State News

College researchers study food insecurity in Metro Atlanta area

By Collin Elder, Class of 2023

The growth of food insecurity among families has accelerated in recent years, according to Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) faculty members Dr. Jenna Andrews-Swann and Dr. Gregory Gullette.

The pair, who teach anthropology at GGC, along with their students, seek to study the physical, social and emotional effects of food insecurity among underserved populations in the Atlanta metro region (AMR).

Students on the research team are interning with local nonprofits like the Lawrenceville Cooperative Ministry and Harvest Gwinnett, a network of community gardens throughout Gwinnett County, to conduct ethnographic research. This includes noting the observations and behaviors of people depending on these community entities for food, conducting interviews and collecting survey responses to better understand these organizations and the clients they serve. This data will be carefully analyzed and shared so the project might positively impact efforts to improve food access in the region. 

“The students’ research shows something important about their time spent with these clients,” said Andrews-Swann. “It humanizes a thing that people often feel shame about – not being able to provide for yourself or your children – and the students go above and beyond to be as open and warm as they can be.”

Gullette says research collected so far is compelling and paints a picture that is complex and moving. One of the students’ interview recordings details the story of an older woman who recently lost her husband and now goes to one of the co-ops for food and advice. 

“She’s never had a job, never handled her own finances,” said Gullette.  Such people often rely on nonprofit staff to learn skills they’ve been unable to acquire.

Brittany Conklin, 25, an environmental science major living in Grayson, is working with these communities. She recalled one man, a favorite of the other volunteers, who picks up food for four of his neighbors. 

“A volunteer told me that the man, a native of Uganda, has chosen to live well below his means here in the U.S. so he can do more to help those in his community,” said Conklin. 

“This research project is teaching me the ropes of community outreach,” said Christin Cain, 19, a junior environmental science major from Norcross. “It allows me to see firsthand how the people of low-income communities are affected by issues like affordable housing or food access.”  

Cain said those issues also include access to dependable retail stores for clothing, access to greenspaces and safe parks, and even healthy air quality. Individuals who utilize food banks and community gardens gain access to some of those amenities. 

“All of this is made possible through a GGC seed grant that funds our student research,” said Andrews-Swann. The grant provides students the opportunity to complete their required internship as well as earn a paycheck, all while interacting with and supporting each other. 

“The students are doing great work,” said Andrews-Swann, “which is testament to the impact that three students can have on their communities.” 

“While other types of experiential learning programs advanced by colleges and universities might focus on breadth, or a high number of experiences, we wanted to focus on depth by giving students the opportunity to connect with one project over a longer period of time – one year,” Gullette said.

The research will continue through mid-2023.

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