Category Archives: Current Projects

Growing Food Policy From the Ground Up (GFPGU)

Why this project?

Urban food systems have the potential to provide locally produced, affordable and healthy foods to low-income communities of color. Urban agriculture reduces transportation emissions and sewer outflows, mitigates urban heat island effect, creates jobs, greens and beautifies urban spaces, reintroduces farming to youth and adults of color, generates amenity and property values, and promotes social cohesion. Local governments can help urban food systems reach this potential through a variety of mechanisms including zoning land for farming, tax credits, and grants for urban growers. Yet, policymakers rarely enact these policies, and when they do it is often without input from growers of color. 

Urban food systems and urban growers face unique challenges. Urban farmers must compete with housing and retail developers for expensive land. Urban lots often have limited access to energy and water, and are covered by restrictive zoning ordinances. Local governments often incentivize land development that, on the surface, generate property taxes at the expense of other benefits. Additionally, municipal policies give little consideration to the long term balance of fiscal impacts — the net of revenues and expenditures incurring from land development. The constraints are amplified for growers of color who are excluded from accessing land, capital, information and other resources.

Experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic have illustrated the need for well-functioning urban food systems. Design of such systems ought to be informed by experiences of community networks, especially communities of color who are impacted by malfunctioning food systems. 

The Growing Food Policy from the Ground Up (GFPGU) Project is a collaborative effort to support urban growers of color in Buffalo, NY and Minneapolis, MN. Improved policy awareness helps urban growers better access land, water and resources. Ultimately, urban food systems and grower-policymaker networks lead to healthier, vibrant urban communities.

What communities is the project focused on?

The project is focused on neighborhoods of color in the cities of Buffalo, NY and Minneapolis, MN.

What is the project doing?

The GFPGU team is executing a multi-year action-research project that combines action on the ground with research. The project will support growers of color in Buffalo and Minneapolis through capacity building efforts and mini-grants. The initiative will also amplify the power of social networks in transforming urban food systems and urban food policy. The project has three key aims to:

  1. Conduct a retrospective examination that documents the nature, extent, and intensity of social networks in UFS, and their role in facilitating food systems level change
  2. Examine the disconnects between local government policy networks and food system networks, especially those affecting urban growers of color; and
  3. Develop and test the role of historically-informed, community-led, and technologically savvy methods in engaging urban growers to emerge as leaders in local policy networks.

Using a variety of qualitative and quantitative methods, the research team is studying the role of social networks and social capital in urban food systems. Working with community partners in Buffalo and Minneapolis — cities with strong community-led urban agriculture organizations — the researchers are studying current urban food systems policy networks for their organizing capabilities. The research, which is being co-produced by university and community partners, is taking place mainly in areas that are historically communities of color. The team is also examining the divides between local government networks and urban food systems networks that limit urban agriculture.

Using this information, the community partners and researchers will work with urban growers, particularly growers of color, to develop cooperative strategies to engage with local governments. These efforts include peer trainers with experience in engaging local governments, microgrants and developing urban farming tools that extend the growing season.

After putting the strategies into action, researchers will evaluate their effectiveness in empowering growers’ engagement in building new social networks between growers and policymakers. Researchers will also determine whether these networks have resulted in projects and policies favorable to urban farming and growers’ capabilities.

Who drives this project?

The project is co-produced by a team of community and university researchers and partners. The team of university researchers includes Martha Bohm (UB), Emmanuel Frimpong Boamah (UB), Fernando Burga (UMN),  Yeeli Mui (Johns Hopkins), and Samina Raja (UB). Community-focused work is led by Allison DeHonney (UFV), Michelle Horowitz (AFC),  Darryl Lindsey (AFC), Queen Frye, Diane Picard (MAP), and Rebekah Williams (FFS).

Who supports this project?

The project is supported by a $999,680 award through FFAR’s Seeding Solutions program. Funding from FFAR is being matched by the University at Buffalo, Johns Hopkins University (with support from the Bloomberg American Health Initiative), the University of Minnesota, Appetite For Change, Massachusetts Avenue Project and Urban Fruits & Veggies.

Contact.  Reach out to the project coordinator Carol Ramos at for more information.  

Resources for residents in neighborhoods east of Main Street in Buffalo

In Buffalo, this project focuses on the following neighborhoods East of Main Street: Delavan Grider, Kensington-Bailey, Masten Park, Pratt-Willert, Broadway Filmore, Fruit Belt, and MLK Park. We recognize that residents in the neighborhoods have a number of food-related and ancillary needs. Linked here is a document with supportive services for people who are participating in the GFPGU project.



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

Buffalo Neighborhood Food Project Evaluation Study

The Buffalo Neighborhood Food Project builds on the past successes of Grassroots Gardens of Buffalo (GGB) and the Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP) in improving local food systems in the City of Buffalo. In the Buffalo Neighborhood Food Project, these organizations are partnering to achieve four goals:

1)      To meet the food needs of low income youth and families in Buffalo

2)      To advocate for policy in support of food systems development

3)      To increase the self-reliance of our community in providing for our own food needs

4)      To create a comprehensive and replicable school garden program

The Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab is partnering with these two organizations to evaluate the programs each organization has implemented to meet these four goals. This involves data collection on food cultivation outcomes at GGB’s 76 community gardens and five school gardens in the City of Buffalo, and at MAP’s urban farm on Buffalo’s West Side.

