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UMD Team Awarded $750K to Improve Food Security in Maryland

By Graham Binder

A University of Maryland team has been awarded $750,000 to address the complex and interconnected challenges of food and nutrition security in Maryland.

The award, part of an $11 million investment through the National Science Foundation’s Convergence Accelerator program, will create the Mid-Atlantic Food Resiliency Network (MFRN), a multidisciplinary effort to reduce hunger, food waste, barriers to food access and food deserts.

“Through support from the Convergence Accelerator, we aim to take our research around food and nutrition security to the next level,” said Stephanie Lansing, a professor of environmental science and technology who will lead the effort. “We will integrate many different parts and really hone in on the work that is being done across this spectrum at UMD, which we hope will result in a collaborative, convergence model that can make a real difference here in Maryland, with the ability to replicate throughout the mid-Atlantic.”

Lansing will focus on characterizing food waste and developing strategies to safely move it back into the market. The MFRN also comprises Vanessa Frias-Martinez, an associate professor of information studies who will focus on transportation and modeling; Caroline Boules, an assistant research professor in anthropology who will help the group understand the needs within urban communities; Hee-Jung Song, an associate professor of nutrition and food science who is an expert in consumer-driven education and behavior change; Cheng Gong, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering who will develop quantum materials nanosensors to detect spoiled food and reduce food waste; Lisa Alexander in UMD’s Department of Resident Life, an expert in sustainability programs; Oliver Schlake, a clinical professor in UMD’s Robert H. Smith School of Business who teaches entrepreneurship and ideation; and Sydney Daigle from the Prince George’s County Food Equity Council.

Phase 1 for the MFRN will focus on research, surveys, focus groups and intensive stakeholder engagement to fully understand the Maryland landscape. The team will then develop a proposal for next-step actions and participate in a formal pitch that, if funded, would lead to the development of an actionable program that is user-inspired and provides avenues to sustain efforts to increase food security beyond NSF support.

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