All posts by Doug

Acculturating into (In)active Commuting to School article by Food Lab faculty and alum released in Children, Youth and Environments

The Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab is pleased to announce the release of a new article in Children, Youth, and Environments.  Written by Food Lab faculty affiliate So-Ra Baek, Food Lab Principle Investigator Samina Raja and two Food Lab alums Nathan Attard and Maryam Khojasteh, the article examines Safe Routes to School programming in a suburban school district. Through exploring how the cultural backgrounds of caregivers influences their perceptions and attitudes of children’s active commuting, the authors draw conclusions for how cultural factors and perceptions of safety should be considered in the development of future Safe Routes to School programs.


This study explores how the cultural backgrounds of caregivers influence their perceptions and attitudes toward their children’s active commuting to school. Caregivers in a suburban school district reported low rates of active commuting among children. Domestic and foreign-born caregivers differed in their perceptions of safety from crime. In addition, foreign-born caregivers who are more acculturated tend to be more reluctant to allow children’s active commuting to school in the near future, compared to foreign-born caregivers who are less acculturated. Cultural factors and perceptions of safety from crime should be considered in the development of programs that promote active commuting to school.


Baek, So-Ra, Samina Raja, Nathan Attard, and Maryam Khojasteh. (2016). “Acculturating into (In)active Commuting to School: Differences between Children of Foreign-Born and U.S.-Born Caregivers.” Children, Youth and Environments. 26(1): 37-55.


Dr. So-Ra Baek is an Assistant Professor within the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York. Her current research focuses on the connection between the built environment, physical activity, and health outcomes, particularly among marginalized populations including women, immigrants, and children. She is a Co-Principal Investigator of Safe Routes to School in the Sweet Home Central School District, a project supported by the Town of Amherst, New York that intends to increase rates of active commuting to school by the students in the town.

Dr. Samina Raja is an Associate Professor of Urban and Regional Planning and Adjunct Associate Professor of Community Health and Health Behavior at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York. Her research, teaching, and public service focuses on the role of planning in building sustainable food systems and healthy communities. She is the Principal Investigator at the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab and serves as the Principal Investigator of Safe Routes to School in the Sweet Home Central School District.

Nathan Attard is a Research Analyst at the Institute for Community Health Promotion at SUNY Buffalo State, and was previously a research assistant in the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab. His research interests focus on active transportation, community food systems, and planning for public health.

Maryam Khojasteh is a Doctoral Student in the Department of City and Regional Planning, at the University of Pennsylvania, and formerly served as a research project assistant in the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab. Her research interests focus on community food systems, immigrant entrepreneurship, and health disparities.

City of Madison Food Policy Coordinator Position Open

The City of Madison is hiring a Food Policy Coordinator. This position will direct food policy work for the City of Madison by providing leadership and strategic direction to policymakers and stakeholders including, but not limited to, policy development, coordination, implementation, and analysis.  This position will also oversee several food-related programs and provide administration and analysis of the programs. The position will have an intense focus on increasing equitable access to healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food to all communities and developing polices that positively impact the health and well-being of all residents of the City of Madison and beyond.

See full position description here.

Apply for this position by June 23, 2016.

Dealing with Disparities in Food Acquisition among Refugees (DDFAR): A Transdisciplinary Exploration of the Influence of Social, Environmental, Cultural and Personal Determinants on Food Acquisition Practices Among the Burmese Americans

The project examines the ways in which Burmese-American residents acquire healthy, affordable, and culturally acceptable foods in the city of Buffalo.  In particular, the project focus on examining how Burmese-Americans adapt their food acquisition practices in their new country, how they perceive health risks tied to these practices, and how their food acquisition practices may change their food environment.

