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 to the 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. Joy Casnovsky, Sustainable Food Center and Dr. Alexandra van den Berg, The University of Texas Health Science CenterAustin, TexasFFAR Award Amount: $83,356The 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 AlbanyAlbany, New YorkFFAR Award Amount: $99,987Dr. 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 MedicineCleveland, OhioFFAR Award Amount: $100,000Dr. 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 UniversityFlint, MichiganFFAR Award Amount: $99,230Emergency 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 UniversityDenver, ColoradoFFAR Award Amount: $100,000Dr. 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.
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