Graduate Research, Student Research

MS student, Jared Gingrich 22G, examines food access in rural Appalachia and the essential role of farmers markets

As we reflect on another successful year for students in the Department of Environmental Sciences (ENVS), we are especially proud of our students in the MS in Environmental Sciences program for prevailing through a two-year program, with one year being a COVID year! As a 2022 graduate of the MS in Environmental Sciences program, Jared Gingrich 22G, met all of the challenges of learning and researching during COVID times with creativity and flexibility and his thesis work is a reflection of his academic growth – a testament to the kind of scholarship we hope to foster in our MS program.

Jared joined Emory after completing his undergraduate degree at the University of Virginia, having double majored in Environmental Science and Archaeology. An advisor for his undergraduate thesis was serving as a consultant on an archaeological excavation to Greece and suggested Jared apply to be a part of the research team. It was during his work at the Sanctuary of the Great Gods on the island of Samothrace where serendipity put him on the research team with ENVS lecturer and Emory geographer, Michael Page. As a GIS support team member, Jared worked with Michael on mapping and aerial photography on Samothrace and Michael shared the work being done by Professor Emily Burchfield and her use of geospatial data in her research. Luckily, Jared was hooked and we were lucky enough to welcome him to campus, albeit virtually, in fall 2020.

Being on a continuous loop of Zoom calls in 2020-21 was certainly not ideal, but Jared prevailed and was able to find some silver linings in his classes and his work as a teaching assistant with Professor Burchfield. We hope to offer MS students an opportunity to engage as teaching assistants and Jared found the opportunity to teach, along with his work in the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship, a meaningful complement to his MS experience. According to Jared, “I enjoyed going beyond answering questions during office hours to actively lead the lab portion of the class and help students develop their final projects. In each of these classes, I felt like being a TA was beneficial to me, and I learned something even in the classes that I had already taken.”

Jared and ENVS Lecturer and Emory Geographer, Michael Page

For Jared, his work in the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship (ECDS) was essential to his Emory experience.  Working with both the Georgia Coast Atlas and OpenWorld Atlanta teams, Jared found that he was able to employ his interests in environmental science and archaeology in a research lab setting that has truly fleshed out his Emory experience. In addition to his return to Samothrace with the Emory team this summer, he will also be working with the Georgia Coast Atlas team this May on Sapelo Island.

As a student in the MS in ENVS program, we aim to equip students to complete a journal-ready thesis. The skills that we hope to build are appropriate for students who wish to continue into a PhD program or for students who may use the MS as a terminal degree, stepping next into work in a variety of industries. According to Professor Emily Burchfield, Jared’s thesis advisor, “Jared did a great job weaving together his personal background, academic interests, and practical experiences to tell a story about the challenges of food access in rural Appalachia. His research examines how classic definitions of food access fall short in rural settings and highlights the vital importance of community-based organizations, like farmers markets, in providing healthy fresh food to rural communities. During his time at Emory, he managed to integrate quantitative and qualitative data to understand the changes currently unfolding in rural food systems and to provide concrete recommendations moving forward.”

Jared’s thesis was an investigation food access in rural communities in Appalachia and the role that farmers markets play in these communities. Food access is commonly discussed in terms of food deserts, which are places in which people are both far from stores and have lower incomes. Food deserts are a concept that works best for urban areas, but they miss a lot when they are applied to rural communities. Jared developed a method of measuring food access that works equally well for rural and urban places and that could be used to estimate the impact of farmers markets. He found that over 60% of the Appalachian population has poor access to food, a problem overwhelmingly faced by the inhabitants of rural communities. However, farmers markets have the potential to fill gaps in local food systems for rural communities that don’t have ready access to grocery stores. Neither of these findings are evident when examining food access using the traditional model of food deserts.

Jared is still wrapping up one aspect of this project. “I interviewed several farmers market managers and other individuals who are familiar with their local food systems to understand the actual role that farmers markets play in these communities. I found that farmers markets are not just a place to buy food in rural areas, they also have an economic benefit for farmers market vendors and the communities as a whole; revitalizing the social aspect of communities, and educating people about household gardening and local foods. This direction of my research has been particularly interesting to me because I had originally wanted to do a project looking at farmers markets in some way. However, as I did background research into farmers markets and food access, I found that rural food access was an understudied topic, and my project evolved in this direction.”

Jared and ENVS Assistant Professor, Emily Burchfield

We are very excited to see where Jared finds himself after his Emory experience comes full circle with a return to Samothrace this summer with the Emory research team. As Professor Burchfield so aptly stated about Jared, “It was a ton of fun working with Jared – very excited to see where he goes next!”