Coordinator: Alex Judelsohn

Faculty team: Samina Raja (School of Architecture and Planning), Heather Orom (School of Public Health and Health Professions), Isok Kim (School of Social Work, Roberto Diaz Del Carpio (School of Medicine)

Sponsor: UB Community for Global Health Equity

“Beneficial but Constrained” article led by Kaufman fellow, Subhashni Raj, published in Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition

The Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab is pleased to share the release of a new article “Beneficial but Constrained: Role of Urban Agriculture Programs in Supporting Healthy Eating Among Youth” published in the Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition. The article, led by Subhashni Raj, Kaufman fellow at the University at Buffalo, explores how youth engagement in urban agriculture affects their fruit and vegetable consumption, controlling for neighborhood level influences.The authors use a pre-post research design and advanced regression analysis to analyze the efficacy of urban agriculture programming in improving fruit and vegetable consumption among urban youth in Buffalo, NY. The findings suggest that efficacy of urban agriculture programming has some effect on youth food behavior but its effect is moderated by economic and systemic constraints prevalent in neighborhoods the youth come from. To make urban agriculture efficacious as a healthy eating tool, public policy supports must simultaneously address economic and systemic constraints in society. The paper concludes with suggestions of how local governments can help make urban agriculture programs efficacious.

See link to access to article:

A number of efforts to alleviate low rates of fruit and vegetable consumption among youth in the United States have emerged in recent years. This study examines how engagement in urban agriculture (UA) programming influences fruit and vegetable consumption among urban youth in Buffalo, New York. Results indicate change in some food behaviors—youth are willing to try new foods—but not others. Results suggest that fruit and vegetable consumption is associated with gender and the median household income of neighborhoods where youth live. The study demonstrates that UA programming is beneficial but not sufficient in engendering healthy eating behavior in youth.

Agents of Change article by Food Lab alum Maryam Khojasteh released in Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition

The Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab is pleased to announce the release of a new article in the Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition.  By Maryam Khojasteh and Samina Raja, ‘Agents of Change: How Immigrant-Run Ethnic Food Retailers Improve Food Environments’ documents the factors that enable immigrant entrepreneurs to operate healthy food stores in urban neighborhoods. The authors use in-depth interviews to highlight how Middle Eastern food entrepreneurs are changing the healthy food landscape in Buffalo, NY.  Findings suggest that ethnic food retail entrepreneurs are positively deviant in the urban food system, becoming positive agents of change by successfully provided fresh fruits and vegetables to neighborhoods with low food access.  Although ethnic food entrepreneurs overcome numerous documented barriers, they have significant potential to improve neighborhoods who are not served by other healthy food retail. The article concludes with suggestions for how local government policy makers, planners, and public health practitioners can better support immigrant ethnic food entrepreneurs. With the right policy supports, healthy ethnic food stores can be a source of economic and community development for both immigrant and non-immigrant neighborhoods. Click on the link below to read the full article.

Agents of Change How Immigrant Run Ethnic Food Retailers Improve Food Environments

Article Abstract:

Immigrant-run ethnic food retail stores, which are often located in urban neighborhoods, are reported to provide healthy foods. Yet, there is little research on how these stores manage to operate successfully in low-resource environments, which are reported to have poor access to healthy foods, and the challenges they must overcome in a broken food system. Based on a qualitative pilot case study of Middle Eastern stores in Buffalo, New York, the authors report factors that enable immigrant entrepreneurs to operate healthy food retail stores in low-income urban neighborhoods and the challenges they must overcome in the process. Factors for success include store owners’ membership in ethnic networks, prior business experience, and understanding of niche market opportunities. This article reports policy suggestions for how local governments can help ethnic food retailers to create healthier food environments and foster economic and community development.

BPS School Garden Fair

Buffalo Public School District is hosting a School Garden Fair to celebrate School Garden Month in May. The fair will highlight the incredible work happening at their twenty schools with school gardens.  This family friend event will be an opportunity to meet the dedicated teachers, staff, and parents who work with students in school gardens, hear from the students about what they are growing, and learn about opportunities for getting involved in your school’s garden.  The host school garden, Pelion Community Garden, is a stunning example of how to incorporate the garden into curriculum for all ages, provide outdoor learning experiences for students, and engage with the greater school community.

Family friendly activities will include:

Outrageous Sunhat Contest
Grow A Salad
Petal Rubbing Art
Smelling Tours
Sidewalk Drawing
Yoga for Kids
The Worm Petting Zoo
Seed Give-a-Ways

The event is happening at Pelion Community Garden at City Honors School on Wednesday, May 25th, from 4-6pm. The garden is located at 206 Best St., Buffalo, NY.  Visit their Facebook page to stay up to date about the exciting activities planned.

