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Seed Grant Program

The Berkeley Food Institute’s small grant program supports innovative, collaborative, and interdisciplinary research projects that are aligned with the mission of the Institute: to empower new food and agriculture leaders with capacities to cultivate diverse, just, resilient, and healthy food systems.

2016 Seed Grant Recipients

1. Rethinking School Lunch In Oakland: Comprehensive School Meal Program Reform to Increase Equitable Access to Healthy Food, Establish Career Pathways in Sustainable Agriculture, and Improve Local Food Systems

Principal Investigators and UC Berkeley Team: Malo Hutson and Jason Corburn (City and Regional Planning), Moira O’Neill (City and Regional Planning/Law), and Christyna Serrano (PhD Student, Education)

Collaborators: Zenobia Barlow (Center for Ecoliteracy) and Jennifer LeBarre (Oakland Unified School District)
Funding Level:
$50,000

Abstract: Urban school meal programs present a significant opportunity to implement food systems reform strategies that both increase a vulnerable population’s access to nutritious food while supporting agroecology. This case study will examine the partnership formed between the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) and the Center for Ecoliteracy (CEL) to implement Rethinking School Lunch Oakland (RSLO), a systems change effort addressing food access, health, educational, environmental, and social issues simultaneously through school meal program reform. Implementation of RSLO presented many financial, social, and political hurdles, including integration into OUSD’s strategic plan, generating city-wide public support to pass a bond measure, two year-long superintendent leadership transitions, and facility and school site considerations. This study will examine OUSD and CEL’s individual and collective response to these challenges faced in implementing comprehensive school food system reform, the progress of incremental programmatic changes under RSLO, and the processes OUSD and its partners used to determine how to best implement the multiple facets of RSLO. While conducting this study, the research team and community collaborators will also collect baseline data for future research on the complete impact of RSLO on both food access and the local food system. This research will offer an analysis that can inform and educate other school districts interested in attempting similar change. Because RSLO proposes an innovative and comprehensive systems change effort, this study will have significant implications for urban food systems reform and school lunch programs nationally.

2. Gender Dynamics and SNAP/CalFresh Enrollment among Immigrant Households in California

Principal Investigators and UC Berkeley Team: Tina Sacks (Social Welfare), Ron Strochlic (UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Nutrition Policy Institute), Maria Echaveste (Law), and G. Christina Mora (Sociology)
Collaborators: Elizabeth Katz (University of San Francisco) and Stephanie Nishio (California Association of Food Banks)
Funding Level: $50,000

Abstract: The proposed research will explore gender dynamics as a barrier to participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/CalFresh) among eligible Latino immigrant households in California. There are numerous barriers to SNAP participation, including long applications, burdensome verification requirements, onerous reporting procedures and perceived stigma. Additional barriers affecting immigrants include language barriers and concerns about impacts on immigration status. An additional, yet largely unexplored barrier is the role of gender dynamics, particularly in immigrant communities. First-person reports by food stamp outreach providers suggest that it is not uncommon for immigrant Latina women to start the SNAP enrollment process, but not complete it due to opposition from their husbands, who are concerned about stigma and impacts on immigration status. Some women have reported that husbands have refused to provide them with documentation such as pay stubs, effectively impeding the enrollment process. This exploratory research, which will be based on qualitative data collection with stakeholders including food assistance providers, women who have begun but not completed the SNAP enrollment process, women who have completed the SNAP enrollment process despite opposition from their husbands, and husbands of women in both groups, will shed light on a to-date unexplored barrier to SNAP participation. A greater understanding of this phenomenon will contribute to the development of more effective policies and outreach strategies, potentially increasing SNAP enrollment rates in California. This exploratory research will also provide the foundation for a larger scale study exploring the nature of intra‐household gender dynamics as a barrier to SNAP participation among immigrant households in California.

