2010-2011 Fellows

Tyler Nesbit

Degree Sought : Ph.D. in Geography
Research Focus: Consumer decision making with respect to food options in the urban environment

School Name : The Edward Devotion, Brookline
Teaching Partner: Deborah Allen
Tyler's Project GLACIER Site

The urban environment is increasingly important to understand as more and more people live in cities around the world. One aspect of the urban environment that links people to the surrounding areas is the food system. The food system is an interconnected network of agriculture, processing, distribution, consumption, and disposal. The choices that people make regarding their food consumption decisions have consequences that ripple through all aspects of this system. While there are some agricultural systems that are more conducive to environmental sustainability such as organic and locally produced food, there are many factors that enter into the decision making process of consumers as to what they end up purchasing and consuming. My research is targeted towards identifying and understanding the factors contributing towards the food consumers’ decision-making process and ultimately, their behavior in the market. This information is very useful in designing effective marketing and policy campaigns to influence the purchase of food items that are more sustainable environmentally and socially.

Integrating this research into the classroom presents many challenges and opportunities. At the middle school level the science curriculum generally consists of the basic principles of the life sciences, which makes the introduction of social science research slightly more difficult. However, this is also an opportunity to employ creative teaching methods. As an example, we have recently had the students research, design and build an indoor food growing system. The system is required to consist of two distinct, but interconnected parts: a growing unit and a composting unit. This system is targeted specifically to the urban dweller, focusing on such factors as minimizing space, resources and unwanted side effects like odors. This project integrates many beneficial features including: introducing the students to the engineering design process, integrating key curriculum of nutrient cycling, requirements of living things, and ecological interactions (i.e. food webs), and giving the students a hands on approach to learning that helps to engage them in the content and make connections between the theoretical and the practical. It also provides an opportunity to begin the students thinking about theirs and their family’s choices regarding food purchasing decisions and how these actions impact the environment and society at a larger scale.
Sponsored by the NSF GK-12 Program