Research

The Swette Center supports transdisciplinary research that is solutions- and impact-oriented. It is a hub for faculty members engaged in food systems research, as well as a source of research opportunities for students passionate about working on food system transformation.

The Swette Center is a part of the Global Futures Laboratory, an initiative committed to use-inspired research and service to the global community in which we live. Research at ASU is rooted in innovation, service, and impact, reflected in ASU’s ranking from the National Science Foundation as the top university for transdisciplinary research. On top of this, ASU is widely recognized as the #1 university in the US for innovation, #1 for sustainability practices, and #1 for addressing the UN SDGs.


Reports

Seeds of Success

In a world intricately connected by agriculture, farm-based education and research holds an important role at the crossroads of this complex network. Amid declining agricultural literacy rates and a growing interest in the origins of sustainably produced food, farm-based education and research centers emerge as crucial bridges, providing experiential, interdisciplinary learning rooted in local contexts. This report explores what makes these types of institutions successful. It examines these organizations’ impact on food systems through a combination of primary and secondary research, and identifies gaps and opportunities within these organizations’ sphere of influence. Ultimately, it puts forward a “framework for farm-based research and education centers” to help inform and inspire leaders of these organizations.

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Navigating USAJobs to Land a Federal Role

The goal of this report is to present an overview of the federal workforce and the opportunities that exist for younger generations to be employed by the federal government. We explored what is preventing younger generations from seeking and securing federal employment and shed light on the benefits, value, and opportunities of federal jobs for the younger generation. With research, data, and interview insights, we developed a tangible guide for young job seekers to use to navigate USAJOBS. This guide provides applicable tips gathered from experiences of first-hand users and federal human resources specialists to help prospective applicants decipher federal job announcements and to strategically and completely prepare their applications and resumes to secure federal employment.

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Operationalizing Equity

This study explores how state governments are using LFPA and LFS funding to develop or advance local food purchasing programs that target socially disadvantaged producers. Tribal governments were also eligible to apply for these programs, however none were engaged for this project, therefore further research is needed to understand program design by Tribal cooperators. Based on findings from a survey and interviews with state agencies, we share examples of how these programs are operationalizing equity in program design, measurement, outreach, and implementation. We discuss how learnings and outcomes can advance equity in state and federal programs.

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Unveiling the Hidden Capitals of Cow-Calf Operations in Rangelands of the West

Beef livestock ranching is an important agricultural activity rooted in the history of the American West. Despite the long history and culture surrounding cattle and ranching in the West, recent times have left many cattle ranchers feeling under attack as media attention has highlighted potential environmental impacts of cows and health concerns around red meat. As these generalizations influence consumer perceptions around beef consumption, there is a need to employ a more robust understanding of beef livestock production as a complex socio-ecological system. While mainstream conversations around beef bring to light important concerns, they also leave much unexamined. To address this, ASU and CSU collaborated on a pilot study conducted with ranch partners in Arizona and Colorado. Using the true cost accounting (TCA) approach we implement a more holistic assessment that avoids broad generalizations of ranching as either good or bad. TCA is an approach that seeks to understand the broader, human, social, and ecological impacts of food systems activities to make better decisions about the food we produce and eat. We focus our work at the intersection of human, cattle, and rangeland; namely, the cow-calf supply chain, which is the primary stage of beef livestock production that relies on western rangeland. We use a combination of multiple qualitative and quantitative methodologies that complement each other. Results document the complexity of analyzing ranching in the West and provide monetary estimates that capture key benefits and costs in cattle production. Additionally, the findings in this report have allowed us insight into how different government policies support western ranching and rangeland conservation.

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Grow Organic: The Climate, Health, and Economic Case for Expanding Organic Agriculture

Organic agriculture holds significant and largely untapped potential to address multiple crises facing our society, including climate change, health, and struggling economies. Public policies that support expansion of organic farming and ranching across America—including substantial investments in the next Farm Bill—can unlock this potential and deliver a critical triple win for our climate future, the health of farmworkers and consumers, and prosperity in farming communities.

