Sustainable Food Access through Sensing, Data Analytics, and Community Engagement
Lead PI:
Sherif Abdelwahed

Food deserts, generally defined as areas in which it is difficult to buy an affordable, high-quality fresh food, are not exclusive to urban or rural areas, but more indicative of under-served communities, low-income households, and minority neighborhoods. Food deserts are not only a health issue but also a community development and equity issue. Access to safe and nutritious food is a fundamental individual right. This project aims to address the food desert problem in Greater Richmond area, by engaging a wide range of food access-related stakeholders and utilizing the power of data analytics and advanced smart technologies to achieve sustainable food access program, leading to higher levels of quality of life and health for the city citizens.

Utilizing smart technologies to improve food access for a large segment of the community is not a straightforward task. There are many questions to be answered in order to realize the potential of these technologies, including: (1) what are the data needed to better understand and help address the food desert problem. (2) What are the social and economic impacts of food deserts? (3) What are the main factors contributing to limited food access in certain geographical areas? (4) What are the technologies and cyber-infrastructure that can help address the food access problem? (5) How to encourage micro-businesses to help tackle limited food accessibility? (6) How to present food desert data efficiently to help in decision-making?

This planning project will assemble a core group of scientists in engineering, life sciences, social work and government policy colleges to engage with community leaders and stakeholders, to identify through both quantitative and qualitative assessment the key challenges to sustainable food access in Richmond and its adjoining communities, and create the knowledge and tools for community-based sustainable food access program. This will be achieved by (1) developing a fundamental understanding of challenges facing communities due to food desert problem, (2) developing a better understanding of the factors contributing to food access problem, (3) recognizing various types of data collection in communities for addressing food access challenge, (4) deriving data-analytics techniques that can help identify effective solutions and evaluate their impacts, and (5) facilitate customized sensing, data-management, cyber-infrastructure and smart technologies solutions to develop a robust program for sustainable food access. The proposed plan will offer a research and development model that can be extended to other cities and communities.

Sherif Abdelwahed
Abdelwahed is a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), where he teaches and conducts research in the area of computer engineering, with specific interests in autonomic computing, cyber-physical systems, formal verification and cyber-security. Before joining VCU in August 2017, he served as the associate director of the Distributed Analytics and Security Institute at Mississippi State University (MSU). He was also an Associate Professor in the ECE Department at MSU. Prior to joining Mississippi State University, he was a research assistant professor at the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and senior research scientist at the Institute for Software Integrated Systems, Vanderbilt University, from 2001-2007. From 2000-2001, he worked as a research scientist with the system diagnosis group at the Rockwell Scientific Company
Performance Period: 07/01/2020 - 06/30/2021
Institution: Virginia Commonwealth University
Sponsor: National Science Foundation
Award Number: 1952169