It was during this time that Lowe—a fundraiser for a community garden that supported an under-resourced elementary school in the city—began to ponder his own upbringing and further understand that the area’s food system in its current state is fundamentally flawed.
“This made me realize that I had a different experience growing up. I had access, and the kids I worked with didn't know that the tomato that they're using for meat sauce came in from the dirt—not just the corner store.” Lowe shared.
For his expertise in the Niagara Falls and greater Niagara County food system and his gift of community building, Lowe was asked to participate on the Regional Advisory Council the WNY Regional Food System Initiative, now known as Food Future WNY.
“I think it’s a great initiative, and the sky’s the limit with what we can accomplish,” Lowe said. “The right people are around the table.”
At the core of what guides his work both in the NFLFAP and for Food Future WNY is the crucial focus on grassroots representation and leadership by those who are a part of the community it affects—especially those who face systemic exclusion and oppression.
He shared, “If [the food system] doesn’t represent the people it’s supposed to serve, it’s going to start prioritizing profits over people. Then, there’s no difference between the current food system and the one we’re working toward.”
Select quotes have been edited for clarity.
Nathanial Mich, Univ. at Buffalo Food Lab - February 18, 2022
The Community-Centered Health, Equitable, Ecological, and Regional Food System Mapping (CHEER) project seeks to make spatial data regarding the regional food system of Western New York more accessible to the public and a wide range of stakeholders through the creation and management of an online GIS mapping dashboard. This project builds on, expands, and formalizes the Buffalo food system mapping done by the Seeding Resilience project in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Food Lab members research, collate, and map data that pertain to the nine domains of the food system in Western New York, as well as summative data about the regional food system and emergency food system. The nine domains are 1) food production, 2) aggregation and wholesale, 3) food processing, 4) food retail, 5) food service, 6) institutional food procurement, 7) transportation and logistics, 8) management of wasted food and food loss, and 9) acquisition, preparation, & eating.
The CHEER mapping dashboard is participatory and interactive: community members can submit their “food system stories” to the dashboard, ensuring that the maps reflect Western New Yorkers’ lived experience of the food system. Furthermore, computer science researchers in the Food Lab are developing machine-learning programs that can identify fruits and vegetables in photos of produce displays. This will allow the dashboard to create a real-time image of the available foods in a community based on user-submitted photos.
The CHEER project supports Food Future Western New York, a regional food system assessment and planning initiative (part of Build Back Better WNY) for the nine counties of Western New York: Allegany, Cattaragus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Monroe, Niagara, Orleans, and Wyoming. As part of the CHEER project, Food Lab researchers are conducting a social network analysis to understand how the regional planning process built and strengthened personal and professional networks within the Western New York food system.
Product: A publicly-accessible website composed of interactive maps and visualizations of the nine-county regional food system of Western New York, that illustrates several domains:
The website will also present profiles of organizations working to build a stronger local or regional food system throughout the mapping area, and short research-based essays on the features, challenges, and opportunities of each domain. Users will be able to submit their own “food system stories,” such as information about their business, relevant images, or personal narratives.
A soft opening of the website is expected in early spring of 2022.
Purpose: To collect spatial food system data in one location, make it publicly accessible and actionable for stakeholders and the broader community, and support the work of Food Future WNY and its Working Groups. As part of a regional, nine-county, community-led effort, the UB Food Lab is building a regional-scale mapping system using inclusive planning processes where stakeholders in a region's food system co-design the portals that map and monitor problems.
Team: UB Food Lab: Samina Raja (Director, PI), Nathaniel Mich (Coordinator), Eric Hughes (GIS Specialist), Oliver Kennedy (Co-I). Supported by a data advisory group composed of stakeholders from the FFWNY process.
The Food Lab is also conducting a social network analysis as part of the FFWNY planning process, to understand how FFWNY strengthens professional and community networks in the regional food system. Emmanuel Frimpong-Boamah (Co-PI), and Zachary Korosh (researcher).
Partner Input: Working groups and food system businesses and organizations are encouraged to submit information such as: contact/website, specific products and services, and relationships with other food system organizations once the website has launched. Information about specific businesses that is available through government sources is usually limited to name, location, and business type. Community and partner input will enrich this data and make the portal even more useful.