Understanding Urban Neighborhoods
Published November 15, 2023
By Catherine Donnelly
Rose Thomas, MPH/MSW ’23, believes macro-level change can improve the health of marginalized communities and came to UB to explore her interests through the MPH/MSW program. She took a circuitous path to get here, having switched majors several times as an undergrad. She finally chose to focus on understanding the impact of the environment on health and selected public health for her bachelor’s degree.
“I had many questions about city neighborhoods, like, ‘Why aren’t the sidewalks walkable? Where are healthy food options?’ and ‘How can we make neighborhoods healthier?’” she says.
“I realized I needed to expand my opportunities and chose social work because of how it unravels the history of structural racism and inequities that marginalized groups have faced,” she continues. “I was especially interested in learning more about how I can address these issues through macro social work, like nonprofit management, policy, and evaluation.”
At UB, she started with the MPH portion of her dual degree and then moved into social work courses, leveraging her team-building skills to create a community of peers who studied together.
“I was fortunate to know several other students doing the MPH/MSW, too,” she says. “I think it is a great combination, but the pandemic made it challenging. My advice to other students in this dual program is to advocate for yourself, work with your peers as a collective and talk to your professors.”
Thomas combined her MSW and MPH field placements to work at the International Institute of Buffalo in Survivor Support Services and at the Partnership for the Public Good, a community-based think tank that works on action-oriented research, policy development, and citizen engagement.
Outside of her required field experiences, Thomas also worked at the UB Food Lab and was able to conduct research that evaluated the Healthy Community Store Initiative to ensure the availability of healthy produce on the East Side of Buffalo and improve policies that help urban growers of color to have better access to resources.
“I have always wanted to help people affected by food apartheid. Overall health is impacted by the availability of nutrients, and food insecurity causes a lifetime of stress,” she says. “I loved that this lab reflected my values and beliefs, especially in terms of working on community-led research projects – uplifting the power, voice, and autonomy that community has.”
Before graduating, Thomas won a HRSA Public Health Scholarship for her efforts to strengthen the public health system and decrease health disparities for underserved communities. She also received the Julio Ramirez Memorial Award, dedicated to the late Ramirez and his passion for addressing social issues affecting the health of individuals, families, communities, and populations.
Today, Thomas is a public health consultant for the Ohio Department of Health in Columbus, Ohio. She was drawn to the position because it ensures that state programs for children adhere to health equity principles.
“Most of my experience has been working directly with youth or children,” she says. “Overseeing programmatic efforts on a wider scale is definitely a change, but I am excited to bring my experience with community engagement and evaluation.”
Do you know of a local jurisdiction that has adopted or updated policies related to urban agriculture or land access in the past ten years? The UB Food Lab is updating the municipal policy database Growing Food Connections. The update focuses on urban agriculture, particularly policies impacting land access. If you are aware of any such recently adopted policies, consider sharing them with Growing Food Connections. It will be added to the publicly available database. Please send any relevant information to the UB Food Lab at email@example.com.
Food policies should be informed by those who they intend to serve, but policy-making processes remain exclusive to privileged voices, knowledge, and experiences.
Historically, the women in Kashmir have remained empowered enough to be part of every sphere of life. Though they have traditionally picked a set of jobs as their careers in education, governance, business and medical science to suit their homemaking role, some of them have opted for challenging careers. Humaira Nabi talks to a number of Kashmir women scientists detailing their journeys in the challenging field and their core research focus
By Kashmir Life – 8:53 pm February 11, 2023
UB alumna leads Buffalo Freedom Gardens.
By CHARLOTTE HSU Published July 13, 2022
Summer is here, and with the arrival of the growing season, an initiative called Buffalo Freedom Gardens has given dozens of residents of Buffalo’s East Side neighborhoods a free raised bed garden.
On a Saturday in June, volunteers including UB Food Lab members joined Freedom Gardens founder Gail V. Wells to make the last of this year’s deliveries.
The team packed cedar wood planters, each expected to last at least a decade, into a U-Haul truck, along with bags of soil. Freedom Gardens recipients also get seeds and vegetable seedlings, garden gloves, a bright green watering can, and instructions on caring for the plants.
Each garden is a thing of joy — and an act of liberation, says Wells, a UB alumna who remains connected to the university community.
She points out that food has long been central to movements for freedom: “For Black people who are descendants of kidnapped and enslaved Africans, the way we could secure our safety and our families and build an economy for ourselves was first based on us being able to feed ourselves,” she says.
Dr Samina Raja plans cities, towns, and regions to promote health and food equity. An award-winning professor and founder of a globally recognized Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities laboratory, operating from the University of Buffalo, she and her team conduct research on how to develop equitable, sustainable, and healthy cities. Her research has been used to advise local and national governments within and outside the US, and international organizations like the UN’s FAO. In a freewheeling interview with Masood Hussain, she offers her ideas about Kashmir of her imagination.
Andrew Galarneau: Grassroots efforts help water seeds of food security on East Side
June 5, 2022 | Buffalo News, The: Web Edition Articles (NY)
Samina Raja, an internationally known University at Buffalo expert on building sustainable food systems and healthy communities, has spent more than 20 years studying how to help feed people living in neighborhoods without groceries, concentrating on Buffalo’s East Side.
The solution, in her estimation, is a classic case of something being simple, but not easy.
“The city’s Black neighborhoods need sustained structural investments, not fly-in, fly-out charity,” she and other UB Food Lab researchers said in an op-ed published at CivilEats.com.
“We are unlikely to remedy food inequities” without a greater understanding of what causes poor food environments, says Samina Raja, associate dean for research and inclusive excellence, and principal investigator of the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab at the University at Buffalo.
New research by UB Food Lab member Carol E Ramos-Gerena in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development
Food policies should be informed by those who they intend to serve, but policy-making processes remain exclusive to privileged voices, knowledge, and experiences. This article bridges food and policy scholarship with the critical literacy work of Paulo Freire to answer: how do we understand literacies tied to food policy? What does (or, what could) it mean to be food policy literate? In a new JAFSCD article, Carol E. Ramos-Gerena proposes five principles for conceptualizing critical food policy literacy that support food system transformations.
The paper suggests that efforts to promote critical food policy literacy must facilitate communities to (a) “read the world,” (b) “read the word,” (c) be critically aware of food policy processes and systems, (d) learn contextually and through authentic practice, and (e) enable people to negotiate and transform the world (their context) collectively.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR POLICY, PRACTICE, AND RESEARCH
Possessing knowledge on engaging with food policy processes is not commensurate with actual engagement. Thus, structural barriers to community participation must also be addressed. Food system planners and educators, particularly at the municipal level, should support locally-based citizen food organizations to engage in food policy. This support must go beyond assessing communities’ food policy literacy. Instead, it must intend to bridge the gap to ensure critical readiness for food policy engagement.
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How can Rochester rebuild its food infrastructure to make the system more equitable? Cities around the country are asking this question. The answers often include community gardens, urban farms, fresh food cooperatives, and more.
University at Buffalo urban planning professor, Samina Raja, will be in Rochester next week to discuss the issue as part of the Reshaping Rochester series. The podcast preview her talk on food equity by design.