2015 Seed Grant Recipients

1. Home and Harvest: A Participatory Approach to Improving Food Security among Formerly Homeless Youth in Permanent Supportive Housing

Principal Investigators and UC Berkeley Team: Colette Auerswald and Emily Ozer (Public Health)
Collaborators
: Jess Lin (UC San Francisco), Jeff Schonberg (San Francisco State University), Sarah Dobbins (San Francisco Department of Public Health), Dara Papo (Community Housing Partnership), Bevan Dufty (San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing Opportunity, Partnerships, and Engagement), Shahera Hyatt (California Homeless Youth Project), Sarah Brothers (Yale University), and Jose-Luis Mejia (Transitional Age Youth Initiative)
Funding Level:
$25,000

Abstract: Food insecurity impacts an estimated 14 percent of U.S. households, with a disproportionate burden shouldered by those living at or below the federal poverty line, people of color, urban households, and households with children and youth. In San Francisco, as the cost of living rises and resources available for emergency food assistance decrease, food security is an area of increasingly urgent public and private concern, particularly for homeless and unstably housed minors and young adults (61 percent of whom reported food as their greatest need in the 2013 homeless count). This project expands upon an existing collaborative research partnership among the residents and staff at Community Housing Partnership’s first permanent supportive housing building for 18-to-24 year old transitional aged youth; the Mayor’s Office of Housing, Opportunity, Partnerships and Engagement; the California Homeless Youth Project; San Francisco’s Transitional Age Youth initiative; and an interdisciplinary research team from UC Berkeley, to address an emergent theme of food insecurity among the building’s formerly homeless youth residents. Through a community-based participatory research project (PhotoVoice), we will engage a cohort of formerly homeless young adults in: 1) Assessing and documenting the barriers to obtaining adequate healthy foods faced by youth living in permanent supportive housing; 2) Informing programs and practice to improve food security for youth in permanent supportive housing; 3) Increasing public awareness and engaging community members, businesses, and policymakers in discussion about homeless and marginalized youth’s experiences of hunger; and 4) Informing potential private-public partnership and policy solutions to food insecurity among vulnerable youth populations.

2. Engaging Indigenous Farmworkers in Promoting Occupational Health and Safety

Principal Investigators and UC Berkeley Team: John Balmes (Public Health) and Suzanne Teran (Labor Occupational Health Program)
Collaborators: Leoncio Vásquez Santos (Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indígena Oaxaqueño) and Catherine Heaney (Stanford Prevention Research Center)
Funding Level: $25,000

Abstract: Fair, safe, and dignified working conditions are critical elements of a healthy, just, diverse, and resilient food system. Achieving safe jobs depends on an engaged and empowered workforce, able to advocate for their rights and for needed changes in working conditions. Workers can play critical roles in creating systemic change – first, at their own worksites, but ultimately as their participation and engagement increases, in transforming the agricultural system itself. UC Berkeley’s Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (COEH) proposes to work with a particularly vulnerable segment of the farmworker community – indigenous workers. This project aims to develop an interdisciplinary partnership between a trusted indigenous organization and university researchers, and to assess indigenous farmworkers’ and other stakeholder’s perceptions and experiences about occupational health hazards, ability to take action, and challenges and opportunities for interventions. Qualitative methods, including focus groups and key informant interviews will be used, and a community-based participatory research framework will guide partnership development activities. The findings from this formative research and partnership development will set the stage for an intervention research program, for which researchers will seek additional funding.

3. Making the Business Case for Improved Farm Labor Conditions

Principal Investigators and UC Berkeley Team: Christy Getz (Environmental Science, Policy, and Management/Cooperative Extension) and Ron Strochlic (UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Nutrition Policy Institute)
Collaborators: Sandy Brown (University of San Francisco), Gail Feenstra (UC SAREP), Margaret Reeves (Pesticide Action Network North America), Steven Fox (Equitable Food Initiative), Jim Cochran (Swanton Berry Farm), Manuel Rivera (Grupo Alpine Fresh, S.A. de C.V.), and Bryant Ambelang (NatureSweet Ltd.)
Funding Level: $23,287

