The Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project: A Gillings Innovative Laboratory

Service-Learning Students Help With Cooking Demonstration at IFFS Mobile Market

Saturday February 18th, Nutrition 245 student Christine Sun attended her first Inter-Faith Food Shuttle (IFFS) Mobile Market at the West Durham Baptist Church. Along with her service-learning group, Sun assisted in providing a healthy cooking demonstration on Confetti Kale.

“There was a lot of positive feedback from the crowd and they seemed to really enjoy the kale,” noted Sun, who will be volunteering with IFFS throughout the semester.

According to Sun, she was nervous about whether or not people would be interested in the cooking demonstration because it wasn’t many people’s main reason for coming to the Mobile Market. These Mobile Markets provide low-income communities with fresh produce, free of charge, once a month.

“However, many people seemed really interested and engaged in our demonstration.  After our demonstration, people came up to thank us and say how they really appreciated our presentation,” stated Sun.

In addition to the live cooking demonstration, a fun “monthly food challenge” was given to the crowd – to try to make a meal with three different colored fruits and vegetables.

Sun stated, “I’m interested to see if people follow through and share what they cooked at the next Mobile Market.  I really enjoyed my time at the Mobile Market, and I’m excited to start working on ideas for the next one!”


Designing Information about Food
March 5, 2010, 3:40 pm
Filed under: Food, Media, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

Public health practitioners are at the forefront of working with vulnerable communities on significant issues—that’s why I found it promising recently to see two students from the UNC School of Public Health in a multimedia class I’m taking at the School of Journalism. I hope the skills I gain in multimedia storytelling will allow me to partner with public health experts to most effectively communicate stories about local food systems.

I am a beginner when it comes to multimedia production, but thanks to Professor Laura Ruel, one of our School’s finest teachers in visual communication, I’m learning the basics of what makes for effective multimedia storytelling. Professor Ruel is sought out by industry powerhouses like the New York Times for her research on user behavior and eye-tracking, and the evaluation of cognitive processes as it relates to multimedia journalism.

So, what does the term multimedia really mean, and what makes for successful multimedia? Yes, it is multiple forms of media—graphics, flash, photography, video, audio—but more importantly, successful multimedia means that each medium selected tells that portion of the story best, and that each medium fits with others into one final seamless product. I’ve included a video produced by the advertising giant Ogilvy on the Canadian local food system. Let me know what you think. Do you find the graphics and multiple media to work seamlessly together? Does the Hellman’s Mayonnaise corporate sponsorship conflict with the message? Do you see any other uses for multimedia tools such as this to further public health work?

A Few Words on Infographics:

I’m finding that many talented designers are beginning to create graphics on nutrition-related topics, seasonal food charts, and food systems. Infographics are essentially visual representations of data. They can range from a basic subway map, to some of the complex 3-D interactives you find on I’ve included links to a few food related graphics that caught my attention and may be helpful to folks promoting local foods campaigns that have similar components to the Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project.

Example #1:

This example was shown in class by Professor Ruel and was praised by a lot of students because it is a fairly attractive graphic. Colorful, bright, optimistic. It shows a lot of information without overwhelming the viewer. At the same time, a student pointed out that one of the key food groups, vegetables, was shaded yellow, a color difficult to read online. I was thrown off by the misspelling of “Quince” and as a result couldn’t objectively look at this graphic. To the designer’s defense, Adobe Illustrator, the software used to create most of these graphics, does not include spell-check.

Example #2:

Disclaimer. This isn’t a graphic. It’s a photograph. I included it because it drives home the point that the visual medium can make simple points very effectively without needing words or numbers. I’m not a nutrition scientist, but I imagine one of the (many) challenges for nutritionists is to communicate the grave consequences of, in this case, excessive sugar consumption.

How much sugar is there in a small can of regular Coke? One regular can of Coca Cola contains 39 grams of sugar or 9 1/2 sugar cubes. This might not mean much when you read the words, but look at each sugar cube and my hunch is that the manner in which we process that visual information is quite different. One of the ways researchers measure effective use of media is through testing information recall between words and images. I’ll need to follow up to see if research has been conducted on information recall as it relates to food images and text.

Example #3:

Great use of color, negative space, and playful symbols. GOOD has been at the forefront of cutting edge design, but this graphic might be a piece that lends itself better to print then to an online format. In order to read any of the text or know what each fruit/vegetable symbol stands for, you need to zoom in or click F for fullscreen. And for those really wanting to know what’s in season in each of these states, one symbol for ‘Greens’ isn’t very helpful.

With so many creative infographics on nutrition and food-related topics, you could spend hours sleuthing the Internet. Informational graphics and multimedia are powerful communication tools, so let us know if you have any favorites related to sustainable agriculture and food.

Sabrina López

Southeast Youth Food Activist Summit a Success

Sabrina López here again. As I mentioned in an earlier post, UNC-CH hosted the second annual Southeast Youth Food Activist Summit February 5-7th.

Out of the summit came an incredible amount of energy that students and youth will be bringing back to campuses and communities across the Southeast with a new resolve to strengthen and build the Southern Real Food Network.

A new generation of young people recognize that food system reform is necessary–and that access to fresh, healthy food is imperative. Anna Lappé, the Summit’s keynote speaker, explained that in championing food system reform, the opposing side will call us–the Good Food Movement– anti-science, anti-aid, and elitist. The term ‘elitist’ struck me most, perhaps because it is a word that I’m coming to terms with personally as I continue to learn and work in issues related to food and nutrition both at school and at home. When I speak with many of my friends in Carrboro, many mention that local food is more expensive, and that they would purchase more local produce if they had more disposable income to spend on locally sourced food.

