PSU Ag Prof to Lead $5 Million Project to Enhance Northeast Food Security
September 7, 2011 | Andrew Burger
Director of the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development and Penn State professor of agricultural and regional economics, Stephan Goetz, will lead a five-year, $5 million project to study if and how greater reliance on regionally produced foods could improve availability and affordability for disadvantaged communities and others.
Part of the US Dept. of Agriculture’s “Enhancing Food Security in the Northeast with Regional Food Systems,” researchers, educators, entrepreneurs and community leaders across 12 northeastern states will be involved in the project, the Cooperative Extension program at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences announced.
More than 7 million citizens in the Northeast are ‘food-insecure,’ and low-income communities are disproportionately affected by lack of access to healthy, affordable foods, Prof. Goetz noted. At the same time, regional farmland is disappearing and regional farmers are struggling to survive and make ends meet.
“The project 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 specifically for disadvantaged communities,” Goetz said.
Employing a holistic, systems approach that includes developing links between food production, processing and distribution within a community’s overall food environment, the project team will examine how regional food systems can make more efficient use of natural resources to benefit communities and improve the economic and social welfare of farmers, distributors, retailers, and consumers.
“This food environment consists of all the stores, markets, household or community gardens, and any other outlets that supply food to residents,” Goetz explained. “We will study strategically selected stores and their neighborhoods in nine urban and rural partner communities across the Northeast. We will involve community members along with planners, entrepreneurs, agricultural experts and students in learning opportunities on the ground and online.”
More broadly, the project aims to evaluate the ability of the region’s agricultural network to fulfill more of its own food requirements. Large-scale GIS (geographic information system) analysis spanning nearly 300 counties will be used to assess production capacity, including the suitability of different crops for varying climate and soil conditions, food infrastructure, distribution channels, retail stores and consumption preferences.
Local faculty, researchers, community leaders, entrepreneurs and other experts will participate in the project, the administration of which will include the establishment of project sites in cities including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York, Syracuse, Baltimore and Charleston, W.Va., as well as in rural areas such as Essex County, Vt., Sussex County, Del., and Madison County, N.Y.
More information can be found on The Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development’s website.