Researchers at the University of Michigan's School of Natural Resources and Environment are leading a five-year, $4 million study of disparities in access to healthy food across the state.
The researchers will interview residents and study data in 18 small to mid-sized cities to better understand the factors affecting "food security," a socioeconomic term that defines easy access to safe and healthy food.
And because urban agriculture is seen as part of the solution to food insecurity in cities, the researchers will study how locally grown food can more easily get to the poor, traditionally minority, populations most at risk.
"The study will give us an opportunity to get an in-depth understanding of several types of food systems in the state," said Dorceta Taylor, a professor of environmental justice at SNRE and the project's lead investigator. "The study is unique in that we will examine aspects of the food system that are necessary to connect food to consumers more efficiently."
Other universities involved in the federal grant are the University of Michigan-Flint, Michigan State University, University of Wisconsin, Lake Superior State University and Grand Valley State University. The grant was awarded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture within the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Investigators will study food systems in each city or town, as well as how urban problems and activities are related to local food production. The cities were chosen based on several factors, including size, poverty rate, amount of vacant land, extent of urban agricultural and health initiatives, and land-use policies. The researchers will:
Identify disparities in access to healthy foods by examining the relationship between demographic characteristics and the distribution patterns of different food outlets.
Identify factors related to the presence of "food deserts" and "food oases."
Examine the relationship between access to healthy foods, purchasing and consumption behavior and health outcomes.
Identify mechanisms through which producers and consumers can be connected more directly and effectively.
Identify those who are vulnerable to becoming food insecure and facilitate their increased participation in local food networks.
Create one graduate and one undergraduate service-learning course related to food security and urban agriculture issues.
The following Michigan cities will be part of the study: Sault Ste. Marie, Brimley/Bay Mills, St. Ignace, Holland, Muskegon, Benton Harbor, Grand Rapids, Flint, Saginaw, Lansing, Kalamazoo, Ypsilanti, Taylor, Southfield, Warren, Pontiac, Inkster and Dearborn.