Abstract: The proposed research will lay the groundwork for the development of systems and tools to help growers evaluate and track the costs and benefits of improved farm labor practices. We will work closely with the Equitable Food Initiative (EFI), which is piloting a new voluntary certification scheme promoting a more sustainable food system through reduced pesticide use, improved food safety, and improved farm labor conditions. Unlike other certification schemes promoting improved agricultural worker conditions in the U.S., EFI’s target audience is the large, industrial farm sector that employs an estimated 98 percent of the U.S. farm labor force. EFI has certified two large farms to-date, with approximately ten additional farms in the U.S., Canada and Mexico in process. The costs associated with certification can be daunting, given slim profit margins and the fact that labor represents a large share of operating cost in agriculture. While improving farm labor conditions can increase direct costs for growers, several small-scale studies have shown it can also benefit farms, through workforce retention, improved safety, and improved product quality. While these benefits can result in substantial cost-savings for growers, they have never been quantified. For EFI to gain widespread acceptance among large growers, it must demonstrate that improving farm labor conditions is a good investment. Since EFI-certified farms may be rewarded with increased market share or volume, but not necessarily price premiums, demonstrating internal return on investment is particularly important.

4. Exploring Millets to Diversify Cereal Options in Our Diet and the Environment

Principal Investigators and UC Berkeley Team: Peggy Lemaux (Plant and Microbial Biology), Amrita Hazra (Post-doc, Plant and Microbial Biology), Patricia Bubner (Post-doc, Energy Biosciences Institute), Sarah Hake (Plant and Microbial Biology/USDA Plant Gene Expression Center), and Gavin Abreu (Graduate Student, Haas School of Business)
Collaborators: Satheesh Periyapatna, Jayasri Cherukuri, and Suresh Kumar (Millet Network of India), Doug Mosel (Mendocino Grain Project), and Don and Mickey Murch (Marin Organic – Gospel Flat Farm)
Funding Level: $24,040

Abstract: In spite of the large variety of cereals traditionally available in different parts of the world, corn, wheat, and rice comprise at least 89 percent of worldwide cereal production. The focus on these three crops, driven in part by economic factors, has led to a drift to monoculture farming. This, in turn, has caused losses in the variety of food and consequently nutrients in our diet, which together have adverse environmental and nutritional impacts. Millets are a group of gluten-free cereal grains that are highly nutritious and commonly contain higher protein, mineral, and vitamin levels, compared to corn, rice, and wheat. Millets can grow with little water, compared to most other grains, have a cultivation time of 70-100 days and are often cultivated on skeletal soils. Millet production is traditionally not dependent on the use of synthetic fertilizers and a majority of them are not affected by storage pests. Additionally, great natural biodiversity exists in millets, hence making them amenable to cultivation in various agro-climatic conditions. The goal of our proposal is threefold. First, we want to test small-scale millet cultivation in a few different locations in Northern California, allowing us to identify varieties that are suitable for cultivation in different soils and microclimates. Secondly, we wish to form collaborations with local farmers and encourage them to cultivate millets. Finally, we hope to introduce millets to our community through local millet exhibits and millet-based food, in order to share the many agricultural, economic, and sociocultural advantages of this grain. More information at https://themilletproject.wordpress.com/home/

5. The Berkeley Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax: A Transdisciplinary Approach to Evaluating the Impact

Principal Investigators and UC Berkeley Team: Karen Sokal-Gutierrez, Kristine Madsen, and Lori Dorfman (Public Health), Jennifer Falbe (Post-doc, Public Health), Pamela Mejia and Laura Nixon (Berkeley Media Studies Group), and Patricia Crawford (UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Nutrition Policy Institute)
Collaborators: Baharak Amanzadeh and Kristen Hoeft (UC San Francisco School of Dentistry Center to Address Disparities in Oral Health)
Funding Level:
$25,000

Abstract: Frequent consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) – especially by children – is contributing to high rates of tooth decay, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. In an effort to reduce these health threats, the City of Berkeley just became the first municipality to pass an excise tax on SSBs. While most of the public dialogue on SSBs has focused on the obesity-related concerns, the oral health concerns warrant additional attention. This BFI proposal aims to build on a currently-funded grant to assess the impact of Berkeley’s SSB tax by adding assessment of oral health themes through analysis of media messages and focus groups and interviews with parents, and tracking oral health outcomes through existing child dental screening data. This study will build an interdisciplinary collaboration – among public health, nutrition, dental, and media experts, and well as among university, public health department and community groups – that will contribute to a more comprehensive evaluation of the SSB tax and development of more effective public health messaging to reduce consumption of SSBs and other non-nutritious foods and improve children’s health.

