Emergency research grant studies how coronavirus affects food systems in the U.S.

Emergency research grant studies how coronavirus affects food systems in the U.S.
Emergency research grant studies how coronavirus affects food systems in the U.S.

Urbana, Ill.–– 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 system, operate and adapt in times of stress.

Craig Gundersen, distinguished professor of agricultural and consumer economics in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at University of Illinois, contributes to the project as lead researcher on Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap (MMG), a database that provides detailed information on local, regional and national food insecurity. Gundersen developed the data collection methods and models to estimate food insecurity rates that comprise the MMG reports.

Earlier this year, FFAR awarded Feeding America a $1 million grant to evaluate the effectiveness of the organizations’ Regional Produce Cooperatives, which direct a greater variety of produce to food banks at lower costs. Now, 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” says Tom Summerfelt, VP 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 the COVID-19 will impact food systems in the next two year, 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,” says 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 disasters.”

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 future investments by cities and communities to accelerate improvements in health and economic outcomes within these communities.

FFAR is providing a total of $482,642 in supplemental funding to five Tipping Point grantees 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. The five grantees are Joy Casnovsky, Sustainable Food Center Austin, Texas; Beth Feingold, University at Albany; Darcy Freedman, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, Ohio; Steven Gray, Michigan State University; and Becca Jablonski, Colorado State University.