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Universities to Study Food Security in Appalachia

Farmer's market in Blacksburg, Va. (Virginia Tech)

Farmer's market in Blacksburg, Va. (Virginia Tech)

Virginia Tech in Blacksburg is collaborating with West Virginia University and North Carolina State University to develop, implement, and evaluate a food security strategy for the southern Appalachian region. The three-year, $2 million study is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.

The strategy will focus on local food access and affordability for low-income populations. “The southern Appalachian region has historically struggled with high levels of food insecurity and economic instability,” says Susan Clark, associate professor of human nutrition, foods, and exercise at Virginia Tech and lead investigator on the study.

A thriving local food system provides ample opportunity to improve human health, reconnect people with the land, allow existing farmers to prosper, and attract new farmers to agriculture, says Clark. Using a community participation process, Clark and her colleagues plan to gather information along with area and nongovernmental organizations. The coalitions they develop are expected to assess the community’s food security to identify gaps in the food system.

Researchers plan to use a systems approach, with geographic information systems to map the current elements of the region’s food supply chain. The data will be used to create a model to highlight the area’s potential capacity to produce and supply food on a scale that can expand food security.

Working with area coalitions, the researchers expect to encourage development of community-based projects to help fill voids in the food system. The participatory nature of the study should give local residents a greater voice in determining their needs. After identifying those needs, communities will be able to apply for funding to support projects that enhance their food security.

Read more: USDA Funding Research on Climate Change, Agr Production

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