A Focus on Food Access

This post has been contributed by Sarah Misyak, a graduate student in the department of Human Nutrition, Foods & Exercise at Virginia Tech.

My career at Virginia Tech has been long and varied.  I began with exercise and health promotion, then focused on muscle physiology and biochemistry, then nutritional immunology, followed by ‘drought sustainable’ agriculture, before finally settling into behavioral and community nutrition. My doctoral work has been on barriers to local food access for mothers with young children experiencing food insecurity.  This has definitely been the most difficult (and exciting) phase of my career.  As all of you know, the topics of food security and food access are unbelievably complicated.

Fortunately, I was able to work with the wonderful people in the Family Nutrition Program in Virginia Cooperative Extension.  The mission of the Family Nutrition Program is “to teach limited-resource families and youth how to make healthier food choices and become better managers of available food resources for optimal health and growth” by focusing on basic nutrition, physical activity, safe food handling, and food budgeting. They helped me to focus my work in a way to move beyond studying the theoretical aspects of food access.  Working closely with Meredith Ledlie Johnson, the Community Nutrition Coordinator for the Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Food Security Project, our research has directly impacted and informed nutrition education programming for Cooperative Extension. For our research we spoke with directly with Family Nutrition Program clientele. These women, and even a few men, were knowledgeable about and engaged in their food system. Their thoughts and opinions on the issues of food access and community food security have been invaluable to our work.

Meredith Ledlie Johnson and I participated in an AFP webinar on November 21st, 2013 to discuss one of our projects.

A recorded copy of the webinar, Keeping Local Foods Affordable: An optional, open source farmers market lesson for SNAP-eligible populations, can be accessed at the following link:


The lesson is available at


I have also been fortunate to spend the last three years working with the Appalachian Foodshed Project. This project has given me insight into the extremely complicated  and difficult tasks of promoting community food security and community viability. The best part of this project has been meeting our hardworking community partners throughout the Appalachian regions of Virginia and North Carolina and the entire state of West Virginia.  Our community partners address the issue of community food security in many different ways. I don’t think I could fully appreciate the difficult nature of this work without having seen these on the ground efforts. You have all been inspiring.

Through my engagement in this project, I feel I have become a part of the community in Southwest Virginia. As I move on to the next phase of my career I will continue to use what I have learned here to promote food security in our community.

Sarah Misyak is a graduate research assistant and management team member of the Appalachian Foodshed Project.