Seed Funding Grants

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2008 Seed Funding Grants

Preventing Black Farm Loss and Moving Toward a Sustainable Food System in North Carolina: Informing Policy

Principal Investigator: Alice Ammerman, Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and Department of Nutrition, UNC Schools of Public Health and Medicine

The loss of African American-owned farms is a chronic problem in North Carolina. Dr. Ammerman's project examined the causes of land loss through extensive interviews with African American farmers. A team of graduate students worked closely with community partners to get their perspectives on the challenges and rewards of owning and operating a small farm and to explore ways to support and encourage black farm ownership. Their findings are summarized in their report, The Next Generation: That's Why We Continue to Do What We Do (PDF).

On the heels of their report, the land loss project organized a community forum consisting of community members, farmers who participated in the project and researchers from UNC.

Farmer Forum

This project is part of a larger study examining sustainable food systems and their effect on the intertwined problems of obesity, environmental degradation and disparities in health and economic status.

Ammerman has assembled a network of researchers, state agencies and area farmers. Together they gather health, environmental and economic data in order to inform future research efforts and policy decisions related to local, sustainable agriculture and to provide tested, innovative programs to directly improve public health. Visit the project's website and blog for more information.

NC Hunger Pilot Project

Principal Investigator: Maureen Berner, School of Government

Many North Carolinians turn to food pantries and other supplemental sources of food to help them alleviate hunger. These programs were envisioned and created as short-term, emergency solutions for crisis situations. Yet many clients turn to them in an ongoing way for years. To better understand the role of food pantries, who uses them and why, Berner is working with the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina to research the following issues:

  1. What is the the institutional capacity of food pantries? Who runs them? Are they paid or volunteer? What sorts of equipment or facilities do they have?
  2. What is the relationship between food stamps and pantry usage?
  3. Who visits pantries? How old are they? Are they employed?

The information from this pilot will lead to an extensive state-wide study. By documenting food assistance spells, evaluating the factors that influence how long individuals receive food assistance and disseminating the results, the NC Hunger Project will educate policymakers, service providers and researchers about the detailed nature of hunger, spurring coordinated action and affecting systemic change.


The Hunger Project team has visited over 21 pantries in eastern and central North Carolina and has collected information on almost 500 clients, plus their families. These clients in total made about 5000 recorded trips to the pantries in the study over a three year span (2005-08). The team is still gathering and cleaning additional data.

A few notable observations:

  • A great deal of variation exists between pantries and how they operate. Some are relatively sophisticated and offer a range of services. Most however rely on the dedication of volunteers and--at most--one or two paid staff. Both volunteers and staff tend to be older and retired, raising questions about long-term viability. Many pantries are only open a few hours a week. One of the pantries in this project is located in a renovated tobacco barn. Another is in an old town hall (the food is stored in the jail cells).
  • The average duration of a client's relationship with a pantry is five years.
  • 42% of the clients studied are married with children; 24% are married without kids; 15% are elderly and single. 38% are working poor (i.e., have jobs but don't make enough to regularly afford food).

Berner and her team are currently busy analyzing the data and summarizing their findings in a number of papers.

The Hunger Project was awarded a University Research Council grant to bring on Donn Young, an award-winning photojournalist. Young's powerful photos will add an important visual component and aid the team in telling the story of the pantries and their clients.


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