Keynote by Dr. Samina Raja at SUNY Cortland

Dr. Samina Raja will give a keynote on the role of communities in shaping local government food systems plans and policies. The talk will be held on April 11, 2016 at Sperry 104, SUNY Cortland. For more information, go to:

Published 04.10.2016

UB Recognizes Community Engagement Activities

The UB Reporter recently printed a story on the university’s recognition of community engagement activities. Dr. Samina Raja and the Food Lab were recognized for their ongoing partnership with the Massachusetts Avenue Project to raise community awareness about the Buffalo’s food system. Read the full article below.

 UB recognizes community engagement activities


Published March 10, 2016

“Each of you, our honorees, embodies our mission as a public research university — serving the greater public good through your contributions. ”
Provost Charles F. Zukoski

The projects range from rebuilding Buffalo’s food system and improving the breast cancer screening rates for inner city women to helping city high school students complete their FAFSA forms and bringing dental care to rural communities.

These community engagement activities, notes Provost Charles Zukoski, “build important relationships and enhance university research and education.”

Six members of the UB community working with community partners to realize these and other significant needs in the community are the first recipients of the Excellence in University-Community Engagement Awards.

The awards, created by the UB Engagement Advisory Committee to recognize members of the UB community who are building partnerships with community entities that enhance research, teaching and service, were presented at a reception on Wednesday at the Jacobs Executive Development Center.

The reception was hosted by Zukoski and Mary Gresham, former vice provost for educational collaboration and engagement who retired at the end of the fall semester after 45 years of service to UB. Gresham chaired the Engagement Advisory Committee.

As a public research university, UB is “dedicated to pursuing transformative research and education that respond to local and global issues, and are directly engaged with our communities,” Zukoski told those attending the reception.

“Through UB 2020, we are committed to building partnerships in an effort to address community needs while providing faculty, staff and students with rewarding new research and learning opportunities.

“The engagement projects we are recognizing today exemplify this,” he said. “In collaboration with community partners, our honorees use research to address direct needs in our community and they enrich our students’ educational experience by inviting them to participate in the engagement activities.”

Each of the award recipients, Zukoski said, “embodies our mission as a public research university — serving the greater public good through your contributions.”

Gresham agreed, noting the efforts of the award winners “have strengthened relationships in the community and advanced UB’s public research mission.”

She introduced the award winners and offered a brief description of their accomplishments.

The Excellence in University-Community Engagement Award winners, their community partners and the title of their projects:

  • “Community-University Collaboration on Rebuilding Buffalo’s Food System”: Samina Raja, associate professor, Department of Urban and Regional Planning, and community partner Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP).

Raja’s research lab, the UB Food Lab, and MAP have collaborated to rebuild and strengthen the food system in Buffalo, and also work together on events to raise community awareness about the city’s food system. Last year, they partnered to organize a “Just Food, Just Communities” event that included a public lecture on racial and food justice by noted civil rights leader Shirley Sherrod.

  • “FAFSA Completion Project”: Nathan Daun-Barnett, associate professor, Department of Educational Leadership and Policy, and coordinator of the program in Higher Education Administration, Graduate School of Education, and community partner Say Yes to Education Buffalo.

Completing the FAFSA, a required form for college admission that determines the amount of financial aid available to students and their families, can be daunting. And failure to complete the FAFSA can mean the difference between access to and denial of higher education for a student. The FAFSA Completion Project addressed the problem and implemented a comprehensive strategy — the College Success Center — to help students complete the FAFSA. The project has expanded from one school in Buffalo to 14.

  • “Mobile Mammography Unit and Underserved Primary Care Practices”: Megan Wilson, community research facilitator, Clinical and Translational Research Center, and community partner Deborah Hemphill, Patient Voices Network.

The goal of the project was to improve breast cancer screening rates for inner city women by using a mobile mammography unit to provide on-site screenings at four urban health practices. Recognizing that many women are fearful of mammograms, the project created “patient ambassadors” who would deliver breast health education and help guide the women on screening days. As of last December, the project had screened more than 2,600 women throughout Buffalo.

