SERA47: Local and Regional Food Systems Extension and Research: network development, emerging issues and policy development

(Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group)

Status: Active

SERA47: Local and Regional Food Systems Extension and Research: network development, emerging issues and policy development

Duration: 10/01/2021 to 09/30/2026

Administrative Advisor(s):


NIFA Reps:


Statement of Issues and Justification

In the last decade, there has been a growing consensus on the importance of local and regional food systems in the economy of the southern region of the U.S. Multiple initiatives have flourished in the land grant system and elsewhere, giving way to the establishment of face-to-face and online courses on local food systems (NC Extension, 2015); incubator farms to train new farmers (NIFTI, 2013); toolkits for developing food systems projects such as farmer markets, regional hubs, and farm to school programs (CAFS, 2018; Dumont et al., 2017; CIAS, 2018); and other types of educational and programmatic activities. These activities directly fulfill many of the initial goals of SERA-47.  

During the past five years this project's participants have also:

  • Identified the mission, vision, and values driving SERA-47 work (Perez and North, 2018).   
  • Assessed and published results on the most pressing issues faced by their local food systems (Settle, et al., 2021).
  • Developed an effective network utilizing strategies that can be continued and strengthened. These strategies include an annual meeting, formation of working groups, workshops, webinars, tea and coffee hours, focus hours, and others.
  • Created an online resource bank related to local food systems with topic-related resources from across the region, funding opportunities, conference information, and a database of members’ expertise. This was developed in partnership with e-Extension (now the Extension Foundation) (SERA-47 & Extension Foundation, 2020). 
  • Collected and evaluated impact indicators that could serve as a tool for reporting the outcomes of local initiatives.
  • Facilitated conversations between farmers, consumers, and extension professionals on challenges during COVID-19 and their new approaches in 2021. These activities were conducted during SERA-47 sponsored Tea & Coffee hours and SERA-47 leadership monthly meetings.

The impact that COVID-19 has had on most aspects of our food system has also uncovered programming gaps and raised awareness that strengthening our capacity to support local food systems requires continuity of efforts, updates of changing needs, and tailoring of activities to meet them.  Furthermore, our collective experience suggests that finding common ground for interdisciplinary and inter-institutional collaborations is vital to meeting community expectations for their local and regional food system (LRFS) and for promoting public policy structures and institutional change in Land Grant Universities (LGUs) that advance their goals.  Equally important, the measuring of local food system impacts and their contributions to the overall well-being of our economy and society remains challenging, despite the advances made in recent times.

The renewal of SERA-47 will provide continuity to outreach and collaborative efforts in progress and promote more applied research on the emerging needs of our stakeholders, challenges, and barriers faced by LRFS entrepreneurs.  As our recent pressing issues survey showed, many regional experts believe that further LRFS goals would require policy changes in several fronts ranging from market promotion, farmland protection, land tenure legislation, demographic and labor market issues, and community nutrition education.  Accordingly, research and extension activities aimed at providing evidence for public policy recommendations at the local, state, or regional level have also been incorporated as a new important project thrust. This effort will help institutionalize resilient local food systems and offer systemic support for local food producers and businesses.  Finally, continued efforts to bind together this unique interdisciplinary, inter-institutional group of LGU research and extension faculty and staff will help to develop an informed base of leadership within the region that are capable of better positioning our system to build capacity to serve our constituencies with important local, regional, and national food system initiatives.

Objectives

  1. Increase interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary collaborations and networking efforts among Extension and Research food system professionals across the region
  2. Identify current and emerging issues specific to food system development in the Southern region:
  3. Assess local food system policy, opportunities for expansion, environmental change, and economic development issues, make policy recommendations, and develop best practices for communities across the region

