In early 2023, Hillsborough County awarded a grant to the USF College of Arts and Sciences Center for the Advancement of Food Security and Healthy Communities (CAFSHC) to serve as the research training and evaluation arm of an innovative endeavor to promote the local food system, called Homegrown Hillsborough.
The food system comprises the total whole of food production, distribution, and consumption at all levels, and the mission of CAFSHC is to promote health and well-being through innovative measures and applied research, especially in the realm of food insecurity.
Led by Dr. David Himmelgreen, a professor in the Department of Anthropology in the USF College of Arts and Sciences, CAFSHC aims to transform the conversation about hunger, food insecurity, and food sovereignty, using research and education, to facilitate social equity that results in healthier communities in Tampa Bay and beyond.
This partnership between CAFSHC and Hillsborough County is one of the latest collaborations CAFSHC has taken on, supporting the next generation of students and applied researchers in the process.
Himmelgreen oversees two anthropology graduate students assisting with the project, Deven Gray and Nicole Kennady, who are training key stakeholders to enter their communities and interview players in the food system ranging from farmers, food bank coordinators, and urban growers attempting to address food insecurity or support their businesses.
Gray, who is actively collaborating with these stakeholders, says he hopes the research team will continue to gain a better understanding of the food system through this project, which includes developing strategies to connect stakeholders and build a vibrant food system that employs novel approaches to resource management, production, processing, distribution (supply chains), marketing, and consumption.
“Ultimately, the goal is to eliminate food insecurity and improve health and well-being in Tampa Bay,” he said.
In addition to this community member training, the CAFSHC team is performing an analysis of these interviews, finding key trends in the data, and identifying future directions of Homegrown Hillsborough to support the food system program coordinator for Hillsborough County, Monica Petrella, who is working to create a connected network of partners within our food system.
“The ‘big hope’ we have is that by creating a strategic plan based on this research, Homegrown Hillsborough can be the cornerstone of food systems work in the county,” Gray explained. “We want it to be the name people think about when they want to get more involved in their food system ranging from starting up a community garden to promoting their food business. We all belong to our food system, so becoming more connected with it and the food that we eat goes a long way to promote health and wellness through affordable and nutritious food.”
“This work underscores the role that USF plays across disciplines in working with the county to examine and find solutions to pressing problems in Tampa Bay,” he continued. “This is particularly important considering the growing and increasingly diverse population in the region.”
The project is in year one of a multi-year endeavor and CAFSHC plans to continue this work going into 2024 and beyond, with student-led projects and research initiatives that promote the mission of Homegrown Hillsborough through grounded medical anthropology research and applied practice.