6. Mapping Agro-Biodiversity Hotspots and Cultural Foods in the Urban Food Desert: Fostering Community Food Security, Biocultural Diversity, and Health

Principal Investigators and UC Berkeley Team: Jennifer Sowerwine and Maggi Kelly (Environmental Science, Policy, and Management/Cooperative Extension), Rob Bennaton (Cooperative Extension), Thomas Carlson (Integrative Biology), Andrew Doran (University and Jepson Herbaria), and Brent Mishler (University and Jepson Herbaria/Integrative Biology)
Collaborators: Amy Kiser (Ecology Center), Dawn Martin-Rugo (UC Village), Mona Masri (International Rescue Committee), Doria Robinson (Urban Tilth), and Beebo Turman (Berkeley Community Gardens Collaborative)
Funding Level:
$25,000

Abstract: Our current food system is not meeting the needs of our urban poor. California is sometimes referred to as the breadbasket of the world, with a $35 billion agricultural industry, yet statewide, nearly 6 million adults (16.7 percent) and 1/3 of all children experience food insecurity. Urban centers, many of which are classified as “food deserts,” have some of the highest concentrations of poverty, food insecurity, malnutrition, and diet related diseases. They also are home to high numbers of immigrants, comprising 40 percent of the urban population. Many of these immigrants arrive with rich agro-ecological knowledge and healthy cultural food traditions, yet often transition toward a western diet for many reasons, resulting in higher rates of diet-related diseases. Those with access to land often grow cultural foods and medicines, and exchange them with others in their community, but many continue to seek sources of their cultural food heritage. The purpose of our project is twofold: 1) To increase the visibility and opportunity for scaling up the production and exchange of culturally important food plants to foster the continuity of healthful food traditions and help combat food insecurity in urban food deserts; and 2) To test the hypothesis that urban areas with high cultural diversity may also have high concentrations of agro-biodiversity in their gardens. We will survey the diversity of cultural food plants that are being grown in East Bay community gardens and create an interactive, participatory visual tool (GIS map) to illuminate urban bio-cultural diversity hotspots and sources of cultural foods.

2014 Seed Grant Recipients

1. An Agroecological Survey of Urban Farms in the Eastern Bay Area to Explore Their Potential to Enhance Food Security

Principal Investigators and UC Berkeley Team: Miguel Altieri and Celine Pallud (Environmental Science, Policy, and Management), Joshua Arnold, Courtney Glettner, and Sarick Matzen (PhD Students, Environmental Science, Policy, and Management)
Collaborators: Eric Holt-Gimenez (Food First) and several East Bay community groups
Funding Level: $9,000 plus $10,000 extension = $19,000

Final Research Report: Download the pdf here.

Abstract: This collaborative, community-based, participatory project will assess: 1) The main agronomic problems (soils, pests, diseases, etc.) limiting productivity affecting urban agriculture in the East Bay Area; 2) Cultural practices currently used by urban farmers and their effectiveness to overcome identified limiting factors; and 3) Actual yields reached in various urban farms subjected to varied management practices, soil management practices, and exhibiting different spatial and temporal combinations of crops species and varieties. This information will provide a baseline that can be used to plan a series of on-farm research trials to explore urban agriculture best practices and management designs to optimize yields.