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Sustainability Ranking and Certification Systems in Higher Education Food Service

This report reviews and analyzes how ranking and certification systems have an impact on the sustainable food systems used by food service providers across higher education institutions (HEIs). This analysis includes a review of the most common metrics used in higher education sustainability ranking and certification systems, as well as how assessment guidelines are determined initially and amended over time. The positive, negative, and unintended consequences of these programs are also considered as we explore ways that these sustainability metrics can meet the challenges required for a sustainable future.

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State Agricultural Water Quality Programs

As record-breaking drought conditions continue year after year in Arizona, the state needs to act now to fully protect its limited water resources. While current dialogue focuses on issues of water quantity in Arizona, with limited quantity of water resources water quality becomes even more important. Farmers are a major user of water, and there remains a lot of room for improvement in agricultural water usage. This report researched existing water quality programs and voluntary state agricultural water quality initiatives both in Arizona and throughout the United States to propose policy and program recommendations for agricultural water management in Arizona.

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Hawaiʻi Agritourism

More than 10 million visitors traveled to Hawaiʻi in 2019, placing an enormous strain on a food system already burdened by a disproportionate reliance on imported food. Agritourism may be one solution for farmers to diversify their income, increase consumption of locally produced food, and connect farmers to local consumers. But in a place with such a robust tourism infrastructure, how can it be responsibly implemented and utilized in a way that benefits local farmers, residents, the environment, and rural and Native Hawaiian culture? This report endeavors to answer this question through a comprehensive examination of agritourism in the islands as it exists today, and by providing recommendations for agritourism in Hawaiʻi going forward.

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Meatless Monday Best Practices

Meatless Monday is an initiative that encourages actionable steps toward the reduction of meat consumption by asking participants to eat meat-free on Mondays. Such initiatives provide an opportunity to educate consumers on the health benefits of a plant-forward diet, the environmental impact of meat production, animal welfare issues, the innovation of non-meat proteins, and to engage stakeholders in gaining more control over their food choices. This report offers a summary of seven Meatless Monday initiatives throughout the U.S., highlighting best practices and notable challenges of implementing and maintaining such an initiative in three different contexts: local government, school systems, and non-profit or volunteer-led organizations.

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Harnessing the Power of Digitalization to Advance Local and Regional Agriculture

This report investigates the big question: “How does digitalization of agriculture and agrifood systems affect local and regional food systems?” The report, produced for TMG Think Tank for Sustainability, examines the different challenges and opportunities in digitalization across the food system in the United States, using four focal areas: COVID-19, the digital divide, urban food systems, and data for ecosystem services.

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Industrial Juicing to Advance Food Security

The Hawaiian Islands are highly reliant on imported foods for feeding residents and visitors alike. This is in part due to a shortage in food processing infrastructure locally that would contribute to Hawaiʻi’s ability to process much of its own food products. This study examines the feasibility of increasing food self-sufficiency in the islands through utilizing legacy industrial fruit processing equipment recently acquired by Olohana Foundation, a small 501(c)3 non-profit in Hawaiʻi. This study asks: How can the Olohana Foundation develop their aseptic juicing line to best support increased food self-sufficiency in the islands? Additionally, how can the juicing line be re-deployed in a manner to provide sustainable economic opportunity to producers and other community members?

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The Critical To-Do List for Organic Agriculture

Thirty years ago, Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) as part of the 1990 Farm Bill. The law established strict national standards for organic food and a public-private enforcement program to ensure compliance with the law. Today, the organic industry still faces a number of challenges. This report seeks to address some of these and to provide policy recommendations to better support the growing organic industry and its positive impacts on human health, on the economy, and on climate.

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Carbon Markets

With increasing climate impacts predicted across the globe, many see soil carbon storage and sequestration as an opportunity to reduce atmospheric carbon and mitigate climate change. This report assesses the current opportunities for Minnesota agriculture and proposes solutions, policies, and management practices for these markets to benefit farmers and Minnesota’s agricultural sector.