  • “S-Miles to Go”: Stephen Abel, associate professor, Department of Periodontics and Endodontics, and associate dean for student, community and professional initiatives, School of Dental Medicine, and numerous community partners in Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties.

The S-Miles to Go initiative continues the dental school’s long history of addressing the oral health needs of medically underserved communities. This mobile dental unit travels to these communities to provide direct clinical services and health education. Senior dental students serve a rotation with the initiative, gaining valuable experience with rural populations. In some communities, they provide the only access to dental services.

Gresham also recognized senior faculty members Joseph Gardella and Henry Louis Taylor Jr. as recipients of the Excellence in University-Community Engagement Award for Sustained Contributions for having demonstrated “sustained contributions and commitment to university-community engagement throughout their careers.”

Gardella, SUNY Distinguished Professor and John and Frances Larkin Professor of Chemistry, has used his research expertise in chemistry to address community concerns for more than 20 years, Gresham said. In 1995 he was the first UB faculty member to modify a course —Analytical Chemistry of Pollutants — to specifically allow students to experience the subject matter in an applied context.

Most recently, she said, he has developed a formal partnership with the National Science Foundation and the Buffalo Public Schools to introduce STEM education strategies to high-needs schools.

Taylor, professor of urban and regional planning in the School of Architecture and Planning, has focused his research on “strengthening undeveloped neighborhoods by improving schools, engaging residents in neighborhood development, developing entrepreneurs, improving the delivery of health care services, and by designing and planning these communities to support this agenda,” Gresham said.

For example, Taylor’s “Community as Classroom” project, in partnership with Futures Academy, has worked with more than 1,000 children, teaching them how to use their classroom lessons to solve neighborhood development problems.

– See more at:

Massachusetts Avenue Project Featured on Food Tank

The Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP), a long-time community partner of the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab, was recently featured in an article on Food Tank for their commitment to empowering young people and working to achieve city-wide change. We are delighted to see their work featured. Read on for the full article below.

Empowering Young People and Nurturing Equitable Food Systems

The Massachusetts Avenue Project in Buffalo, New York, is fostering healthy food access opportunities and social change education for young adults. Its mission is to “nurture the growth of a diverse and equitable local food system and promote local economic opportunities, access to affordable, nutritious food, and social change education.” Food Tank had the opportunity to interview with Danielle Rovillo, Markets Director of the Massachusetts Avenue Project.

Food Tank (FT): Please share how The Massachusetts Avenue Project was started and how the organization has grown.

Danielle Rovillo (DR): Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP) was started by neighborhood residents in 1992 as a block club and incorporated as a nonprofit in 2000. The original objective was to grow food, beautify the neighborhood, and bring people together. Over time, the organization has grown, but two main foci remain: to work with and help develop young people into productive adults and advocates for food equity and to ensure fresh and nutritious food is accessible to those who need it most. Today, MAP employs 50 teenagers and grows over 80 varieties of vegetables on 14 city lots. MAP also maintains the first aquaponics system in Buffalo and raises tilapia, a couple of really cool koi, and other aquaculture.

To get the food where it needs to be, MAP operates the Mobile Market, a farm stand on wheels. MAP brings fresh fruits and veggies from their urban farm and local partner farms to areas that do not otherwise have easy access to fresh food. MAP also plays a role in Buffalo’s Food Policy Council.

FT: Please describe the Growing Green Youth Program and Growing Green Urban Farm. How are these programs affecting the community?

DR: MAP’s Growing Green Youth program hires two groups of teens in the summer and one group during the school year. Teens new to the organization learn how the food system brings food to their plate. We empower them with knowledge about growing, cooking, and eating fresh food as well as offer support in their pursuit of education and career development. Teens who return as ‘veterans’ compete for positions in our three main work groups: Farm and Garden; Nutrition and Enterprise; and Citizenship and Organizing. All of our work with teens centers around our mission to improve access to fresh food for all. Their work is documented on their blog.

