In 2013, Duncan Hilchey and Amy Christian found themselves looking for ways to make their enterprise, a scholarly journal featuring applied food systems research, financially sustainable. The Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development (JAFSCD) had been a labor of love for the past three years, a project into which they had poured their time, as well as their personal savings.
They knew their new publication, which combined Hilchey’s experience in food and agriculture with Christian’s experience in publishing, had the potential to help researchers and practitioners across the food system access timely, applied food systems research. They had proof of concept—readers had demonstrated the demand for a journal in this niche for its first three years—but the standard publishing model, which relies on expensive subscriptions to generate revenue, didn’t match their goal of providing broad access to readers outside the academy. They needed a new financial model to support a new kind of journal—a journal that had been launched to help change the food system.
As the field of food systems was picking up momentum in academia, editor in chief Hilchey and managing editor Christian decided to invite a few higher education institutions to be founding partners of the journal. This, they knew, would help underwrite their costs to keep the price of subscriptions down, as well as allow them to grow the JAFSCD quickly. The first university they approached was the University of Vermont.
In 2013, the timing was right for UVM, three years into a transdisciplinary initiative on food systems education, research, and outreach. As a land-grant university, UVM has a tradition of agricultural education and extension, and developing its food systems curriculum was a natural next step. The Graduate College had just launched an MS in Food Systems, the university was making new investments in research, and an annual Food Systems Summit was helping to increase the public visibility of food systems at UVM.
UVM faculty member Jane Kolodinsky had served as a reviewer for JAFSCD since 2010, and had also published in it—a paper on a local food hub. Kolodinsky knew it was a risk for UVM to invest in such a new endeavor, but she, like Hilchey and Christian, believed that applied food systems scholarship should be accessible to a wide audience. Plus, if the journal took off, there would be public relations value to enhance UVM’s reputation in food systems.
“The field of food systems is both transdisciplinary and translational, with community organizations and government agencies as involved as academic researchers,” says Kolodinsky. “In order to be useful, new research has to get into the hands of the people who will use it. We wanted UVM to have a role in making that happen.”
With UVM on board, Hilchey and Christian approached the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University and also the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. After a brief search for a Canadian institution to round out the team, they found a match in Kwantlen Polytechnic University in British Columbia, and they had their four founding partners. (After its initial three-year sponsorship, the Leopold Center left and its spot was filled by a joint sponsorship of North Carolina State Extension and the Center for Environmental Farming Systems.)
JAFSCD fills a niche in the world of food systems research: in addition to being intentionally transdisciplinary, it targets audiences both within and outside the academy—nonprofit practitioners and community activists as well as academic researchers. While less theoretical than some academic journals, it features scholarship that does not usually reach technical and professional audiences. The journal is only published online, thus meeting the simultaneous goals of keeping costs down and limiting the journal’s environmental impact.
As readership and interest in the journal continue to grow, Hilchey and Christian are seeking new ways to further increase access, and are exploring innovative methods to provide open access to readers. They have cultivated relationships with Extension and outreach programs. They created a series of 2-page Food Systems Research, Policy, and Practice Briefs to reach audiences who may not have the time or finances to access the longer journal articles summarized in the briefs. The journal has also been a driving force in the development of a new network for food systems professionals, the North American Food Systems Network (NAFSN).
In 2017, JAFSCD will be launching its Access, Outreach, and Impact program. This will entail securing pledges from academic and extension program to purchase shares to support the journal, thus allowing it to become the world’s first subscription-free community supported journal. Coupled with this new financial model, Hilchey and Christian will be reaching out to scholars of color at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Tribal Colleges and Universities that are working in regions with high food insecurity and intractable poverty to encourage them publishing in JAFSCD. They will also be measuring the impact of their outreach using altmetrics that quantify the use of JAFSCD content in these target communities.
“As professionals in the field of food systems, we see our role not just as churning out articles, but also fostering the kinds of information exchange that the field needs to move itself forward. JAFSCD and NAFSN are two of the ways we are helping this happen,” says Hilchey.
JAFSCD is published by the Thomas A. Lyson Center for Civic Agriculture and Food Systems (a project of the Center for Transformative Action, an affiliate of Cornell University).