Monday, April 7, 2014

Randolph professor and student research the reality of hunger and poverty

A Randolph professor is exploring the nexus between poverty, hunger, and food in Lynchburg in hopes that his research will generate discussion and solutions.

“My sense is that most people don’t know about the extent of hunger and poverty in this city,” said John Abell, an economics professor. “I’m hoping to draw some awareness to this issue and to start a conversation.”

Abell has a strong personal interest in local food produced with sustainable practices; he grows much of his own food while purchasing more from farmers at a local market. But his interest in social issues related to food grew when he and a group of Randolph students studied the economics of a Lynchburg food desert in 2011. Their data demonstrated the difficulty some city residents had with obtaining nutritious food at affordable prices. Abell wanted to conduct further research about how poverty and limited food access relate to each other.

He is analyzing a variety of data—such as income levels, educational attainment, and participation in government assistance programs—for different neighborhoods in Lynchburg. Abell is publishing videos and insights about the research on a new website. Eventually, his blog will shift focus toward the economics of the solutions he is discovering.

The website includes video interviews with people who have firsthand knowledge about local hunger and poverty, including people who have lived for years in impoverished neighborhoods as well as people who work at nonprofits that seek to provide food to those in need.

Teague Nelson ’14, a history major, is producing the videos for Abell. While it has given him an opportunity to practice skills he picked up in a digital filmmaking class, the project also helped Nelson learn about social and economic issues. “I think it’s a really important issue,” he said. “There are a lot of people working on it, but it needs a lot more attention and a lot more needs to be done.”

Abell’s research also includes potential solutions that go beyond distributing donated food to those who need it, but focus on helping to decrease hunger by decreasing poverty. “I wanted to think about creative ways that food could be used in creative solutions,” he said. “I’m looking at solutions from around the country, including urban farming and community gardening, where food is out there to create legitimate economic development.”

To learn more about Abell’s research, please see