NE1049: Community Health and Resilience
Statement of Issues and JustificationThe NE-1029 group (Rural Change: Markets, Governance and Quality of Life) formally requests consideration for a revision/replacement as its five year term comes to a close. The group was organized more than four years ago prior to the establishment of the new NIFA focus areas. Although many of the projects conducted under the old priority areas carry over nicely into the new standards, it is clear to the group that it must reestablish itself in the context of the new priorities.
The new Science Roadmap identifies seven priority areas:
- Enhancing the sustainability, competitiveness, and profitability of U. S. food and agricultural systems.
- Adapting to and mitigating the impacts of climate change on food, feed, fiber and fuel systems in the U.S.
- Supporting energy security and the development of the bio-economy from renewable natural resources in the U.S.
- Playing a global leadership role to ensure a safe, secure and abundant food supply for the U.S. and the world.
- Improving human health, nutrition and wellness of the US population.
- Heightening environmental stewardship through the development of sustainable management practices.
- Strengthening individual, family and community development and resilience.
Historically, members of the group have focused on elements 1, 3, and 7. For example, ongoing projects in these areas include:
- Local foods and sustainable small scale agriculture
- Bio and renewable energy
- Water and environmental issues pertaining to rural communities
- Rural amenities and economic growth and development
- Tourism, agricultural tourism and recreation
- Agricultural labor force
- Rural access to information technology
- Human capital and regional labor markets
More generally, rural communities are comprised of the people, their businesses and farms, their organizations, and governance. The quality of rural life both affects and is affected by the movement of people into and out of rural communities, the evolution of agriculture and industry, local social organization, and public policy. In its 2011 annual meeting, the group identified two primary research areas around which it wishes to engage in the coming years: Local/Regional Foods; and Community Resilience and Natural/Human-Made Disasters.
I) LOCAL/REGIONAL FOODS
Objective: To better understand the emerging opportunities and threats to the economic structure of non-metropolitan communities arising from the potential shifts in local and regional food systems. Issues to be considered include:
- Thinking regionally
- Food security, including the issue of food deserts
- Tourism, including rural amenities and agriculture tourism
- Systemic changes, including Internet use,
a. Market size and location of communities on the rural-urban continuum -- Demand for locally-produced food is fundamentally related to the size of the local customer base. Hence, the distance from local farms to significant markets is important to understanding the workings of local and regional food systems. An overarching research topic for this objective centers on assessing the importance of proximity to unique urban markets to the sustained viability of local food systems (including direct markets and emerging supply chains for Farm to Chef and Farm to School). As researchers of rural economies we can contribute to the understanding of the spatial dimensions of local/regional foods.This would complement other work on market drives and financial viability by exploring the place-based characteristics which may support or deter the success of local food system investments.
b. Determinants of producers' participation in local foods markets -- Understanding the motivations of producers selling foods locally is essential in gauging the ultimate extent to which demand for food can be met by local producers. A related issue centers on the role of policies (such as burgeoning "buy local" campaigns) in facilitating participation of farmers in local food systems.
c. Determinants of consumer demand for local foods -- Understanding the motivations of consumers at farmers' markets and other venues at which local foods are traded represents an important component of assessing the size of local and regional food markets, as well as their ultimate impact on local economies. It is also important information in gauging the potential positive impacts of increased availability of local foods on nutritional outcomes and the distribution of those outcomes across different types of consumers (e.g., rich versus poor, different ethnic groups, etc.)
d. Economic impact assessment of local and regional food systems -- Locally purchased foods tend to substitute for food that is "imported" from other locales and sold at local grocery stores and other retail outlets. Moreover, support of the local economy is often one of the key promotional messages of buy local campaigns. An important research activity therefore is to assess the overall economic impact of growth in local food markets on the local economy in light of attendant reduction in other retail food activity.
There is some belief that there is a connection between market access, public health goals and the structure of food systems. To extend the spatial analyses we develop, other assessment tools (mapping of public health indicators, exploring relationships between public health outcomes and food system structure) could be useful to public policy makers. There is an emerging literature on food deserts, and how poor access to good foods may affect dietary choices, and our project could complement more public health-oriented assessments by exploring the economic development and place-based demand and supply characteristics may support or constrain availability of more healthful foods (fresh produce).
