Exploration of Foodways Brings Research Home for Students

This spring Associate Professor in the Department of Horticultural Science Julie Grossman led a contingent of faculty, staff, and undergraduate students from UMN, Kansas State University, and the University of Kentucky, to study culture and agriculture in Appalachia, where the poverty and food insecurity in the region have stimulated many innovations in food production.

The education portion of the program is part of a USDA Organic Research and Education Initiative grant awarded to Grossman focused on evaluating the ecosystem services and economic costs/benefits of cover crops in high tunnels. The team comprised ecologists, soil scientists, horticulturalists, and economists. Matthew Gullickson participated in the program and came back with these insights:

What was the most striking contrast between foodways in Kentucky and what we have in Minnesota?

Graduate student, matt gullickson holds a board while another student drills holes

The most striking contrast between foodways in eastern Kentucky and what we have in Minnesota was how the lack of flat land poses challenges for both agriculture and society. For agriculture, we did not see any large acreage farms or farming equipment when we were in south-east KY because the land is too hilly and mountainous.  Instead, there seemed to be a greater emphasis on home gardens and small scale production. The landscape also felt a little isolating. Hindman, Kentucky, is a town of just over 700 people, but it is hard to tell that from the center of town because of the terrain; Hindman felt smaller than similar sized towns in MN because of how everything is spread out so much more in search of flat land.  It also can take a long time to travel a relatively short distance; one example is that the farm that Hindman Settlement School operates is only 15 miles away, but it took nearly an hour to drive there on the mountainroads. The combination of small scale agriculture and difficulty in travel have created some of the unique food cultures of the region.   

How has this program changed or altered your view of agriculture?

Before this program, I took for granted that the way agriculture worked in Minnesota and the Midwest in general.  It was interesting to see the importance of small scale production for people to have access to fresh produce, both in rural settings, like in Hindman, or even in urban settings, such as Lexington. In Minnesota, small scale production is still important, but I think with so much farmable land, it is easier to think large scale than small scale sometimes.   

What impact will this program have on your future studies and your goals for the future?

This program has made me want to learn about other food and agricultural systems in other parts of the country and abroad.  One of the highlights of this project was learning from local people how they were connected to agriculture and food in the area which has led me to reflect on my connections to food and ag in MN.

Read more about the group’s experience here.


July 25, 2019

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