Developing a More Inclusive Food Future Through Research and Innovation

Through participatory research, Dr. Ankita Raturi is working to develop technological tools that can build resilience in the food system.

An Assistant Professor in the Department of Agricultural & Biological Engineering at Purdue University, Raturi says that her work can impact everyone from farmers looking to adopt more regenerative practices to food hub coordinators who wish to connect with their communities. “My mission is to try to think about how we can design a range of methods, models, tools to empower these decision makers,” Raturi tells Food Tank.

To support these stakeholders, Raturi believes in collaborating directly with the them, rather than imposing a solution.

While helping growers adopt and improve cover crop practices, for example, Raturi worked closely with cover crop councils across the United States. Through participatory design sessions that spanned months, she learned what potential users hope to see in new software.

“Each of the different activities we do are really oriented around making sure that everybody is able to speak up and talk about what they’re working on and is able to actually then influence what we ultimately design,” Raturi tells  Food Tank.

Raturi says that the process can make some farmers skeptical. But, she says, “one of the things that I’ve always felt really good about—and it’s always kept me going—is the fact that no matter what brings someone to the table, and no matter where their headspace is, after we go through the process together, I know I’ve done my job right if they feel like they were heard and included.”

Once tools are operational, Raturi notes that community engagement is important to keep them running. “We can sit and design and run participatory design sessions and put together a really beautiful interface…We can implement it however we desire, but then somebody needs to actually keep this alive in the long term.”

Open source software can serve “as a way in which we keep these tools alive,” Raturi says. “I look to bringing in community members to be able to take ownership of the tools we create. And so in a lot of ways, my advocacy revolves around this idea [that] we’re not just building tools for you, we’re building tools with you, so you can adopt them, and take care of them over time in the same you that you would with your own spade.”

Listen to the full conversation with Ankita Raturi on “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg” to hear more Raturi’s participatory research practices, equitable data sharing, and the ways she is working to build resilience in the face of the climate crisis.

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Photo courtesy of Andreas Strandman, Unsplash

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