Our Main Research Question: What are the characteristics of a successful community and regional food system, and how do they contribute to increased community food security?

This question drives our research activities. We are exploring and analyzing community based food systems to find out what innovations are working to address community food security, and what barriers hinder building strong community, local, and regional food systems. Our research activities are focused in seven cities.

In-depth research projects

Food Policy Councils:
Researcher: Lindsey Day Farnsworth. To be effective, food policy councils must find strategies to use their unpaid members’ time and diverse expertise to advance individual and organizational goals that are not already achieved through existing activities and relationships. This summary outlines a study designed to uncover 1) what motivates organizational members to participate in food policy councils, 2) how their goals are addressed (or not) through participation in food policy council activities, and 3) how food councils can foster collaboration among members and effect measurable impact.

Urban Agriculture Production:
Researcher: Anne Pfeiffer. This project addresses the science behind urban agricultural production. Research on test plots examines the role of cover cropping and composting in building healthy urban soils. We know that healthy plants start with healthy soil; one of the challenges with urban agricultural production is how to build healthy soil. This project provides a research-based approach to experimenting with different techniques to build healthy soils.

Bringing SNAP/EBT to Marketplaces
Researcher: Alfonso Morales. Marketplaces bring together buyers and sellers. Some buyers utilize SNAP or EBT benefits to increase their purchasing power. Sellers and market managers need to know how to enhance access to healthy food through use of EBT at marketplaces. The Journal of Extension will be publishing Farmers Markets and Food Access: The Role of Electronic Benefits Transfer and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs.

Creating Favorable Ordinances for Urban Agriculture
Researcher: Alfonso Morales. Morales with the City of Kansas City/Cultivate Kansas City in transforming urban agriculture ordinances to make these ordinances more user-friendly.  This effort has been documented in various media, and is the subject of a book chapter that will be published by MIT press in 2013, Successful Social Movement Organizing and the Formalization of Food Production.

Documentation of Farmers’ Market History and Adaptive Mechanisms
Researcher: Alfonso Morales. Morales is also working with the leadership of the Madison West Side Farmers Market to document its history and to show its particular relationship to its community. This work will also show how the market has adapted to particular permitting requirements.

Community-based Urban Food System Profiles

Our research group is studying and documenting food system organizations and activities in Milwaukee (WI), Chicago (IL), Detroit (MI), Los Angeles (CA), Boston (MA), Madison (WI), and Cedar Rapids (IA). The first phase of our research activities help us to get a snapshot of place. We’ll be posting city profiles for each city.

Through our research and community engagement work we hope to understand how the SYSTEM works (more than just component parts). In each city and across cities, we are also doing “deep dives” (in-depth research on specific issues) that help us understand more fully how the community food system works.