Procedures and Activities

  1. Network development: This objective includes extension and research activities. SERA-47 members will develop innovative ways to promote interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, and inter-institutional research and extension collaborations to include grantsmanship, publications, conference presentations, and dialogues around LRFS challenges and successes, and will facilitate virtual and in-person networking opportunities such as annual meetings; working groups; webinars; tea and coffee hours; focus hours; a resource bank; and a listserv used to share grant opportunities, innovative ideas, and new resources. Project participants will prepare, for the first annual meeting, a short introductory bio underscoring their research and extension interests, relevant publications, and extension/education activities related to LRFS.  Several information exchange groups (3 to 5) focusing on shared areas of interest will be formed.  Each working group will sponsor a yearly forum or symposium portraying LRFS efforts in three different participant states; successes and challenges faced; information gaps/research needs; future prospects or initiatives.  Resources identified by the different working groups will be posted in the SERA-47 resource bank website.
  1. Emerging and current issues update:  This objective includes research and extension activities. SERA-47 members will conduct integrated, interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, and inter-institutional research and extension activities on emerging issues such as COVID-19 impacts, land ownership, and farm planning, extreme weather events, labor shortage, family life, food insecurity, and diversity, and financial system instability. Research Activities could include but are not limited to needs assessments and empirical designs of selected emerging issues and provide evidence-based strategies to improve stakeholders' resiliency. Extension Activities: Based on the results of the needs assessment and plan of actions, generate and disseminate resiliency-themed educational resources and publications among the stakeholders. Specific topics will be determined by Working Group members. We will support strategies for preparedness and capacity building through groups such as Extension, food policy councils, and other community groups. 
  1. Policy, system, environmental change, and economic development (PSE-ED): This objective includes research and extension activities. SERA-47 members will facilitate collaborative work on local food PSE-ED issues that require region or locality-specific research and education. Programs and projects related to local foods may involve PSE-ED issues at multiple levels: community, county, state, national, even international.  Under this objective, Research Activities: 1) Conduct needs assessment to identify PSE-ED issues/gaps and make evidence-based recommendations. 2) Design studies to address identified gaps, and strategies to make evidence-based recommendations and guide public investment decisions. Extension Activities: Develop webinars or training to educate the public, share evidence-based PSE-ED results via an online Resource Bank number of new collaborative projects; the number of PSE-ED recommendations; the number of evidence-based solutions identified, and analytics from online resources.

Expected Outcomes and Impacts

  • Objective 1: Expected outcomes, performance measures, and impacts Comments: OBJECTIVE 1: Increase interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary collaborations and networking efforts among Extension and Research food system professionals across the region Outcomes and Performance Measures: More thorough knowledge of actual research and extension programs implementation and development in the southern region will facilitate collaborative efforts addressing information gaps, and the tailoring of local initiatives according to a diversity of models. Performance measures to be collected include number of presentations, publications, and research proposals developed by project participants on the working groups' topics, and on other SERA-47 sponsored networking activities.-Number of Webinars, symposia, tea, and coffee/social networking hours, and annual meetings organized- Number of best practices shared- Number of institutions and professional organizations reached. Number of stakeholders (Extension agents, farmers, consumers, families, farmer’s markets, schools, and community-based organizations) reached through the SERA 47 resource bank website- Number of collaborations established through websites- Impact: Increase the visibility of SERA 47- Increase SERA 47 membership- Increase interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary and inter-institutional collaborative working environment among researchers, among Extension professionals, and between Researchers and Extension Professionals.-Increase accessibility and visibility of educational resources to the stakeholders
  • Objective 2: Expected outcomes, performance measures, and impacts Comments: OBJECTIVE 2: Identify current and emerging issues specific to food system development in the Southern region Outcomes and Performance Measures: Number of issues identified- Number of evidence-based strategies developed- Number of communication strategies used for dissemination- Number of stakeholders reached -Number of scientific publications and educational resources. Impact: Increase the preparedness, readiness, and resiliency of LGUs audiences while facing emerging issues. Inform researcher’s knowledge of emerging issues and related evidence-based strategies through scientific publications and educational resources.
  • Objective 3: Expected outcomes, performance measures, and impacts Comments: OBJECTIVE 3: Assess local food system policy, opportunities for expansion, environmental change, and economic development issues, make policy recommendations, and develop best practices for communities across the region: Outcomes and Performance Measures: Number of issues identified- Number of policy recommendations - Number of best practices developed-Number of evidence-based economic development strategies developed- Number of scientific publications and educational resources- Number of communication strategies used for dissemination- Number of stakeholders reached Impact: Increase the knowledge, attitudes, and skills of the LGUs stakeholders including socially disadvantaged small farmers and limited resources families regarding policies-Increase economic development opportunities for farmers, and limited resources families.
  • Overall Expected Outcomes Comments: Networking: Strengthen networking and collaborations among LGUs, non-land Grant universities, and other private organizations, Extension: Strengthen the collaboration with farmers and community members involved in local food system activities; Research: 1) develop evidence-based strategies for training to increase farmers, and community members resiliency while facing emerging issues; 2) Make PSE-ED evidence-based recommendations related to food systems in the Southern region 3) Develop evidence-based strategies for training to increase farmers, and community members knowledge, attitudes, and skills related to PSE-ED; Dissemination: Communicate and disseminate food systems project results at the local, regional, and national levels through the online Resource Bank.
  • Potential long-term impacts Comments: Provide opportunities for the development of strong relationships between farmers, community members and Researchers, and Extension professionals and recognize the LGUs as leaders in the food systems movement; Through policies reformulation, support farms, food businesses, and local economies that thrive; Improve food security and physical, mental, and socio-economic well-being at the family and community levels; develop community-driven and evidence-based practices to ensure communities resiliency across local regional and national food systems, foster healthy people and communities, promote justice, diversity, and fairness; The ultimate impact is to foster and strengthen collaborative and integrative multidisciplinary, multi-institutional, research and extension activities involving all land grant institutions and private organizations.
  • Internal and external linkages Comments: During the past 5 years, SERA 47 activities emphasized collaborations among Land Grant Institutions in the Southern Region (1862, 1890, 1994, and Hispanic Institutions), West Virginia, and in Maryland. The support from the Southern Rural Development Center (SRDC), was strong and consistent. Through the administrative advisors, we were able to stay connected with the following federal agencies: USDA/NIFA, Rural Development, and Agricultural Marketing Services. Relationships were also initiated with private organizations such as MarketMaker. A collaboration with eXtension helped develop the SERA 47 Resources Bank Website. The activities on the Website increased communication not only among SERA 47 members but also among the Land Grant Institutions in other regions and non-Land Grant Universities. The new proposal will strengthen previous collaborations