II) COMMUNITY RESILIENCE AND NATURAL/HUMAN-MADE DISASTERS
Objective: To identify and analyze policies and strategies contributing to the viability and resiliency of communities in responding to economic and policy changes and to natural and human-made shocks.
- Natural disasters - floods, hurricanes, tornados, etc.
- Human-made "disasters" - economic, terrorism, poor pest policies, etc.
- Resiliency in this context is more than emergency management. Long-term perspective is critical, not the short-term FEMA-type view such as a focus on rebuilding in damaged areas. Our focus is on long-run sustainability and ability of communities to respond to changes and to grow.
a. Social capital - the ability of a community to sustain and rebuild after natural and/or man-made disasters hinges on the social capital within the community. Notions of trust, networks and ease of cooperation to address problems are fundamental to community resiliency and sustainability. How one can measure social capital upon which to build a solid research foundation and inform public policy will be a central thrust of the proposed work.
b. Public infrastructure and finance - Rural infrastructure is composed of both public and private capital/infrastructure. Private infrastructure includes the physical stock of capital such as farm structures, manufacturing facilities, and commercial buildings as well as private residences such as housing. Public capital includes physical structures that are vital to the functioning of the local community including schools, roads and bridges, police and fire stations, and other public buildings. The ability of rural communities to reinvest in these public infrastructures is vital to the sustainability and resilience of rural communities.
c. Regional and multi-community cooperation - an important dimension of social capital and rural economic growth and development hinges on the community to look to neighboring communities for learning, support and resources. Movement towards regional cooperation will help build community resiliency and sustainability. Research on best practices will help inform local communities how to best move forward.
d. Regional economic clusters, diversity, and structure
e. Human capital - the resilience of a community depends critically on the human capital available, which includes not only the education and health of individuals in the community but also leadership and entrepreneurial skills. For rural areas, the regional labor market also impacts the sustainability and resilience of the community.
f. Population loss, aging population, migration, home ownership - certain challenges like aging population are foreseeable, but communities need the capacity to respond.
g. Environment, climate change, water issues, rural natural amenities
h. State and local public finance
A number of additional topics of interest have been identified:
- What does home ownership mean to community resilience?
- What about the aging population in rural or declining urban areas mean? E.g. Michigan's shrinking city population. What is the social impact?
- What does infrastructure really mean? What types of infrastructure are we addressing here?
- Economic clusters versus economic diversification?
- Historically rural communities have cooperated in development and administration of landfills.
Our stakeholders are federal, state, and local government policymakers, community leaders, members of the academic community, and the citizenry. Most in the NE1029 research group have Extension appointments and are directly responsible for taking the research findings supported via this proposal to the citizenry. Current and future research, for example, is being used in testimony before state legislatures and on-going evaluation of federal rural development programs. Currently, for another example, a researcher is working on developing a web-based set of local government fiscal health indicators that will serve smaller governments throughout Michigan in the coming years.
Researchers within the group have the expertise and are conducting research in the each of the proposal's focus areas and are poised to extend this work. For example, members have and continue to work on issues such as disaster resilience (Iowa-floods, Michigan-natural disaster resilience, Pennsylvania-infectious disease); sustainability of communities and local governments in periods of crises (Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri Ohio, Tennessee, Wisconsin); rural change and migration (Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin); and local/regional foods and agri-tourism (Colorado, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin).
This project requires an integration of social sciences. Feasibility depends on the degree of innovativeness and the quantity and quality of scientific method applied to each topic. Because the problems are common across states, we enjoy efficiencies and returns to scale by collaborating. We can cover multifaceted issues by parsing the facets and specializing, then meeting to organize the whole. Although many challenges are the same, states are also different. This interstate variation helps to statistically identify relationships between dependent and explanatory variables. Thus, interstate collaboration provides more suitable cross-section time series databases. Multi-state collaboration also lends valuable support to innovation, which is by definition the application of an existing invention to a new purpose. By interacting in a multi-state group we achieve intellectual synergies.
We hope to build on our knowledge base, better utilize our resources through the synergies of collaboration, help create more efficient rural policy, and help improve the sustainability and vitality of rural communities.
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