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Local Slaughter in the Hawaiian Islands

Cattle and livestock make up a significant portion of agricultural production value in Hawaiʻi. However, 95 percent of Hawaiʻi-raised cattle are shipped to the Continental United States for grain-finishing and slaughter. The purpose of this report is to provide an overview of current ranching and slaughter capacities in Hawaiʻi, highlight relevant regulations and identify missing elements, offer case studies of similar operations and their procedures, and provide recommendations that Hōkūnui might consider in their pursuit to expand their slaughter capacity, while processing slaughter waste safely and sustainably.

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NRCS in Arizona

EQIP provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers to implement certain approved conservation practices. The program is available to producers through a competitive application process during which applications are ranked based on criteria developed by both the NRCS national headquarters and NRCS State Conservationists.This report assesses the barriers faced by ranching clients and potential clients of NRCS in Arizona and highlights opportunities for mitigating those challenges in the future especially through the implementation of the three key 2018 farm bill changes.

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Organic Innovation

Organic continues to be one of the fastest growing sectors in the United States.This year marks 30 years since enactment of the Organic Foods Production Act.This report is a compilation of opportunities for organic innovation – it is an organic innovation catalogue – and deep dives on specific opportunities that may be of interest for the Organic Trade Association, or others, to pursue as distinct initiatives.

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Featured report

Unveiling the Hidden Capitals of Cow-Calf Operations in Rangelands of the West

While mainstream conversations around beef bring to light important concerns, they also leave much unexamined. To address this, ASU and Colorado State University collaborated on a pilot study conducted with ranches in Arizona and Colorado. Using the true cost accounting (TCA) approach, we implement a more holistic assessment that avoids broad generalizations of ranching as either good or bad. Results document the complexity of analyzing ranching in the West and provide monetary estimates that capture key benefits and costs in cattle production. Additionally, the findings in this report have allowed us insight into how different government policies support western ranching and rangeland conservation.

Research priorities

With more than 80 affiliated faculty and an active Center staff, the Swette Center engages in all kinds of research aimed at transforming food systems, from work on nutrition security, water management and agroforestry. That said, from the start the Center had established six research priorities to help focus our work:

  • Arizona food systems

    Arizona food systems

    Being based in Arizona, it’s only natural that supporting our home state’s food system is a top priority for the Swette Center.  Arizona’s food system faces unique challenges due to the state’s arid climate and water scarcity. However, Arizona also presents opportunities for innovative approaches to promote sustainable food production and distribution.

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  • Engaging the private sector

    Engaging the private sector

    Engaging businesses, including food companies, retailers, agricultural technology providers and investors, in food systems brings valuable expertise and innovation capabilities that are essential for driving sustainable change. Collaborative partnerships between governments, civil society and the private sector can leverage the strengths of each sector to build resilient and inclusive food systems.

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  • Empowering Indigenous foodways

    Empowering Indigenous foodways

    Indigenous foodways hold immense importance as they represent the culmination of centuries of wisdom, culture and sustainable practices. They are the embodiment of indigenous communities’ deep connection to their lands, traditional knowledge and ancestral heritage. By preserving and revitalizing indigenous foodways, we aim to honor and celebrate the cultural diversity and resilience of indigenous peoples.

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  • The power of deliciousness

    The power of deliciousness

    The power of deliciousness refers to the way food and beverages evoke a strong sense of pleasure and satisfaction when consumed. It is a subjective and sensory experience that combines various factors, such as taste, aroma, texture and presentation, to create a pleasurable sensation for the person enjoying the food.

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  • True Cost Accounting of Food

    True Cost Accounting of Food

    The price of a fast-food burger does not reflect the cost to society, the environment, and human health. True cost accounting is an innovative and evolving method for determining the true costs, and benefits, of different types of food production systems.

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  • Organic agriculture and policy

    Organic agriculture and policy

    Organic agriculture reduces the greenhouse gas footprint of farming by eliminating most fossil fuel–based inputs, and it builds climate resilience by promoting healthy soils, diversifying food crops, and supporting threatened wildlife habitats and biodiversity.

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