Farm workers in a field harvesting onions.

COVID-19 affected food systems at many scales. Local and regional food systems were both impacted but also demonstrated resilience in many ways. These grants explored the effects of COVID-19 on local and regional food systems, and lessons for resilience.

COVID-19 Research Grants

➤ Impacts of COVID-19: Harnessing a critical window of opportunity to prepare farmers for shifts in consumer behavior

 

Principal Investigator:

Roy Desrochers

Abstract:

Small and medium sized farms are essential to maintaining the economies of rural communities and providing healthy, safe foods. Farmers are in crisis as the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the food system in unprecedented ways. They face significant risks in deciding what to produce, which markets to target, and how to package and distribute their product. This project will use innovative consumer methods to understand shifts in consumer behavior, allowing farmers to make informed decisions to protect their future viability. We will utilize surveys and interviews with consumers to understand changes in attitudes and purchasing habits. We will also survey producers and processors to understand adaptation strategies, adjustment capabilities and limitations, and plans for the future. Lastly, we will use policy analysis to gauge the impact and sufficiency of farm support programs.

➤ Increasing food agency and resilience to food insecurity for college students through community cooking and learning

 

Principal Investigator:

Qingbin Wang

Abstract:

Our proposal seeks to determine if a learn to cook meal kit with food agency interventions can increase food agency and food resiliency amongst undergraduate students in the face of unanticipated events. Hillel at the University of Vermont’s Shabbat delivery program, Hillel Fresh, offers a model template for fostering increased community connections and relationships to local foodways with ritual innovation (Petrini, 2018). This pilot program is a Shabbat meal and ritual delivery kit that teaches undergraduate students how to cook and create community by hosting dinners with their friends. It is designed to create a lasting tradition of sustainable cooking tied into cross-cultural Jewish values that have broader relevance to diverse communities at UVM.

➤ Assessing Vermont farm and food sector COVID impacts, pivots and future needs

 

Principal Investigator:

Meredith Niles

Abstract:

This proposal builds on existing Vermont and national research to assess the impact of COVID-19 on food security across rural and urban regions. We will bring together commonly collected and standardized survey data across multiple states, including Vermont, to analyze food access and food system challenges, and the effectiveness of various policy interventions across regions. The proposal will enable the data aggregation across these regions to provide a rich dataset for comparative analysis to enable scalable solutions to COVID impacts on food security across a gradient of rural and urban states, and understand how Vermont’s response compares with other regions.

➤ Social and economic factors and resilience in Vermont’s food system: Critical lessons from COVID-19

 

Principal Investigator:

Suzy Hodgson

Abstract:

The aim of this project is to explore the social and economic factors affecting Vermont farmers before and during the COVID‐19 crisis in order to better understand to what extent the types, number and strength of social ties and resource access support Vermont farm viability and resilient farmers. We propose a multi‐disciplinary, multi‐sectoral approach to assess and evaluate linkages between food system actors, resources and relationships during the COVID‐ 19 crisis in Vermont. The longer‐term goal is to enable all participants in the food system to more effectively apply resources and meet needs in real time in response to future crises. Our proposed methods include surveys, textual analysis, semi‐structured interviews and network analysis in order to produce written and graphical findings and recommendations to share with a wide range of stakeholders.

➤ Seeds of resilience: Learning from COVID-19 to strengthen seed systems in Vermont

 

Principal Investigator:

Dan Tobin

Abstract:

Seeds and other planting materials are the single most important inputs for crop-based production. This project applies an interdisciplinary approach to increase the resilience of seed systems in Vermont, learning from the immediate disruptions and lasting effects of Covid-19. This proposal: 1) applies a resilience framework to characterize strengths and vulnerabilities of Vermont’s seed systems; 2) estimates current demand and seed sourcing behaviors among Vermont households (gardeners) and small- and medium-scale commercial vegetable farmers; 3) develops a Vermont Seed Resilience Plan in collaboration with community partners; and 4) establishes an open-access genebank for neglected and underutilized crop varieties in Vermont. Through the pursuit of these objectives, we will enhance the resilience of Vermont’s seed systems, a fundamental yet often overlooked component of local food systems.

➤ Understanding food access impacts from COVID-19 in Vermont and beyond

 

Principal Investigator:

Meredith Niles

Abstract:

This proposal builds on existing Vermont and national research to assess the impact of COVID-19 on food security across rural and urban regions. We will bring together commonly collected and standardized survey data across multiple states, including Vermont, to analyze food access and food system challenges, and the effectiveness of various policy interventions across regions. The proposal will enable the data aggregation across these regions to provide a rich dataset for comparative analysis to enable scalable solutions to COVID impacts on food security across a gradient of rural and urban states, and understand how Vermont’s response compares with other regions.

➤ Agility in the face of disruption: Food business rapid response to COVID-19

 

Principal Investigator:

David Conner

Abstract:

COVID-19 has caused major disruptions and revealed the lack of resilience in the global food system. The goal of this project is to understand how rapidly the local food system has been able to adjust and become stronger to produce a safe and secure source of food for northeasterners while promoting farm viability. This project will focus on intermediate supply chain actors, notable processors, distributors and food service providers. It will coordinate with and complement proposals led by Meredith Niles and Roy Desrochers, focusing on farmers and consumers, respectively. Two complementary analytic lenses will be used, resilience and supply chain analysis. We will utilize a mixed methods approach, interviews, surveys and policy analysis, to investigate and document current and potential actions on the part of intermediary food businesses to adapt to changing local food demand. We will develop and disseminate recommendations for policy and practice which will enhance resilience.

➤ Refugee communities and food security in response to COVID-19

 

Principal Investigator:

Pablo Bose

Abstract:

This project will explore food insecurity within refugee communities in Chittenden County both as a result of and during the COVID-19 pandemic.  In particular it will assess attempts to provide food and supplies to recently resettled refugees by local community partners, the potential for making such deliveries more culturally appropriate, and how to better involve refugee farms and farmers in the process.  Through surveys and interviews with refugee community members and service providers, the research team will examine 1) food access and choice at food shelves and 2) what kinds of foods are being delivered as part of support packages directly to refugee homes and whether fresh, local and healthy farm produce is included.  Based on the results of these inquiries, the co-PIs will provide recommendations to community partners on how best to strengthen the local emergency food system to best accommodate the needs of refugee communities and refugee farmers through this ongoing pandemic.