Completed Projects

Projects by topic:


Ecosystem Services on Working Lands in the Northeast U.S.

NERCRD provided advisory support to this effort, which was conducted by Alicia F. Coleman and Mario Reinaldo Machado and commissioned by the Association of Northeast Extension Directors and the Northeastern Regional Association of State Agricultural Experiment Station Directors. Coleman and Machado assessed over 1,300 ecosystem service provisioning programs and policies across the U.S. Northeast. The assessment describes the programs’ institutional arrangements, their incentive structures, and the ecosystem services they provide. Their findings were released in a report published by the Extension Foundation in 2022. In 2023, Coleman and Machado also published their findings Agricultural and Resource Economics Review, and NERCRD provided travel support to Coleman so she could present the findings at the National Association of Community Development Extension Professionals annual meeting in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, in June.  

Funding Agency: NEED and NERA

Principal Investigator: Alicia F. Coleman and Mario Reinaldo Machado

Start Date: September 2021   End Date: June 2023

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Industry Clusters and the Location of Agriculture: Establishing a Theoretical Base for Economic Development Practice

Production agriculture has largely been considered to be beyond the scope of cluster theory. As a result, key insights from the theory have not been fully leveraged for agricultural and rural development practice. This study, led by NERCRD TAC Chair Paul Gottlieb, Rutgers University, examined clustering behavior in production agriculture. Using case study literature and detailed commodity data from the 2012 Census of Agriculture, the research team tested the hypothesis that certain known drivers of transactional clustering behavior are also active in agriculture: that they are correlated with observed geographic clustering, controlling for factors like climate requirements and industry size. The research team learned that across commodities, a high level of environmental conservation activities and high diversity of products and services were positively correlated with geographic clustering, controlling for other known causes of clustering. This constitutes evidence for the idea that clustering may be caused by the need to share knowledge on particular agricultural practices, rather than being explained entirely by the existence of common geographic “anchors.” They also produced a report of federal-level policy recommendations based on their findings.

Funding Agency: USDA NIFA

Principal Investigator: Paul Gottlieb, Rutgers University

Accompanying Institution(s): The University of Toledo, NERCRD

Start Date: August 2017   End Date: July 2022

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The AgriCluster Resilience and Expansion Project

Beginning in 2020, NERCRD invested in this project with the approval of its Board of Directors. The AgriCluster Retention and Expansion (ACRE) Program is a strategic planning program for farmer-led marketing and environmental projects by the Thomas A. Lyson Center for Civic Agriculture and Food Systems, which is affiliated with Cornell University. ACRE provides training in strategic business planning tools and processes that engage all stakeholders in a value chain to work collectively in carving out and defending a market niche.

The framework was piloted in 2021 with a group of New York onion growers, who explored collaborative promotion and marketing. The pilot phase ended in June 2022. Team members report that their work with the onion growers was highly influential in developing the ACRE curriculum and process.

The initial NERCRD seed funding of roughly $23,000 leveraged an additional $144,000 in a three-year grant from the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NESARE) professional development program to further this project. This support is allowing the team to build out the infrastructure for the ACRE Program, including:

  • An 18-unit self-paced Moodle course on eXtension Campus on launching an ACRE Project.
  • An ACRE Facilitator’s toolkit complete with instructions, worksheets, and a case study to illustrate the ACRE process.
  • An ACRE community of practice to expand the use of the ACRE approach to agriculture development professionals in the Northeast and elsewhere.

As of February 2024, 28 service providers (including nonprofit and Cooperative Extension staff) completed the online course, and joined the ACRE Facilitator community of practice, which meets monthly. Another 127 enrolled, putting the program well on its way toward having trained ACRE Facilitators in all Northeast states and Washington, D.C. Participants thus far are largely from the Northeast, but also include individuals from the Southeast and the Midwest, and from as far away as France and the Republic of Ireland.

For more information, contact Duncan Hilchey at

Funding Agency: NERCRD, via its core funding from USDA NIFA; subsequent funding from NE-SARE

Principal Investigator: Duncan Hilchey, Thomas A. Lyson Center for Civic Agriculture and Food Systems

Start Date: January 2020   End Date: June 2022

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USDA AMS Local and Regional Food Systems COVID-19 Rapid Response

NERCRD partnered with the University of Kentucky and Colorado State University on a one-year Cooperative Agreement with the USDA Agriculture Marketing Service to research the impacts, adaptations and innovations of COVID-19 on U.S. Local and Regional Food Systems nationally. This highly engaged, real-time project focuses on capturing rapid responses of initial and ongoing COVID-19-related changes in the food system and is designed to support timely innovation by collecting and disseminating easily digestible ideas, best practices, and readily adoptable approaches to COVID-19 adaptation. During the project’s first year (2020-2021), team members publish emergent findings on the project website each month, including sector impact assessment reports for each segment of the LRFS documenting initial challenges of the pandemic on markets and populations and innovation briefs highlighting promising adaptations to new challenges. In addition, the project hosted a monthly webinar series for researchers and practitioners, providing the latest updates and analysis from the field.