The Growing Green Urban Farm is a full-scale production farm. We plan our crops around sales on the Mobile Market. Our main crop and best seller in 2015 was collard greens. We also grew salad greens, herbs, beets, radishes, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, and eggplants.

These programs contribute to Buffalo’s communities in many different ways. First, all of our teens graduate high school and an overwhelming majority head to college. Our teens become advocates for food equity and representatives of our organization, and also gain leadership, public speaking, and self-sufficiency skills. Secondly, the farm feeds so many people! We distributed about 18,000 pounds of food in 2014 to over 1,200 individuals. We have educators at each site, offer recipes, and try to instill confidence in our shoppers that they can execute tasty recipes at home.

FT: What is a recent accomplishment or project that the Massachusetts Avenue Project is proud of? Please explain.

DR: We are on the brink of a really big change. We are building a new farmhouse with training space, meeting space, cold storage, tool storage, and more! Currently, we operate out of many spaces in our community. Our main office is in the heart of a small, urban commercial district. Our farm is almost a mile away in a residential neighborhood. We do all of our cooking with teens in a nearby church kitchen. Our farm tools and supplies are housed in a vacant home on one of the lots we farm on. The walking from place to place, the disconnect between facilities, and the absence of adequate food storage on-site all contributed to the need for an inclusive space.

FT: Please share a recent challenge that you have had with the Massachusetts Avenue Project.

DR: One of the biggest challenges I face is language. We have a huge population of amazing new Americans, many of whom have little English and rely on their children for translation. This can make our work very tough! For example, we grew noodle beans the past few summers. They were popular at a market with many Bangladeshi customers, none of whom spoke much English past, “How much?” It was exciting to see how happy these families were to get the beans, but I’ve been dying to know what they make with them. I wish I could ask!

Another great example: one of our teens, Khadijah, is from Kenya originally and spends most of her time in the summer with me at Mobile Market sites. One day, a large family passed our stand. The woman muttered something as she walked by, and I heard Khadijah say something to her in a different language. The entire family turned around and entered our stand. After talking to Khadijah, the family purchased three bags of produce, which is an awful lot compared to most customers at our stands. Khadijah helped this family understand an incentive program we had for food stamp recipients called Double Up Food Bucks. There was absolutely no way I could have explained anything about food stamps to this family. Khadijah made this family’s visit to our farm stand possible. I remind her often how important this is and how proud I am to have her on the stand with me.

FT: How can individuals become involved in the Massachusetts Avenue Project?

DR: There are a number of ways you can become involved with MAP. First, anyone who eats fresh food or wants to eat fresh food in Buffalo can support our work by shopping at our Mobile Market stands. MAP also has volunteer projects on the farm in the spring and fall, and we hold a farm tour each week from spring through late fall. If you’re interested in MAP but not close by, you can support our work by joining the conversation on social media. Connect with us, support an event or drive, share our page with a friend, and drop us a comment or two. We love hearing what is going on in other communities, and making connections is very important to us.

UB Reporter Runs Article on Interdisciplinary Studio Course

The UB Reporter featured an article on the interdisciplinary studio taught by Professor Korydon Smith and Professor Samina Raja in Maradu, India over the winter break.  See the full article below to see how University at Buffalo students are developing a public sanitation plan that integrates public health, urban planning, and civil engineering.

UB students travel to India to help town create sanitation plan

UB students Vasikan Vijayashanthar and Connor Hannan (middle) talk about their work with Greeshma Joy Kallingal (far left) and Sreelakshmi C J (far right), both from the College of Engineering, Thiruvananthapuram.

UB students Vasikan Vijayashanthar and Connor Hannan (middle) talk about their work with Greeshma Joy Kallingal (far left) and Sreelakshmi C J (far right), both from the College of Engineering in Thiruvananthapuram, India, as part of an interdisciplinary spring studio offered through UB’s School of Architecture and Planning.


Published February 29, 2016

The world’s most pressing problems can’t be solved with one approach or seen through a single lens. That’s the thinking behind a spring studio course offered at UB that aims to help a community in India develop a much-needed public sanitation plan.

