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First published in NAFSN NEWS


Featured Academic Program: Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security at the University of Missouri

The Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security at the University of Missouri brings together students and faculty from a range of academic disciplines—nutritional sciences, geography, rural sociology, and agricultural economics—to research food system challenges and to build more food-secure communities.

Formally founded in 2004, the center grew out of an earlier community-based participatory research project to better understand the needs of Missouri's food pantries. Although the center has since expanded the scope of its projects, it remains committed to promoting partnerships with academics, community stakeholders, and local and regional nonprofits. The center recognizes the tremendous importance of fostering a diverse network of voices and experiences and has made interdisciplinary collaboration a central tenet of its work. To tackle the complex social challenges facing Missouri's food systems, the center employs a combination of research, teaching, and engagement.

Missouri EATs is one ongoing project that aims to effect change at the grassroots level. This program brings together community members and extension agents in pursuit of a common goal: creating healthy, resilient, and locally integrated food systems. While Missouri EATs provides a framework for facilitating change, the specific goals of the program are shaped by the needs of each of the communities it serves across 114 counties and St. Louis City. The first step in the program is a community forum to discuss an array of food systems topics, including health, nutrition, sustainability, and food access. After community members engage with these topics, the next step is to create a plan to act on their top priorities, with the intention of making incremental positive transformations to their regional food system. The outcome of the program is highly place-specific, but the primary objective is for community stakeholders to act on the strengths, challenges, and opportunities of their food system.

Another ongoing project is the Missouri Hunger Atlas, now in its fifth edition with a sixth on the horizon. This publicly available resource provides visual representations of the extent of food security and hunger in Missouri at the county level, as well as the success of public programs in providing food assistance to those in need. Featured indicators include the prevalence of diabetes and obesity, food insecurity, and SNAP participation, among others. By compiling into one document the data from federal and state agencies that would otherwise be scattered and siloed, the center hopes to inform better decision-making from policymakers and stakeholders.

By fostering cross-disciplinary collaboration and engagement, the Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security is adding important research to a growing body of knowledge. It's at the forefront of building resilient, equitable, and healthy food systems across Missouri.

Visit the Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security to learn more about upcoming projects and initiatives.

To learn more about these topics, search "food pantry," "food security," and "rural health" in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. 

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