headshot of Dr. Aslihan Spaulding
Dr. Aslihan Spaulding

Illinois State University’s Dr. Aslihan D. Spaulding is part of a national team awarded a $10 million USDA grant to promote alternative systems for agriculture.

Spaulding, a professor of agribusiness and food industry management, will bring her expertise to the project, which will work to make Midwestern farm systems more resilient through diversification.

“The food industry is going through a transformation to build a sustainable supply chain system under the pressure of ever-changing consumer demand, especially in the wake of impact of the COVID-19,” said Spaulding, who noted several large agribusinesses and industry organizations are already investing in sustainability efforts.  

Titled “#DiverseCornBelt: Resilient Intensification through Diversity in Midwestern Agriculture,” the project will bring together leaders in agricultural industry and scholarship to collaborate with farmers in Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa.  

The team will work on three levels. The farm-diversity level will not only support diverse crops, but also diverse systems, such as agroforestry. On the market level, the team will examine diverse producers and consumers as well as meeting the needs of diverse people. The agricultural landscape level will explore wide-scale adoption of alternative farming systems as well as equitable distribution.  

For the project, Spaulding will collaborate with food industry organizations such as Produce Marketing Association and National Grocers Association, along with conducting an online survey to assess member companies’ current sustainability efforts and challenges they face. “My work will also identify potential opportunities that might be connected to the needs of the consumers and the farmers,” said Spaulding, who will also assist the research team with designing educational modules and providing immersive learning experiences for students. 

Spaulding added that there will be some familiar faces in the project collaborators. “It’s thrilling to know we’ll work with alumni who are now in the agriculture industry,” she said of Chad Bell ’08 will serve on our Advisory Board and Tony Stirling ’08 will help with one of the case studies.  

“My goal is to continuously improve upon my family farm and set up its future farming generations for long-term success,” said Bell in his letter of support for the project.  

According to the grant’s lead institution, Purdue University, letters of support for the team’s proposal came from farmers, industry, academic institutions, and environmental organizations, including General Mills, Smithfield, Kellogg’s, Red Gold, the Indiana Agriculture Nutrient Alliance, the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, National Association of Conservation Districts, the Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition, the Iowa Soybean Association, and the National Wildlife Federation.  

Other partner institutions include the American Society of Agronomy, Conservation Technology Information Center, Sustainable Food Lab, USDA Economic Research Service, USDA Forest Service, Iowa State University, Montana State University, The Nature Conservancy, Practical Farmers of Iowa, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Iowa, University of Minnesota, and University of Wisconsin Madison and Platteville. 

Farmers, agricultural advisors and marketers, community leaders, and landowners, interested in participating in the project through surveys, interviews, and stakeholder listening sessions should contact Linda Prokopy at lprokopy@purdue.edu or Spaulding at adspaul@ilstu.edu

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (Project No. 2021-68012-35896) funded this work. 

infographic with diversity of farm, market, and landscape connected by word diversify in a circle
Through research, extension, and education activities, the #DiverseCornBelt team will build resilient intensification through diversity at the farm, landscape, and market levels that ensures the needs of diverse people are met. Graphic from Purdue University.