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Educational Plan

As the team makes progress on respective goals, dissemination of findings and resources will be shared through various networks. For instance, the SRDC is committed to hosting a webinar series to showcase each team’s work as progress becomes solidified. Additionally, the Center maintains an email list of LGU research/Extension professionals interested in this work. The list will be used to provide regular updates from the various working groups. Finally, a number of national conferences and network communities are well suited for presentations and outreach efforts related to this work, as are professional journals. For example, the Resource Bank Website and the eXtension Community, Local, and Regional Food Systems (CLRFS) Community of Practice serve as a national platform for resource development and sharing and cross-sector collaborations. These and other venues, including university courses that could serve to share findings and also engage students in project work, will be tapped to share impacts and findings as work progresses.

Organization/Governance

Leadership will include a chair, chair-elect, and secretary, each of whom will serve one-year terms, then roll up or off. Each of the four working teams will select co-chairs, one from research and one from Extension to guide the work. These leaders will join the three overarching leaders to form a leadership committee. The committee will meet at least quarterly on conference calls to ensure the work remains on task and seamless among the various groups. Working teams will meet regularly via conference call to sustain progress. In case of vacancy of the chair position of a working group, the co-chair will take the lead until the working group selects a new chair. An annual virtual or face-to-face or hybrid meeting will be held to track progress and chart new courses as the work continues.

Literature Cited

CAFS (Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law School). (2018).  "Farmers Market Legal Toolkit".  Website: https://farmersmarketlegaltoolkit.org/about-the-toolkit/

CIAS (Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems).  (2018).  "Farm to School Toolkits". CIAS, University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Website: https://cias.wisc.edu/toolkits/

Dumont, A., Davis, D., Wascalus, J., Wilson, T. C., Barham, J., and Tropp, D. (Eds.) (2017). Harvesting Opportunity: The Power of Regional Food System Investments to Transform Communities.  St. Louis, MO: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.  306 pp.

NIFTI (National Incubator Farm Training Initiative). (2013).  "The Farm Incubator Toolkit: Growing the Next Generation of Farmers".  Lowell, MA: New Entry Sustainable Farming Project. 177pp. Digital download:  https://nesfp.org/resources/nifti-farm-incubator-toolkit

North Carolina State Extension.  (2015). "Local Food Systems Course – Information for Instructors". NC Extension Local Food Website.  https://localfood.ces.ncsu.edu/local-food-training-videos/local-food-systems-course-info-for-instructors/

Perez, Amanda P., and North, Elizabeth. (2018). "SERA-47 Process for Developing the Mission and Values Statements".  SERA-47 Website.  http://srdc.msstate.edu/foods/files/SERA47-org-mission-and-values_07-16-19.pdf

SERA-47 and Extension Foundation. (2020). SERA-47 Resource Bank. Website: https://sera-47.extension.org/

Settle, Q., Morrison, C. C., Felter, L., & Taylor, J. (2021). Identifying the 10 most pressing issues facing local food systems in the southern region. Journal of Human Sciences and Extension, 9(1), 208-217.

Attachments

Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

AL, AR, FL, MD, MS, NC, OK, PR, SC, TN, VA

Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

LSU Agricultural Center, North Carolina State University, Southern Rural Development Center, University of Kentucky
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