SAN DIEGO – The University of California, San Diego reported that it received a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to continue the development of an artificial intelligence-based platform to help small business owners located in food deficit areas.
NOURISH, seeks to be an innovative food and nutrition project by uniquely combining artificial intelligence (AI) and social enterprise business models to help address the challenge of food deserts in the United States.
These are places across the country where supermarkets are more than a mile away in urban neighborhoods or 10 miles away in rural communities. Residents of these places often turn to nearby minimarts and fast food stands, where food can be more expensive and/or less healthy. To address this problem, the project aims to develop a platform that will help small business owners provide convenient, accessible and healthier food resources to people in their communities.
With a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Laura Schmidt of UC San Francisco leads the project’s researchers, which include: Amarnath Gupta and Ilya Zaslavsky, both of the UC San Diego Supercomputing Center; Keith Pezzoli, UC San Diego; Matthew Lange, UC Davis; Paul Watson, Jr. president and CEO of the San Diego Global Action Research Center; Tera Fazzino, University of Kansas; and Hans Taparia, New York University. The team’s expertise spans multiple disciplines, from public health, computer science, entrepreneurship, psychology, regional planning and community organizing for food justice.
Users of the platform will be small businesses and community organizations, both active and declining. The businesses will be matched with one or more funding resources using AI techniques.
In addition, NOURISH will also connect local food producers (including urban gardens and food businesses) to create direct access to fresh food ingredients for meal preparers to reduce the cost of healthy food. Community organizations will use the platform to advise on market opportunities in different neighborhoods.
“I’ve been studying ways to prevent obesity-related chronic disease by reducing the saturation of ultra-processed ‘junk’ food in low-income communities for many years. But until NOURISH, I hadn’t seen the power of open source AI to make these food systems healthier,” said Schmidt, principal investigator on the project.
According to Gupta, the problem is complex and requires the assimilation of a wide variety of information from government, business and private sources. The team’s computer scientists will combine public data and crowdsourced information to create a dynamic, interactive map of America’s local food systems.
The NOURISH platform will include specific recommendation algorithms that allow users to explore opportunities for funding and scaling small businesses that sell fresh food in high-need areas of the country.
The platform has already undergone user testing. Bryce Fluellen, executive director of Social Equity Franchise & Philanthropy at Everytable, has been pleased with the platform’s ability to promote culturally appropriate food.
The NOURISH team will test the platform in low-income areas of San Diego and Imperial counties before scaling it nationally.