Innovate’s Angelica Carey presents on food security project at 2024 Urban Food Systems Symposium

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Angelica Carey, Research Project Manager at Innovate Memphis, recently presented a poster at the 2024 Urban Food Systems Symposium in Columbus, Ohio. The symposium focused on building coalitions to adapt to a changing world and how urban food systems can contribute to these solutions. It brought together an audience of over 300 national and international academic, non-profit, government, and research-oriented professionals for 40 concurrent sessions and more than 30 project posters. Presentations and posters included topics such as 1) climate change and food waste, 2) food system policy and advocacy, 3) production systems, challenges and growing in protected environments, 4) involving youth in urban agriculture, and 5) community and economic development.

Angelica’s poster focused on her research through a No Kid Hungry City Innovation Fellowship. The primary goal for her project was to create a prototype to improve access to food-specific information and resources to those who need it most: community providers and those needing food assistance. After a year of prior engagement with service and food assistance providers, she learned that many local stakeholders don’t understand how to navigate existing food resources and programs because these services can be very decentralized. In response to this research, Angelica drafted a digital centralized information resource available to the public and community-based organizations through participatory action research and user-centered design. The goal was to understand how users conduct their information searches, especially when looking for food resources, to inform the design and content of an online information aggregator. From interviews and focus groups with over 20 service providers and 30 community members, Angelica integrated ideas and feedback into an initial site design.

During her poster presentation, she received many questions about her engagement process and how these results were integrated into the website design. One visitor mentioned the similarities of her project to Milwaukee’s Northwest Side Asset Map which was a collaborative effort between Northwest Side residents and UBUNTU Research and Evaluation to develop an inventory of resources within their community. Angelica also met participants from the University of Wisconsin and Rutgers, who also valued access to information for those seeking food resources in their communities. You can view Angelica’s poster here and read more about the No Kid Hungry City Innovation Fellowship Case Study here. Angelica hopes that her draft website can be published and adopted by a local organization or government office to support those most vulnerable and struggling with food access.

Beyond poster presentations, the Urban Food Systems Symposium included keynotes, a panel of urban and indoor farmers, six off-site educational tours, and dinner at The Waterman Agricultural and Natural Resources Laboratory, a unique 261-acre university facility for teaching, research, and community engagement. At Waterman Lab, attendees toured a large-scale production greenhouse, instructional gardens including pollinator, native plants, fruits, and vegetables, and learned about beekeeping and livestock production. Below are photos of a hummingbird garden and tomato growing project during the Waterman Lab tour.

Many other food systems improvements stood out during the Symposium. One organization developed a food access map for Northeast Wisconsin. This map includes resources such as food pantries, community gardens, farmers markets, EBT stores, grocery and cultural stores, and meal programs. Other resources are also included on the site such as a local 211 information resource center, a local screening tool for SNAP and WIC benefits, and Summer Meal sites for school-age children. Another attendee from Rutgers Extension helped to develop a Food System Dashboard for all of the New Jersey counties, which aggregates statistics from different data sources and also maps various food resources throughout the state. While this dashboard was primarily tailored to service provider professionals and agencies, it has pioneered data tracking for food security and nutritional health that can increase public understanding of programming and funding impacts.

At the symposium, a running thread throughout everyone’s presentations and posters was a commitment to helping people and the climate. Agriculture and the earth’s climate are interconnected, and for both to remain intact, people must take action through policy and practice. While much of the content was focused on urban farming, a significant portion was dedicated to changing city and county policies and evolving coalitions that worked to solidify funding to improve local food access. The Symposium rejuvenated Angelica’s passion for the local food movement and the power of grassroots community work to lead change. 

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