Carolyn Dimitri, associate professor of food studies at the Steinhardt School, has been thinking about sustainable food systems for more than 20 years. A food economist, Dimitri studies the impact that the marketing, distribution, and production of foods have on our ecosystem, health, and related businesses.
“I was inspired to look into food systems when my children were very small,” Dimitri says. “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.”
Now living in New York City, Dimitri finds herself thinking about urban food systems, and a recent $453,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture will allow Dimitri and researchers at Penn State to study urban agriculture in 15 cities.
Urban farms are not easy to characterize because in many cities farms are located on roofs, vacant lots, or in greenhouses. With the project, titled “The State of Urban Farming in the United States: Enhancing the Viability of Small and Medium-Sized Commercial Urban Farms,” researchers will analyze 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,” Dimitri says. “I suspect there are a few farms that are actually raising food in quantities that can feed people within city limits.”