Thirteen graduate students in this interdisciplinary studio offered through the School of Architecture and Planning joined two faculty members and two teaching assistants in India for three weeks in January, interviewing local residents, government officials, staff and engineers in Maradu, a municipality of about 50,000 people in the state of Kerala, located in the southwestern tip of the country.

Over the next few months, they’ll process all the data they collected to develop a report that will inform a public sanitation plan for Maradu.

“The systems we’re going to recommend have to be dynamic. Implementing a waste management plan isn’t going to solve all of these issues. It’s going to require a bunch of solutions and little behavioral changes that can have smaller impacts, which will lead to larger change,” says Vasikan Vijayashanthar, a master of science in civil engineering student from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences who is in the studio.

The need for a public sanitation plan is great: 774 million people in India lack household toilets, according to a November 2015 report by WaterAid. Open defecation is common, causing severe public health issues such as the spread of disease.

While Maradu has better infrastructure in place than some parts of India, the municipality needed assistance in developing its sanitation plan.

“The students’ report will help contribute to the Maradu town council’s plan and advance that process,” says Korydon Smith, associate professor of architecture and a co-leader of Global Health Equity, one of several new “Communities of Excellence” UB launched last spring to help address major global issues in an interdisciplinary way.

Smith is co-leading the spring studio with Samina Raja, associate professor of urban and regional planning and principal investigator of the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab at UB.

The interdisciplinary nature of the studio — the 13 students come from architecture, urban planning, environmental engineering and public health — mirrors a real-world approach to solving major public health problems in developing countries. That’s intentional.

“This is unique. To our knowledge, this is the only civically engaged, multidisciplinary study abroad studio of its kind,” Smith says.

Adds Raja: “Students have been part of the full planning process — from survey development, to data collection, to precedent research and proposal-making, including collaboration with partners and stakeholders.”

An eye-opening experience

The students’ time in India was particularly impactful. The need they saw for better water and sanitation systems is precisely the reason Sucharita Paul, who received her MD in 1995 from SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, decided to return to school after working eight years as an attending physician in the emergency department at Buffalo General Hospital.

“I’ve been a practicing physician for several years and part of the reason I decided to do a master of public health at UB was because I wanted to get more focused on the importance of preventive care and good health,” says Paul, who received her bachelor’s degree from UB, where she also did her residency in emergency medicine.

“This has been a rewarding, real-life public health experience for me. It’s immersed me. Instead of being in the classroom for the past year and learning a lot of theory, it’s been rewarding to actually touch other human beings and feel like you’re making an impact — not person-to-person at the bedside, but on a much broader level,” adds Paul, who is also a clinical assistant professor of emergency medicine in UB’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

“A lot of us were thrown into roles that we never normally have and that our education wouldn’t normally cover,” says Kenzie McNamara, a master of architecture student.

International and community partners

The India-focused studio developed from a chance conversation at a conference between Raja and Bharat Singh, a UB alumnus and planner with international experience.

Singh mentioned the work of Suresh Rohilla, an environmental planner who heads the Water Department for the Center for Science and Environment (CSE), an India-based research think tank leading the public sanitation effort for the entire country.

Last summer, a two-person team from Raja’s lab traveled to New Delhi, Kerala and Kashmir to visit potential sites for the studio, and to meet with potential partners, including Rohilla. “We were quite impressed by CSE’s work, especially in Kerala,” Raja says.

Other partners include GIZ, a German organization similar to the U.S. Agency for International Development; the College of Engineering, Thiruvananthapuram located in nearby Kerala; and K. Vasuki, executive director of the Suchitwa Mission, a state sanitation agency.

The UB students paired with students from Thiruvananthapuram and split into teams. One group conducted surveys with approximately 75 households to learn more about water usage and storage, food systems, disease in the area, and general health and sanitation behaviors.

Other students, through diagramming and photography, documented the built environment, including basic floor plans of homes, as well as water and waste-management systems.

In addition, students developed a GIS database that links physical and spatial information to demographic and statistical data.

Throughout the remainder of the spring semester, they’ll consolidate and synthesize all the data they collected to develop their report, which will be sent to Maradu city leaders. The studio ends this semester, but Raja noted there will be additional opportunities for students to continue their work in Maradu.

– See more at:

error: Content is protected !!