2. Making the Road by Mapping: Informing Food System Transformation through Participatory Mapmaking

Principal Investigators and UC Berkeley Team: Kathryn DeMaster (Environmental Science, Policy, and Management), Adam Calo (PhD Student, Environmental Science, Policy, and Management), Darin Jensen (Geography), Tapan Parikh (Information), and Sarah Van Wart (PhD Student, Information), Amber Sciligo (Post-doc, Environmental Science, Policy, and Management), Maggi Kelly, Christy Getz, and Jennifer Sowerwine (Environmental Science, Policy, and Management/Cooperative Extension)
Collaborators: Kaley Grimland-Mendoza (Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association)
Funding Level: $20,000 plus $10,000 extension = $30,000

Article on Research Findings (Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development): Download the pdf here.

Farmland Monitoring Project: When you think of food, do you think about land?  In our research with small scale farmers in the California Central Coast, we have come to see how the structures of who owns and operates land dictates how food is grown in the agricultural system.

For alternative agriculture proponents, the present moment appears a great opportunity to support beginning farmers with an environmental ethic, meeting the rising demand for food grown with an eye towards social and environmental justice.  At the national level 91.5 million acres of farmland are expected to transfer ownership in the next five years.  These acres (10 percent of all farmland) could be taken over by farmers who emerge from horticultural and business training programs ready to implement environmentally sustainable methods.

But getting farmers onto the land is much more complicated than this supply and demand equation of farmland change and the creation of new farmers.  Indeed, barriers to land access is frequently cited as the most pressing problem for new entry farmers.  Without ready access, farmers may relinquish pursuit of agriculture, or even if they do obtain a lease for a small plot of land, the owner-tenant dynamics reduces their autonomy to make long term decisions, and threatens their economic viability.  In other words, for the beginning farmer movement to become more holistic, the political and structural aspects of land access must be considered and addressed.

Introducing the Farmland Monitoring Project, a research and extension platform to bring issues of land access for small scale farmers to the fore.  It is designed for individual farmers who are searching for farmland that matches their production vision and for small farm support organizations who can use the tool in their agricultural campaigns or one-on-one farmer consultations.  This tool relies on information submitted by farmers and land owners to monitor farmland availability, and match available parcels with beginning farmers.  The tool also aggregates and distributes publicly available records about land ownership so that farmers, land owners, and farmer advocates can assess the shape of farmland ownership in their regions.

The tool has just been released and is in its early stages.  The development team is readily looking for feedback and comments about the tool’s design, direction, and potential impacts.  Here is an overview of the Farmland Monitoring Project.

The Map application reveals ownership information of all parcels in the California Central Coast, and allows anyone to submit more detailed information about farmland with a mobile phone or a computer.

The Mapbook page is a series of map stories that look at data related to agriculture including a map detailing the hotspots for pesticide application, the existing agricultural easements in the region, and an estimate of the top 20 corporate owners of farmland in the Central Coast.

The About page shares some more detailed background about land access for small scale scale farmers.

The Blog is a space for contributions on land access as well as details about how the tools were built and the decision making behind each step of the process.

Anyone can Submit data about farmland to the application.  The application accepts submissions that detail an existing ranch or describe a piece of available land  The submission tool can work on an offline across browsers and on mobile or desktop.

Finally,  the Contact page is a great way to connect with the Farmland Monitoring Project, give feedback or a request a feature.

Abstract: Our participatory mapping research project has four primary purposes: First, we explore participatory mapping as a way to collaboratively generate new food system knowledge with scholars, practitioners, and producers. Second, through a process we term “communitysourcing,” we aim to illuminate overlooked caches of community-based knowledge and engage community members, agricultural producers and scholars in collaborative efforts to map a particular food system supply chain (small-scale organic strawberry production in the Salinas Valley). Third, we aim to integrate the interdisciplinary community-based participatory research with specific understandings of the way that certain agricultural policies either facilitate or restrict sustainable small-scale organic strawberry production in the Salinas Valley (with a particular focus on water quality and food safety policy/regulations). Fourth, we will present our findings in novel, innovative, and visually captivating ways that will: 1) Inform specific policies/regulations; and 2) Provide small-scale producers with easily accessible caches of community generated knowledge to inform their practices.

