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United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has awarded UAB Sustainable Smart Cities Research Center (SSRC) -- in collaboration with the City of Birmingham, Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Southern Research, NRCS, and other community partners -- in spearheading a groundbreaking project aimed at enhancing community food access and improving the urban agriculture landscape in Birmingham. The project was selected from over 150 applications to catalyze local food value chain development through a cross-functional alliance and economic investment.

Led by Dr. Nazari, Director of the Sustainable Smart Cities Research Center at UAB, and Dr. Karimi, Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the School of Public Health, the research team aims to create a sustainable and equitable local food supply chain by identifying community needs, markets for urban agriculture, and potential agriculture sites. The project aims to enhance policy implementation, create economic opportunities, and meet sustainability goals by leveraging a collaborative and data-driven approach.

"The proposed work offers a unique opportunity to strengthen research collaborations and community relationships within Birmingham," says Dr. Nazari. "Through this cross-functional alliance, we can collectively improve food access, enhance policy implementation, and create economic opportunities while meeting our sustainability objectives."

"This project represents a significant step forward in improving community food access and sustainability," emphasizes Dr. Karimi. "By working closely with community leaders and leveraging existing successful programs, we can ensure the ongoing success of urban agricultural projects in Birmingham while empowering local residents and creating a more equitable food system."

The project comprises five research-centered and five community and extension-centered tasks. The research-centered tasks include utilizing the City of Birmingham's Food Environment Report to identify target neighborhoods and stakeholders, conducting analyses to select potential urban agricultural typologies, and validating sites for urban agriculture. Furthermore, the project will incorporate data collection using drones and satellite imagery to develop an accurate urban food system.

On the community and extension front, the tasks involve transforming the Birmingham Urban Food System through the amplification of social networks, forming the Sovereign Birmingham Alliance, building relationships in underserved communities, providing outreach and education opportunities, and reviewing and redesigning food-related policies to support urban agricultural systems and promote racial equity practices.

The collaborative effort seeks to stimulate changes in behavior, increase competitiveness, and generate wealth for alliance farmers, producers, and organizations. The project aims to create a sustainable and resilient local food system that benefits the entire community by establishing a branded alliance and fostering transparency and collaboration within the food value chain.

We are incredibly excited about this project's potential impact on Birmingham's local food system. Through the leadership of Dr. Nazari, Director of the Sustainable Smart Cities Research Center, this collaborative effort brings together diverse stakeholders and combines their expertise to address pressing challenges related to food access, sustainability, and community well-being. Dr. Nazari's visionary approach and commitment to interdisciplinary research drive innovation and sustainable solutions. Under his guidance, we are confident that this project will not only transform the local food value chain but also serve as a model for other communities seeking to build equitable and resilient food systems." - Dr. Wesley Zech, Interim Chair of the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering, University of Alabama at Birmingham.