AMHERST — Food-related programs at the University of Massachusetts Amherst will receive $1.7 million of federal dough from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Congressman James McGovern announced at an event on campus Wednesday.
The money will be directed to programs detecting harmful bacteria and minerals on food, developing a new safer type of food packaging and working with Massachusetts farmers to produce different crops popular with immigrant groups in the state.
“I’m proud to be a strong supporter of science and research and of this incredible university,” McGovern said. “I’m excited about the positive impact your research can have in our society.”
(In addition to support for the Food Science Department)…. the final grant is $250,000 from the USDA’s Food Insecurity Incentive program that will support Frank Mangan and Zoraia Barros of the ethnic crops program at the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMass. That program teaches local farmers to grow healthy foods popular with some low-income, immigrant groups in the state.
McGovern expressed a personal commitment to the grant supporting crop development for immigrants, which is a part of a larger $3.4 million grant supporting the state’s low-income food program and other issues addressed by the state Department of Transitional Assistance.
“I sit on the agriculture committee because I am very concerned about the issue of hunger and food insecurity in this country,” McGovern said. “I believe hunger is a solvable problem.”
Barros, an urban agriculture specialist at the Stockbridge School, said the supported program would promote “weird-looking” vegetables among local farmers.
“In immigrant communities, they want what they want — they want the vegetables they are used to and that they used to eat in their country,” Barros said.
Stockbridge does research on those vegetables, including red and green Brazilian eggplants, and passes advice on to growers so they can do it themselves and then sell the produce at farmers markets where immigrants shop. That way, they have access to fresh fruits and vegetables with which they are familiar, Barros said.
Different growers are near different immigrant populations, and the Stockbridge School works to connect those growers with foods in demand by those immigrant communities, she said.
Mangan, also of the Stockbridge School, said $1.25 million of the $3.4 million Food Insecurity Incentive grant will go toward the state’s SNAP program, formerly known as food stamps, and will help low-income people buy food at places like farmers’ markets.
Latinos make up 62 percent of the public school population in Springfield and 80 percent in Holyoke, Mangan said. Finding nutritious foods that are popular with these populations is important work, he said.
Lili He, the project leader on the programs to detect pathogens and harmful chemicals in food, said the grants announced Wednesday would go toward buying equipment and hiring student researchers to complete her research.
“This is the first time we have people here to broadcast our work,” she said. “It feels very great, very honorable.”
Steve Goodwin, dean of the College of Natural Sciences, said the UMass food science department is the best in the world, and that its research touched on food production, distribution, safety and security.
“All are issues becoming increasingly important on our campus,” he said. “The future of food science at the university is really bright.”
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