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Researcher Leads $1 Million Grant to Reduce Food Insecurity
Illinois Ag Connection - 05/15/2019

Millions of Americans struggle with food insecurity. To help food assistance agencies provide consistent access to nutritious food, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded a $1 million Seeding Solutions Grant to Feeding America. This grant will evaluate the Regional Produce Cooperative model's effectiveness in reducing food insecurity.

University of Illinois agricultural economist Craig Gundersen is principal investigator on the project, which has been matched with funding from U of I, Target, the Rachel Ray Foundation, and Feeding America for a total $2 million investment.

"Feeding America is at the forefront of efforts across the United States to reduce food insecurity and improve nutrition for tens of millions of vulnerable persons," Gundersen says. "Their work has led to a wide variety of innovative practices to bring nutritious food more rapidly to its clients. This project allows us to better understand the impact of these programs and identify ways to make them even more successful."

Feeding America established Regional Produce Cooperatives in 2017 to direct a greater variety of produce to food banks at a lower cost. Currently, seven Regional Produce Cooperatives are operating nationally, and there is a growing demand for more. While the cooperatives have the potential to improve the quantity, variety and quality of food at food banks, Feeding America has not yet conducted rigorous evaluations to determine the program's overall effectiveness.

"We are very excited about our new partnership with the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research," says Matt Knott, president of Feeding America. "This grant opportunity directly aligns with Feeding America's strategy to increase access to nutritious food and reduce food insecurity through innovative distribution models which expand access to fresh produce in an effort to improve nutrition and support better health outcomes for people facing hunger."

FFAR's grant will help Feeding America examine the effect of the Regional Produce Cooperative on the charitable food system. The research will use surveys and data analysis to determine the extent to which the cooperatives decrease food waste, shorten the time between source and distribution, and increase access to produce. Ultimately, the goal is to evaluate the effectiveness of Regional Produce Cooperatives to increase consumption of nutritious produce and decrease food insecurity.

"FFAR's work aims to provide everyone access to nutritious food. Too many suffer from food insecurity nationwide," says Sally Rockey, FFAR's executive director. "This research has the potential to deliver significant, real-world results that will positively impact the lives of those struggling to put dinner on the table."

FFAR is a nonprofit organization dedicated to building partnerships that support innovative science addressing today's food and agriculture challenges. The Seeding Solutions Grant program supports research in FFAR's challenge areas. Feeding America's research furthers FFAR's 2018 Making My Plate Your Plate Challenge Area, now the Health-Agriculture Nexus Challenge Area, which supports reducing food and nutritional insecurity in a broad socioeconomic and environmental context.

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