This project is funded through a competitive grant awarded to GGB and MAP by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, United States Department of Agriculture.

Project Lead: Jenny Whittaker

Active Commuting in the Sweet Home Central School District

SHS_SRTS_logoSafe Routes to Schools programs seek to foster improvements that facilitate active commuting in five thematic areas: education, encouragement, engineering, enforcement, and evaluation. The Town of Amherst, New York is the lead sponsor of a Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program that builds off a successful 2008 SRTS program in the Williamsville Central School District. This project, funded through the United States Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, facilitates infrastructure and non-infrastructure improvements to increase active commuting to schools in the Amherst Central and Sweet Home Central school districts.

The Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab is actively involved in the education, encouragement, and evaluation components of this program in the Sweet Home Central School District and the Amherst Central School District through events such as Walk to School Day and other active commuting events. The Town of Amherst Engineering Department is our partner in engineering, and the Town of Amherst Police Department is our partner in enforcement.

Team Members: Samina Raja, Sora Baek, Bumjoon Kang, Jeanne Leccese, Elizabeth Machnica


The Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab has developed a number of resources in partnership with the Sweet Home Central School District and the Town of Amherst. These resources include maps for each district elementary school that indicate safe walking and bicycling routes to school and infographics with useful information and facts about walking and bicycling for parents, students and school administrators. In addition, we have published the results of a survey of parents from the Sweet Home Central School District. These resources can be found below.

Growing Together: A Sustainable Regional Plan for Food Access and Justice

Growing Together is a sustainable food access and food justice report for Erie and Niagara Counties, located in Western New York State.  Through research and stakeholder engagement, the Food Lab is identifying assets and opportunities within the region’s food system.  In partnership with the University at Buffalo Regional Institute, the Food Lab aims to craft tools that the bi-counties’ many municipalities can use to strengthen:  the viability of food production; access to nutritious, culturally acceptable, and affordable food; and the linkages between food producers and eaters within their communities and the region.

Growing Together is one of five components of the bi-counties’ One Region Forward sustainability plan, which is funded by $2 million from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Partnership for Sustainable Communities Initiative.  One Region Forward focuses on planning sustainably for food access and justice; land use and development; transportation and mobility; housing and neighborhoods; and climate change.   The project is currently in the second year of HUD’s three-year planning grant.

Team members: Jessica Hall (Project Manager), Cristina Delgado, Travis Norton.

Growing Food Connections: Building Local Government Capacity to Promote Food Access

This five-year comprehensive research, education, and extension initiative aims to strengthen local and regional food systems in the United States by building local governments’ capacity to reconnect farmers with under-served consumers.

The research team will conduct a national study of innovative food systems policies that simultaneously promote food access and strengthen the local and regional agricultural sector. Drawing on the successes and challenges of these policies, the team will develop policy tools and provide technical assistance to 20 vulnerable urban and rural communities in the United States. The technical assistance is designed to build the capacity of their local government staff, extension educators, consumers, and farmers to develop and implement more effective food system policies.

In order to nurture the next generation of food systems policy thinkers and professionals, the team will prepare and disseminate multi-disciplinary curricular materials on food systems planning and policy for adoption in universities across the United States.

Partners: American Farmland Trust,  American Planning Association, Cultivating Healthy Places, Ohio State University, and the University at Buffalo (project lead)

Sponsor(s): Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, National Institute of Food and Agriculture

Visit the dedicated project site:

Influence of Community Food Projects on Healthy Eating Behavior Among Youth

This study evaluates the role of children’s engagement in community food projects on their eating behaviors and their awareness of the local food system. This study, conducted in close partnership with our local community partner Massachusetts Avenue Project, focuses on youth living in Buffalo, NY.

Partners: Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP)

Sponsors: USDA, MAP

Influence of Park Design on Physical Activity among Youth

Using Delaware Park, a signature park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, as a site of inquiry, this study examines the role of park design on the type, location, and intensity of physical activity among children. Subjects include children between the ages of 8 and 15 years who live within one mile of Delaware park. Intensity of physical activity was measured using an accelerometer and location of physical activity was measured using a global positioning system (GPS).

Investigators: James Roemmich, PhD (USDA; formerly with Division of Behavioral Medicine, UB), Samina Raja, PhD (Urban and Regional Planning, UB), Li Yin, PhD (Urban and Regional Planning, UB) and Leonard H Epstein, PhD (Division of Behavioral Medicine, UB)

Sponsors: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation


Physical Activity of Youth: Neighborhood Environment Influences

The study is investigating the influence of the built environment on physical activity when sedentary activity is restricted among obese adolescents. Sedentary behavior was restricted using a TV and computer allowance device. Participants were selected based on their home’s location in relation to parks and public recreation facilities. Half of the subjects’ homes were located within high accessibility to parks and public recreation facilities. The study utilized GPS units and accelerometers to track subject’s movement and intensity of physical activity.

Investigators: James N. Roemmich, Phd (USDA; formerly Division of Behavioral Medicine, UB), Leonard H. Epstein, PhD (Division of Behavioral Medicine), Samina Raja, PhD (Urban and Regional Planning),  Li Yin, PhD (Urban and Regional Planning)

Sponsor(s): National Institute of Health (NIH)