3. The Subminimum Wage for Tipped Workers as a Human Rights Issue

Principal Investigators and UC Berkeley Team: Laurel Fletcher and Allison Davenport (Law), and Saru Jayaraman (Food Labor Research Center)
Collaborators: Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and Food Chain Workers Alliance
Funding Level: $20,000 plus $10,000 extension = $30,000

Final Research Report: Download the pdf here.

Abstract: This inter-disciplinary project seeks to understand the subminimum wage paid to tipped restaurant workers in the United States through a human rights framework, to document how this subminimum wage contravenes several international human rights conventions, and to harness international legal standards as leverage to support domestic advocacy efforts on their behalf. The research is timely, as several states and localities around the country are currently considering legislation and ballot initiatives that would eliminate the subminimum wage for tipped workers, and at the federal level, Congress is considering a substantial increase in the subminimum wage for tipped workers.  In a second phase of the project, the research will result in a seminal report and press events at UC Berkeley and in Washington, DC, and will be used for testimony in local legislatures and in Congress. The project will involve faculty and students from the UC Berkeley School of Law, the UC Berkeley Food Labor Research Center, students from the Goldman School of Public Policy, and a network of worker rights advocates currently working on these issues in the field.

4. Building an Evidence Base for State and Federal Policy: Testing the Effects of Purchase Restrictions and Incentives within the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

Principal Investigators and UC Berkeley Team: Barbara Laraia (Public Health), Patricia Crawford (UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Nutrition Policy Institute), Maria Echaveste (Law), and Hillary Hoynes (Public Policy)
Collaborators: California Food Policy Advocates
Funding Level: $15,000

Abstract: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known as CalFresh in California, plays a valuable role in lifting low-income households out of poverty and mitigating food insecurity. Providing billions of dollars in nutrition assistance benefits to nearly 48 million children, adults, and seniors, SNAP has great potential to support health and healthful eating. Policymakers are currently considering proposals to restrict the purchase of certain foods and beverages with SNAP benefits. Any such changes require rigorous testing to assess the effects on SNAP participants and the program at large. California is in discussion with the USDA to conduct a county demonstration project that will test the use of purchase restrictions and incentives within CalFresh. A multi-disciplinary approach, drawing on expertise in economics, public health, nutrition, law, public policy, poverty, and behavioral sciences, is necessary to ensure that the demonstration project is carefully crafted and rigorously evaluated.

5. Reaping without Sowing: Urban Foraging, Sustainability, Nutrition, and Social Welfare

Principal Investigators and UC Berkeley Team: Philip Stark (Statistics), Thomas Carlson (Integrative Biology), and Kristen Rasmussen (Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology)
Collaborators: Eric Berlow (Vibrant Data, Inc.)
Funding Level: $24,985 plus $10,000 extension = $34,985

Abstract: This project will test the hypothesis that in some urban “food deserts” there is in fact an abundant, sustainable source of fresh, free, and nutritious vegetables – namely, wild foods. If that hypothesis is correct, then at least in some underserved, low-income areas, it will be possible to improve nutrition and public health merely through education: The food is already there. To test the hypothesis, we will survey the distribution and occupancy of wild foods in at least three food deserts in the East Bay, in Richmond or El Cerrito, Berkeley, and Oakland. The survey will be targeted to include neighborhoods with a spectrum of ethnicities and degrees of urbanization. Samples of plants from the neighborhoods will be tested for nutritional value and for toxic contamination by metals, pesticides, pollutants, etc. Mapping the species occupancy will rely on groups of undergraduate students using “game-ified” mobile apps, taking advantage of social networks to crowd-source data collection to ensure that we survey the target areas completely in at least two seasons. The spatial sampling will be sufficiently fine to estimate size of the resource, and thereby estimate the impact that more complete, but sustainable use of the wild foods would have on nutrition in those neighborhoods. This study will form the basis for future work to improve nutrition in so-called “food deserts” by investigating barriers to wider utilization of this resource and educating residents about the bounty beneath their feet and developing educational interventions to reduce those barriers. More information at http://forage.berkeley.edu/