Indiana University researchers join a transdisciplinary team in a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to create more sustainable and equitable food systems in the Midwest and beyond. The five-year integrated project is funded through the Sustainable Agricultural Systems program of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
Food systems at the local and regional levels are susceptible to a number of disruptions, which researchers refer to as “shocks.” The COVID-19 pandemic, climate events and foodborne pathogens are examples of shocks that can cause disturbances in supply chains, ultimately leading to food and nutrition security challenges.
A single supply chain interruption can be difficult to overcome, but shocks often occur simultaneously and without warning. While previous research on this topic has focused on individual supply chain interferences in isolation, the overarching goal of the new effort is to build food systems that are able to withstand several shocks happening concurrently.
Jennifer Meta Robinson, professor of practice in IU Bloomington’s Department of Anthropology and the Emerging Area of Research-funded Sustainable Food Systems Science, is a co-principal investigator and will lead a team developing college learning modules based on the project’s findings. Robinson studies the human dimensions of small-scale alternative agriculture in the U.S. and is formerly president of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and director of IU’s award-winning Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Program. The IU research will fund graduate students and faculty reviewers. The IU team will also coordinate with K-12 learning specialists who are designing modules for public school audiences.
Dr. Shellye Suttles, an agricultural economist with a focus on food system sustainability, an assistant professor in IU’s O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, and a member of IU’s Sustainable Food Systems Science, will serve on the project’s advisory board.
The full team of researchers, educators and extension experts is led by Brent Ross, associate professor in the MSU Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics, and associate chairperson for undergraduate programs in the MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
“The frequency of these complex events is only expected to increase over the coming years,” Ross said. “It’s essential to gain a greater understanding of these relationships to improve decision making that allows for disruptions to have as minimal of an impact on food and nutrition security as possible, especially for vulnerable U.S. populations.”
The team has outlined a series of objectives that aim to address the interrelated ways in which shocks affect food systems. Researchers will evaluate characteristics of supply chains that may put them at risk, historical and projected shocks, and mitigation strategies.