N.E. Regional Food Systems Project Winds Up Seven Years of Research

by Kathy Ruhf, Food Systems Consultant

For seven years a multidisciplinary team of more than 40 researchers has explored the extent to which a more robust regional food system in the Northeastern U.S. could improve food access in low-income communities and improve the long-term food security of the entire Northeast.  Enhancing Food Security in the Northeast through Regional Food Systems (EFSNE), as the project is known, was part of my work as the NESAWG Coordinator at the time, and  I was part of the initial group that conceived the EFSNE project and helped write the grant to USDA that funded it. NESAWG was the only non-academic group on the project, representing the grassroots, and NESAWG’s widely diverse constituency. I served on the project’s Executive Team and headed the Outreach Team for the seven years of the project.

As NESAWG representative, I and the Outreach Team oversaw project events including a national conference, website, press, and newsletter. Some of you who have been around for a while might remember us delivering a workshop each year at NESAWG’s It Takes a Region conference. NESAWG’s participation in this elaborate project helped ground it in the experiences of communities on the ground, and to effectively reach wide stakeholder audiences.

Now, you can dive into EFSNE’s findings in an initial collection of three academic papers published in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. One paper explores the Northeast food system in terms of the project's “market basket,” an instrument frequently used in food environment and cost studies. The other papers examine lessons learned from stakeholder engagement activities conducted at nine rural and urban locations, and consumer perceptions of the concept of regional food.  In addition, the Project will also soon release about a dozen briefs summarizing their findings in a digestible format that NESAWG will share on social media.

We hope you find these valuable contributions to understanding the Northeast food system. As Christian Peters (Tufts University), a member of the EFSNE leadership team, and his co-authors wrote in their introduction to the three papers, “We have taken an interdisciplinary, systems approach to understanding food security. Recognizing that food security issues require insights from multiple disciplines and knowledge-sharing between researchers and community practitioners, we used multiple quantitative and qualitative methods in the project.”

The three papers and their introduction are the first of more than ten manuscripts planned to summarize findings from the EFSNE project. More information about the project, which was led by the Penn State-based Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development, is available at: http://agsci.psu.edu/research/food-security.