model allows researchers to simulate a variety of potential changes to the Denver food policy environment. The researchers can then observe any resulting effects or feedbacks throughout various stages of the supply chain that may affect environmental outcomes, including soil health and CO2 emissions.
Though the model and data can tell an important part of the story regarding potential impacts, it is only through working with stakeholders that the researchers can validate data and identify gaps and support implementation of recommendations. Accordingly, FFAR funds are also supporting the coordination of the Good Food Purchasing Program coalition in Denver, which brings together diverse food systems stakeholders to discuss various food policy scenarios.
In addition, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic FFAR expanded the existing grant to the researchers to assess how pivots related to school closures impact food access and dietary quality, as well as potential impacts resulting from nonlocal supply chain disruptions.
Why this research is important
This research is connecting food security and access efforts with the agri-business, natural resources and economic development community. The researchers are developing a tool that can help communities understand tradeoffs associated with different food policy, programming and initiatives. Stakeholder benefits include:
- Models of the local and regional effects of food system initiatives allow state and municipal governments to make more informed policy decisions.
- Targeted initiatives provide communities with improvements in food security, healthy eating habits and overall health.
- For retailers, meeting the demands of neighborhoods for healthy, easily accessible food creates a thriving food industry.
- Successful state and regional food systems assist food producers with achieving financially and environmentally sustainable farming.