Carolyn Dimitri, associate professor of food studies, has been thinking about sustainable food systems for more than twenty years. A food economist, Dimitri studies the impact that the marketing, distribution, and production of foods have on our ecosystem, health, and the businesses involved in our food system.
“I was inspired to look into food systems when my children were very small. Like many mothers of young children, I wanted to protect the future health of my children and the earth by ensuring that their diets consisted of organic food,” Dimitri says.
Volunteering with them once a week at a community agriculture farm in the Washington, D.C. area led her to think more about how food moves from farm to table.
Now living in New York City, Dimitri finds herself thinking about urban food systems.
A recently awarded $453,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture will allow the associate professor and researchers at Penn State to study urban agriculture in fifteen cities. The project is titled, The State Of Urban Farming In The United States: Enhancing The Viability Of Small And Medium-Sized Commercial Urban Farms.
Urban farms are not easy to characterize because in many cities farms are located on roofs, vacant lots, or in greenhouses. The researchers will be analyzing data from the agricultural census, a survey of farmers, and information gathered from interviews to evaluate the technical assistance needs of urban farms.
“There is so much discussion about urban farming right now, but we really don’t know what is happening and where it is happening. I suspect there are a few farms that are actually raising food in quantities that can feed people within city limits,” Dimitri says.
The urban agriculture project is one of many studies Dimitri has undertaken at NYU. When school is in session, she can often be found canvassing Manhattan neighborhoods with her students, gathering information about what New Yorkers eat, where they shop, and how much fruit and vegetables they are consuming.
(Photo: At Snug Harbor Heritage Farms, Carolyn Dimitri and her students get a chance to visit a real farm and “get their hands dirty” planting, composting, and transplanting vegetables. “It makes our theoretical discussions in the classroom very concrete,” Dimitri says.)