From the Director

Posted: November 6, 2012

Northeast Center & Partners Receive $5million Global Food Security Grant*

Over 7 million Northeast citizens are estimated to be food insecure. Families in low-income communities are disproportionately affected by lack of access to healthy, affordable foods and face many barriers to achieving food security.

At the same time, farmers are struggling, farmland is disappearing, and most of the food consumed comes from outside the region. The Northeast Center along with a long list of partners shown below recently received a $5mn, 5-year Global Food Security competitive grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture titled “Enhancing Food Security in the Northeast with Regional Food Systems,” with the goal of better understanding the forces leading to these outcomes.

This new project will study whether greater reliance on regionally produced foods could improve food access and affordability for disadvantaged communities, while also benefiting farmers and others in the food supply chain. The project brings together researchers, educators, entrepreneurs, and community leaders from the twelve-state northeast region.

It is an ambitious, large-scale undertaking that will shed new light on how the food system can better serve all Americans.

Project partners will explore the benefits of re-regionalizing the food system. We suggest that with our region’s geography and potential to develop regional supply chains, we can produce, distribute and meet a greater share of our population’s food needs in ways that improve food access and availability for disadvantaged communities in particular.

Our research will examine how regional food systems can make more efficient use of natural resources, benefit communities, and improve the economic and social welfare of farmers, distributors, retailers and consumers. The project takes a systems approach, connecting food production, processing, and distribution with a community’s total food environment. We also will examine the public policy landscape and make recommendations.

This food environment consists of all the stores, markets, community and individual gardens, and other outlets that supply food to residents. As part of this grant, we will study strategically selected stores and their neighborhoods in nine urban and rural locations across the Northeast. These nine partner communities will be full
“participant researchers” throughout the five-year project. We will involve community members along with planners, entrepreneurs, agricultural experts and students in learning opportunities on the ground and online.

In addition, a hallmark of this project is that we will assess the overall capacity of the Northeast to satisfy more of its own food needs. This involves large-scale GIS analyses across the nearly 300 counties in the Northeast of detailed production capacity, including climate and soil suitability for different crops as well as of food processing infrastructure, distribution channels, retail stores, and consumption
preferences. We will also survey consumers and stores in nine target communities to better understand food buying patterns as well as barriers to accessing healthy
foods. Then, we will map and describe the key food supply chains entering selected food markets at these sites from local, regional, national and global sources.

This project is unique and significant in three ways. First, we focus explicitly on the regional rather than national or local level. The region (which includes ‘local’) may be the optimal scale for assuring adequate and affordable food supplies over time. Second, we take a systems approach that links production, distribution and consumption processes in a deliberate and logical way. This approach will expand knowledge and understanding of these complex systems and support action on the ground in our partner communities.

Third, this project develops, uses and integrates innovative research methods. We will develop a model to study these complex systems, including future production, distribution and consumption scenarios. We will implement new procedures to gather missing data. Th e wide geographic reach (scale) of this project assures scientifi c rigor, including replicability. Th is project will help us propose and test promising avenues for improving food access in disadvantaged northeast communities and elsewhere. For further details and regular updates about the project as it evolves, please visit

List of Project Partners

Project Director: Stephan J. Goetz, NERCRD and Penn State University
CO-PD/PIs: Alessandro Bonanno, Deno De Ciantis, and Clare Hinrichs, The Pennsylvania State University
Kubi Ackerman, Michael Conard, and Richard Plunz, Columbia University
Oliver Gao and Miguel I. Gómez, Cornell University
Carol Giesecke, Delaware State University
Kate Clancy and Anne Palmer, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health
Kathryn Ruhf, Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG)
Timothy Griffin and Christian Peters, Tufts University
Linda Berlin, University of Vermont
David Fleisher, USDA-ARS, Beltsville, MD;
Robert Larkin, USDA-ARS, Orono, ME;
Patrick Canning, USDA-ERS, Washington, DC
Kate Alie, West Virginia State University

*This column draws substantively on material prepared by project partners, notably Kathy Ruhf of the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group.