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U Of I Researcher Receives Million-Dollar Grant To Address Food Insecurity

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Nearly 1 in 8 American households don’t have enough food because of lack of money or other resources, according to 2017 data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A University of Illinois professor said he’s hopeful a new million-dollar grant from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research will lead to a better understanding of how to reduce food insecurity nationwide.

Agricultural economist Craig Gundersen will work with the nonprofit organization “Feeding America” on this study. The group is exploring different distribution methods to get food more quickly to people who need it.

“This is a real problem in the United States, given that there’s roughly 40 million Americans today that do not have enough money to feed their households, Gundersen said.

Gundersen said the federal food stamp program, known as SNAP,  plays a critical role in addressing food insecurity today. But some families who need assistance don’t qualify; and for many who do, the support is not enough. That’s why “Feeding America” and local food banks are so important.

Traditionally, food goes from a wholesaler to a grocery store, then to a food bank, which distributes food to food pantries, where people can come get what they need, Gundersen said.

The new research will explore whether cutting out some of those middle steps—through the use of Regional Produce Cooperatives across the nation—improves the process.

The idea is that “there will be more fresh fruit and vegetables to vulnerable households than previously, and also critically, with respect to this, the fresh fruits and vegetables would be fresher because you’re cutting several days off the process,” Gundersen said.

The new grant from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research will help the researchers figure out if the new approach to food distribution is working to expand access to fresh produce.

Follow Christine on Twitter: @CTHerman