C4E Affiliates Win Award for US Food System Response to COVID-19

CLA-ALL Research News

C4E affiliates Ankita Raturi, Assistant Professor in the School of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, and Andrew Flachs, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, have just been awarded a Just Tech Covid-19 Rapid-Response grant from the Social Science Research Council for the project, “Technological Transitions in the US Local Food System in Response to Covid-19.” Raturi and Flachs are members of the Building Sustainable Communities signature research area, whose mission is to connect scholars working on social, ecological, and technical systems to address how to create more just and sustainable futures.

The Social Science Research Council’s Just Tech program responds to a critical need in the technology ecosystem, empowering a diverse network of scholars and practitioners to imagine and create more equitable and representative technological futures. With the support of the MacArthur and Ford Foundations, Just Tech has awarded rapid-response grants to research projects that address the risks, opportunities, and challenges posed by technology in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, with focused attention to issues of power, inequality, and social impact.

The current project, “Technological Transitions in the US Local Food System in Response to Covid-19,” is a qualitative arm of a larger research study designed by Raturi, Flachs, post-doctoral researcher Dr. Juliet Norton, and Purdue extension researchers Dr. Tamara Benjamin and Michael O’Donnell. This larger study, headed by Raturi, “Informatics for Community Food Resilience” is designed as a research and relief project, where the team takes a farmer-centered and community-driven approach to the design of community processes and digital technologies to support coordination and collaboration among food producers and consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. More on this ongoing work is available in the team’s concept note, available here.

Andrew Flachs, Anthropology

Their new project asks how local food producers and distributors are using emerging digital technologies to connect with consumers and manage farm labor in ways that will have consequences for agricultural sustainability, surveillance capitalism, rural labor, and access to fresh and healthy food in the post-coronavirus era as the pandemic has disrupted local food networks that rely on decentralized, idiosyncratic digital surveillance to plan farm work and reach markets. As small farmers and local food distributors switch en masse to replace face-to-face networking with digital tracking systems, the ways that they manage data form an invisible infrastructure governing risk, food access, and the consolidation of power within these networks.

Just access to food and work requires urgent research to understand the technology-mediated systems that connect farms and eaters. By centering the collection and interpretation of data, this project analyzes how sociocultural biases in data management inform the decision-making that will shape the post-coronavirus rural economy.

Contact: Andrew Flachs, aflachs@purdue.edu

Writer: Lynne Dahmen, ldahmen@purdue.edu

The Center for the Environment promotes proactive, interdisciplinary research, learning, and engagement that addresses important environmental challenges. The Center connects the faculty and students across departments and disciplines who work on environmental challenges by actively supporting the development and implementation of innovative projects and teams.

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