Funding Agency: USDA Agricultural Marketing Service

Accompanying Institution(s): University of Kentucky, Colorado State University, University of Maine, NERCRD

Start Date: August 2020   End Date: December 2021

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Linking Health Care Reform and Economic Development in the Agriculture Sector

Researchers and Extension professionals engaged with this project explored how health insurance decisions affect farm and ranch families. Activities included interviewing farmers, hosting webinars, analyzing policy impacts, and developing tools for professionals who work with farm families.

Funding Agency: USDA NIFA

Principal Investigator: Shoshanah Inwood, University of Vermont/The Ohio State University

Accompanying Institution(s): Regional Rural Development Centers, University of Maryland Extension, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension

Start Date: January 2015   End Date: January 2019

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AMS Grant Writing Workshops and Technical Assistance (AMSTA)

Launched in 2014, this project funded by USDA Agricultural Marketing Service and National Institutes of Food and Agriculture shared knowledge through in-person grant writing workshops and additional tools and materials provided through the AMSTA website. In Phase I, 137 state trainings focusing on effective grant-writing practices, with an emphasis on USDA’s Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Programs, were were held in all 50 states, plus Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, reaching more than 3,000 participants. In Phase II, the program was re-offered in states identified by the USDA as highest priority, providing technical assistance to individuals and businesses who had been awarded an AMS grant and were carrying out their funded projects.

Funding Agency: USDA Agricultural Marketing Service; USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture

Principal Investigator: Stephan Goetz, NERCRD

Accompanying Institution(s): Western Rural Development Center, Southern Rural Development Center, and North Central Rural Development Center, and Penn State

Start Date: January 2014   End Date: December 2018

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Enhancing Food Security in the Northeast through Regional Food Systems (EFSNE)

After seven years of analyzing a number of consumption, distribution, production, and other aspects of the Northeast US food system, EFSNE researchers made significant gains in understanding the extent to which the region can increase production of certain foods, and potentially better meet the food needs of low-income populations in the locations they studied. Findings and outputs from the project, which concluded in 2018, will be useful to food system planners, policy makers, researchers and advocates interested in advancing regional food systems.

Funding Agency: USDA NIFA

Principal Investigator: Stephan J. Goetz, Penn State

Accompanying Institution(s): Columbia University, Cornell University, Delaware State University, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Center for a Livable Future, Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, Tufts University, University of Vermont, USDA, West Virginia State University

Start Date: February 2011   End Date: February 2018

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Enhancing the Viability of Underserved Small Farms and Rural Communities Using Insights from Emerging Network Science

The NERCRD brought together partners including Delaware State University, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and Tennessee State University for a competitive USDA capacity building grant. This project will provide the opportunity to expand networks for small farmers in Tennessee, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania. This project team has produced a substantial training manual for Extension Educators who wish to conduct their own network analyses of farmer groups. One of the project team members, Andy Wetherill (DSU), used the framework laid out in the manual to help convene the First State African American Farmers Association, which in turn has spawned multiple impacts of its own.

Funding Agency: USDA NIFA

Principal Investigator: Fisseha Tegegne, Tennessee State University

Accompanying Institution(s): NERCRD and Penn State, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Delaware State University.

Start Date: December 2011   End Date: December 2016

National Agricultural and Rural Development Policy Center (NARDeP)

The National Agricultural & Rural Development Policy Center was organized by the Regional Rural Development Centers to provide information about the increasingly contentious and complex agricultural and rural development U.S. policy issues, primarily in the form of briefs authored by national experts. Signature areas included energy and the environment, food systems development, and self-employment and entrepreneurship.

Funding Agency: USDA NIFA

Principal Investigator: Donald Albrecht, Western Rural Development Center

Accompanying Institution(s): NERCRD, Southern Rural Development Center, North Central Regional Center for Rural Development

Start Date: April 2012   End Date: April 2016

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