Food Justice Research and Action Cluster

Welcome to Merrimack's FJRAC

Merrimack College’s Food Justice Research and Action Cluster (FJRAC) promotes research, practice and policy to reduce food justice disparities in our communities. Since 2021, our team has centered its projects around food justice in the Merrimack Valley. 

About the Food Justice Research and Action Cluster

Merrimack’s FJRAC was established in response to the drastic increase in food insecurity rates as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Food insecurity is defined as reduced food quality, variety, or desirability of diet. It can have serious short- and long-term consequences for children’s health, especially in populations of Hispanic and Black non-Hispanic children who are at higher risk for food insecurity. 

The Food Justice Research and Action Cluster:

  • Knits together and focuses faculty from engineering, health science, education, philosophy, computer science and social justice into an interdisciplinary community-engaged teaching and research cluster.
  • Allows Merrimack faculty to apply their scholarly/disciplinary expertise to the community-identified priority of food justice.
  • Provides experiential learning opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students.
0 %

of MA households with kids experienced food insecurity in 2020-2021.

Greater Boston Food Bank

0 m

children in the United States experienced food insecurity in 2021.

Feeding America

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people in the United States experienced food insecurity in 2021.

Feeding America

Food justice is “the right of communities everywhere to produce, process, distribute, access, and eat good food regardless of race, class, gender, ethnicity, citizenship, ability, religion or community."

- Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy

Goals of FJRAC

Expand Student Engagement
  • Offer food justice research opportunities for students during summer terms, winter terms, class projects, and graduate
    (Community Engagement) fellowships.
  • Bring together students from varying academic backgrounds to work together on team-based research projects to
    leverage their various areas of knowledge.
  • Educate and prepare the next generation of professionals and community leaders committed to alleviating hunger wherever they find themselves living or working.
  • Create new educational experiences that stretch students’ social and spiritual development in service of the common good.
Develop a Food Justice Curriculum
  • Explore creating new undergraduate minors, including a potential Food Justice minor or certificate, that focus on experiential learning through community and civic engagement.
  • Offer certificates for community partners.
  • Formalize new courses in areas, projects, and experiences focusing on tools, knowledge, data, and approaches to combat food insecurity. 
  • Develop revenue streams and research projects focused on food justice that aligns with Merrimack’s Agenda for the Future.
  • Create processes and documented challenges and solutions for future Research & Teaching Clusters at Merrimack. 
Strengthen Community Outreach
  • Allow Merrimack faculty to further develop as regional knowledge sources/experts who connect student learning with
    local, regional and national community food justice needs.
  • Leverage faculty expertise from across the College (in areas of social justice, data analytics, geographic information science, psychology,
    sociology, nutrition and more) to offer services to local community partners.
  • Continue to share FJRAC farmed data (e.g., food product pricing data farmed using a student-built web crawler), with community partners. 
  • Work with community partners’ GIS census tract median income and public transit access data.
  • Host summits and workshops centered around food justice. 


Food Justice Classes at Merrimack

  • PHL 2130 - Food Justice

    This course explores ethical and social justice issues involved in food and agricultural practices. It considers both questions of personal ethics and takes an ecological, systems-based approach to how food is produced, transported, distributed, marketed, prepared, and consumed. It examines key ethical and political theories and principles that can be used to evaluate choices, habits, and practices concerning food.
    Read full course description

  • POL 2300 - The Politics of Food

    This course explores some of the many ways that what we eat is shaped and controlled by politics. In particular, the course topics center around helping students understand the ways that power dynamics and policy decisions in our political system shape what we eat and why.
    Read full course description

Student Projects & Involvement

Since 2021, FJRAC primary investigators and collaborators have engaged a number of students in projects and events centered around food justice in the Merrimack Valley. Projects and events have included:

Literature Reviews

  • Students have composed detailed literature reviews and papers addressing literature on food security, food pantries and political advocacy approaches.
  • One student created a documentary film about the experience of working in a food pantry.

Data Exploration & Sharing

  • Students have built a web crawler to gather food product pricing data and to share it with community partners. 
  • They have worked with data analytics, food insecurity mapping software, and geographic information systems (GIS) census tract median income and public transit access data.

Food Justice Events

Merrimack students have:
  • presented their ideas about food insecurity at the annual Merrimack food summit/symposium.
  • participated in local community garden cleanups and Earth Day service projects.
  • served on food justice community engagement panels on campus. 
  • packaged thousands of meals for underserved communities during Mack Gives Back

Food Justice Events & Resources

Merrimack Food Justice Summit

Merrimack faculty, staff and students present on food insecurity and their work to alleviate hunger in the Merrimack Valley at this annual event.

Social Justice Month

The Merrimack community comes together during April's Social Justice Month to discuss social justice issues, including food insecurity.

What is Food Justice?

Boston University's Community Service Center has defined food justice and includes some related terms you should know.

White House Conference

The White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health's goal is to end hunger and increase healthy eating/physical activity by 2030.

Food Recovery Network

Merrimack’s chapter of the Food Recovery Network recovers perishable food that would go to waste from campus and donates it to those in need.

Merrimack College Garden

Located behind 27 Rock Ridge Road, the Merrimack Garden includes fruit, vegetables and flowers and is tended to by students, faculty and staff.

Merrimack's Food Justice Summit

Merrimack's fall 2022 summit featured 11 speakers representing Andover, North Andover, Haverhill, Lawrence and Methuen, and more than 100 attendees including external community members, faculty, staff and students.

Grants & Funding

The Merrimack College Food Justice Research and Action Cluster is funded by the College’s Provost Innovation Fund. The fund is focused on supporting existing faculty-led scholarship projects and initiatives that engage with community partners and exemplify community engagement. 

In the News



Team members Elaine Ward, Eleanor Shonkoff, Cynthia Carlson and Christopher Stuetzle frame the stages and timeline that led to the formation of the FJRAC in this institutional case study published in the Metropolitan Universities Journal.

The authors share the work of Merrimack faculty and leadership to affirm and institutionalize community engagement through community-engaged research and the development of FJRAC, connecting community priorities for food justice with faculty expertise.

Our Team

Principal Investigators

Cynthia Carlson

Associate Professor, Civil Engineering

Co-Director, Environmental Sciences and Sustainability

  • Dr. Carlson has been working with the Regional Food Access and Community Network since March 2021.
  • She supports students in learning ArcGIS mapping software and in
    retrieving data from geospatial databases.
Eleanor Shonkoff

Associate Clinical Professor, Nutrition and Public Health

  • Dr. Shonkoff led the Campus Kitchens Program and the Food Recovery Network from 2018 through 2021.
  • These programs provided local community members with food 1-2 days per week and service-learning opportunities for students.
  • Her research has focused on child obesity prevention and treatment for under-resourced communities and food insecurity.
Christopher Stuetzle

Associate Professor, Computer and Data Sciences

  • Dr. Stuetzle has worked with the New Hampshire Food Alliance to apply techniques and applications in food justice.
  • He has worked with the Regional Food Access and Security Network in the North Andover, Andover and Lawrence communities.
  • He leads students in data exploration programs, data collection scripts, large datasets based on food product prices, and census tract median income tracking data.


Erinn Gilson

Associate Professor, Philosophy

Sandra Raponi

Associate Professor, Philosophy

Associate Professor, Higher Education