As Lappé pointed out at the SYFAS Summit, “what is more elitist than a food system that can only provide fresh healthy food for those that can afford it?” Last fall, The Carrboro Farmers Market teamed up with HPDP and applied for grant funding to implement an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) Service so that customers can apply SNAP benefits (former Food Stamps) while shopping for produce and goods. The Carrboro Farmers Market does not currently accept SNAP benefits, but it will soon begin to do so. With all due respect to local supermarkets, I would love to see my friends use their SNAP benefits at the Carrboro Farmers Market in the near future!
More details to come on the Carrboro Farmers’ Market EBT Program.

what do you do for a living? An overview of the project
December 31, 2009, 2:58 pm
Filed under: Education, Health, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

I’ve heard that in England, a question that is almost always asked when you first meet someone is “Where did you go to university?” It allows people to put new introductions into context. Here in the US, I think most people would agree that our version of this question is “What do you do for a living?” For some, it’s an easy answer: teacher, doctor, waitress, lawyer, construction worker, hairstylist, student, the list goes on. For others, like me, it’s a bit more complicated. There is no way to describe my work without explaining The Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project. And there is no way to describe all that this project entails without going into a rather long monologue in which, depending on whom you’re talking to, the person’s eyes may just glaze over after a while. Other times,  I find myself in amazing conversations with fellow local food enthusiasts who are happy to share their thoughts about sustainable agriculture and offer up questions about the project.

Recently, I’ve been going to a lot of holiday parties. During this time, I’ve also been conducting interviews for this project. I’ve found that in both settings, a lot of people don’t have time to get into a lengthy overview of the Gillings project but would like to learn more about it when they have some time. We are now at the mid-point of the project, just having completed the first of a two-year funding timeframe.  So as we celebrate this halfway mile marker, I’ve written a summary of the major aims that will be helpful for anyone who wants to learn more about the scope of the project. If you want to know  about a specific aim, click on it and you’ll be directed to a bulleted list of what that aim entails; its goals, the research that is currently being done and the research that we plan to conduct as we go into the New Year. The bulleted lists are in no way meant to cover all that the aim involves, but serve as a short overview of what the aim covers.

Aim 1: Case Studies and Documentary Class – How are communities using local food production systems and innovative food distribution networks to create positive community economic development outcomes that can be replicated elsewhere?

Aim 2: Environmental Impacts – How do the environmental impacts of large-scale industrialized farming compare to local, sustainable farming systems?

Aim 3: Nutritional and Health Benefits – Does buying locally increase people’s intake of fruits and vegetables? How do garden curricula in schools affect the way children eat and think about food?

Aim 4: Economic Analysis – Analysis of local food sales through farmers markets and development of a geolocator tool for sitting markets.

Aim 5: Policy Analysis – Conduct an analysis to determine the best approach to presenting and disseminating agriculture and food systems impact assessment data to maximize the potential for policy influence.

I hope this summary of the major aims of The Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project is helpful. I know it’s a lot to pack into one project, but as research that is truly integrating a number of academic fields, issues and collective solutions, the project covers a lot of ground. I’ll be sure to continue to use the blog to update you on our process and findings as we head into the second year of funding. Happy New Year!

Geolocator Project
December 11, 2009, 4:45 pm
Filed under: Farmers Market | Tags: , ,

Researchers at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and The Renaissance Computing Institute are developing a tool to help farmers’ markets select ideal site locations in order to reach target consumers.  Community members, farmers, economic development professionals, marketers, food access advocates, nutritionists and economists are all collaborating intensely to make this happen.

Using tools to select ideal site locations is not a new practice for many businesses. Major retail giants such as Walmart and Sears use tools like this, so do fast food restaurant like McDonalds and Burger King. Even convenience stores like BP and 7-eleven pick new location sites with these types of tools. Now farmers markets will have their very own sophisticated market analysis tool to make informed decisions about where to consider situating a new farmers market venture or to relocate an existing market.

The folks at UNC and RENCI have been working for a year on this specific aim of the Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project to identify and catalog appropriate data sources to build this tool.  They are integrating consumer socio-economic demographics, traffic patterns, public transportation routes, sites of existing markets, consumer behavior trends, and hopefully (in the longer term) the locations and types of food producers and processing plants throughout North Carolina. All of this data will be integrated with metrics of success and failure of existing comparable farmers markets into a GIS-based mapping software tool.

Determining how to measure the success of a farmers market for the purposes of this tool has been one of the biggest challenges of this project.  For many, success is not simply the financial performance of a market, although for most it is clearly an indicator.  There are more complex reasons for starting a farmers market besides making it a profitable venue for farmers, and these include issues related to food access and reaching disadvantaged communities with fresh fruits and vegetables. For some the ideal is creating a market that is easily accessible to low income people, for others the ideal is to maximize gross sales potential for farmers.  Either way, if local food systems are to be viable, producers and communities will need guidance in how best to situate and design marketing options.  And no matter what the goals are when developing new farmers markets, the geolocator tool will be able to help balance all of these considerations.

The project is at its midpoint, with one year into development to create a prototype.  The hope is that at the completion point of the grant, November 2010, the tool will be at a beta stage for testing.  The next step would be to find funding to expand development of the tool to improve its’ widespread applicability and sophistication.  At that point, the tool will be able to be used by whomever is evaluating where to site a potential farmers market or where to relocate an existing market; farmers market organizations, town councils, city governments, economic development entities and food access professionals. Ultimately this geolocator will serve in a similar capacity as those sophisticated tools used by large corporations – to make an informed decision about site selection and choosing a location with the highest probability of success.

Contributed by Robin Crowder. For more information about this project please contact her at: