Enhancing Food Security in the Northeast Overview

Problem | Project | Sites and Partners | Locations | Significance | Team | More Info

Over 7 million Northeast citizens are food insecure. Low-income communities are disproportionately affected by lack of access to healthy, affordable foods. Families in those communities face many barriers to achieving food security. At the same time, our farmers are struggling, farmland is disappearing, and most of our food comes from outside the region.

NESAWG is participating in a USDA-funded research initiative called Enhancing Food Security in the Northeast (EFSNE). EFSNE is studying whether greater reliance on regionally produced foods could improve food access and affordability for disadvantaged communities, while also benefiting farmers and others in the food supply chain. EFSNE brings together researchers, educators, entrepreneurs, and community leaders from the twelve-state northeast region. It is an ambitious, large-scale undertaking that will shed new light on how the food system can better serve all Americans.

EFSNE is exploring 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 for disadvantaged communities in particular.

Our research is examining how regional food systems can make more efficient use of natural resources, benefit communities, and improve the economic and social welfare of farmers, distributors, retailers and consumers. We take a systems approach, connecting food production, processing, and distribution with a community’s total food environment.

In addition, a hallmark of EFSNE is that we will assess the overall capacity of the Northeast to satisfy more of its own food needs. We are using large-scale GIS (geographic information system) analyses – an innovative tool that allows us to visualize, question, analyze, interpret and understand data to reveal relationships, patterns, and trends. Spanning the nearly 300 counties in the Northeast, these analyses will examine detailed production capacity, including climate and soil suitability for different crops as well as of food processing infrastructure, distribution channels, retail stores, and consumption preferences.  We are also surveying consumers and stores in our nine target communities to better understand food buying patterns as well as barriers to accessing healthy foods. Then, we will map and describe the key food supply chains entering selected food markets at these sites from local, regional, national and global sources.

Sites and Partners
This food environment consists of all the stores, markets, community and individual gardens, and other outlets that supply food to residents in nine locations across the Northeast. Six are in urban settings, three in rural counties. Within each location, we will target specific neighborhoods. These nine partner communities will be full “participant researchers” throughout the five-year project.

We are working in collaboration with local community and organizational leaders, and grocery store owners, together with planners, entrepreneurs, agricultural experts and students.  We are engaging this wide range of stakeholders in place-based and topical learning communities, online communications and events


  • Baltimore, MD
  • Charleston, WV
  • New York City, NY
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Pittsburgh, PA
  • Syracuse, NY
  • Essex County, VT
  • Sussex County, DE
  • Madison County, NY

EFSNE is unique and significant in three ways.

First, we focus explicitly on the regional rather than national or local level. The region (which includes ‘local’) may be the optimal scale for assuring adequate and affordable food supplies over time.

Second, we take a systems approach that links production, distribution and consumption processes in a deliberate and logical way. This approach expands knowledge and understanding of these complex systems and supports action on the ground in our partner communities.

Third, EFSNE develops and integrates innovative research methods. We are developing models to study these complex systems, including future production, distribution and consumption scenarios. We are implementing new procedures to gather missing data that will contribute to the body of food system indicators and metrics. The wide geographic reach (scale) of this project assures scientific rigor, including replicability. This project will help us propose and test promising avenues for improving food access in disadvantaged northeast communities and elsewhere.

The following Project Team members are working with community leaders across the region:

  • Stephan J. Goetz, Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development and the Pennsylvania State University, Project Director
  • Alessandro Bonanno, Deno De Ciantis, and Clare Hinrichs, The Pennsylvania State University
  • Kubi Ackerman, Michael Conard, and Richard Plunz, Columbia University
  • Oliver Gao and Miguel I. Gómez, Cornell University
  • Carol Giesecke, Delaware State University
  • Kate Clancy and Anne Palmer, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health
  • Kathryn Ruhf, Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG)
  • Timothy Griffin and Christian Peters, Tufts University
  • Linda Berlin, University of Vermont
  • David Fleisher, USDA-ARS, Beltsville, MD
  • Robert Larkin, USDA-ARS, Orono, ME
  • Patrick Canning, USDA-ERS, Washington, DC
  • Bonnie Dunn, West Virginia State University

More Info
EFSNE receives generous support from the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. Visit the project's website: agsci.psu.edu/research/food-security