A team of researchers at the University of Arkansas, in partnership with consultants and startup companies, has been awarded a $743,651 grant for a project aimed to strengthening regional food supply chains.
The grant from the National Science Foundation will help connect regional farmers with institutional buyers and ultimately expand access to healthy and nutritious food, the university said in a news release.
The project is one of 16 to receive funding under the foundation's Convergence Accelerator program. It brings researchers from the University of Arkansas, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture and University of Florida together with two startups, Cureate and Junction AI Inc., and a team of consultants to tackle challenges such as food insecurity while offering novel business solutions.
The project is led by UA's Institute for Integrative and Innovative Research. It aims to create a scalable technology platform that provides market insights to small farmers via the convergence of multiple scientific research fields and modern technological innovations such as robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning.
"By leveraging our collective expertise and engaging in an extensive planning and user discovery process to deeply understand the needs of producers, buyers and other stakeholders, we have the opportunity to make both a positive societal and economic impact, particularly here in Arkansas," Meredith Adkins, the project's principal investigator, said in the release.
Investigators will lead outreach with small farmers in northwest Arkansas, as well as the underserved regions of the central Arkansas Delta and the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma through the University of Arkansas School of Law’s Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative, a grant collaborator.