InFACT Research, National Leadership in a Transformative Approach

August 27, 2021

InFACT's grassroots-driven research agenda, propelled forward by faculty representing dozens of disciplines across most Ohio State colleges, is getting national attention for its transformative approach to research on systemic change toward sustainable and resilient food security for health.

That attention includes multi-million-dollar federal funding — $36 million in the last few months alone. Grants include a $20 million award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to create the AI Institute for Intelligent Cyberinfrastructure with Computational Learning in the Environment (ICICLE.ai) at Ohio State. NSF reviewers noted InFACT's use-inspired science to create smart foodsheds as a strength of the proposal. Another $15 million NSF award directly addresses one of InFACT's research themes and has been awarded, with publicity forthcoming next month.

These recent awards highlight the value InFACT provides by galvanizing multi-college teams to address food availability, access and utilization, and contribute to Ohio State President Kristina Johnson's goal of doubling the university's research funding to address complex societal challenges. “The research agenda is a product of faculty interests, expertise and passions, and was created through a grassroots, bottom-up process. Faculty identified the areas where they could be impactful together in a multi-college, concerted effort,” says Faculty Director Casey Hoy, who articulated the shared agenda and points out that InFACT's systems approach to solving food insecurity also is rooted in leading scholarship and science.

Vice President for Agricultural Administration and Dean of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences Cathann Kress noted the importance of this work in a May 2021 email. “All of humanity depends upon safe, sufficient, affordable, accessible and nutritious food—but environmental, political, economic and cultural challenges pose threats to our food supply,” wrote Dean Kress. “Ohio State's interdisciplinary focus on food security is addressing these interdependent and complex problems—locally and globally—through Food and AgriCultural Transformation (InFACT).”

Here's what academic leaders across the nation are saying about InFACT's research agenda:

"Casey, I just want you to know how impactful and comprehensive the InFACT research agenda and program is. It has been a model for us at the Center for Environmental Farming systems in North Carolina, and it's been incredible how you've woven the interdisciplinary nature of food systems together, leaving nothing out—no small feat for sure. Every time you present about what you all are up to there in Ohio with this program I am more impressed and inspired as are colleagues around the country. Thanks for leading the way!"
—Nancy Creamer, recently retired Director, Center for Environmental Farming Systems and Distinguished Professor of Sustainable Agriculture and Community Based Food Systems, North Carolina State University
Your research on how to address inequities in food access, and especially through digging into cultural values and meanings associated with food, has tremendous value. The United States has significant problems with inequitable access to healthy food and consequent inequitable health issues associated with food systems, and the research that you are conducting at Ohio State will provide clues to useful interventions and policies that might work in other states and regions.
—Molly D. Anderson, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Food Studies Academic Director, Food Studies Program, Middlebury College
In my view, InFACT presents transformational opportunities across the gradient of human activity as food touches every human institution and impacts every natural system. Since its conception, InFACT realizes the promise of its mission through a web of relationships advancing mutually beneficial, applied and basic research projects that return to inform and deepen existing research agendas—at OSU and around the world. One small example of this is in food distribution and in particular how technological changes inform distribution opportunities whether it be through tracking and logistics or at the farmers market around the corner. The presence of InFACT gives scholars an institutional anchor for their work, a reference point, for ongoing activities that they can engage across domains or deepening our understanding of particular domains.
- Alfonso Morales, Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor Chair, Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture State Food Systems/Marketplaces Specialist, UWExtension, University of Wisconsin