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U.S. Department of Agriculture grants Jennifer Gaddis $1.5 million for study of K-12 school food service workforce

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Jennifer Gaddis, an associate professor of Civil Society & Community Studies and Jane Rafferty Thiele Faculty Fellow (Graduate Teaching), has received a $1.5 million cooperative award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study the K-12 school food service workforce.

Gaddis will lead a team of researchers in examining the state of school food service in the U.S. and exploring strategies to create “a stable and respected child nutrition workforce that can provide nutritious meals to students while supporting resilient local and regional food systems.”

This national study builds on Gaddis’ recent work, funded by a Wisconsin Idea Collaboration Grant, which included a community-based participatory research project on the Wisconsin school food workforce.

“I am very excited about this award because it is the first time the federal government has sponsored research on the school food workforce,” Gaddis said. “Policymakers are increasingly recognizing that the recruitment, retention, compensation and professional development of school nutrition workers is key to maximizing the value of our national school food programs for kids, families, communities, farmers and the environment.”

The UW team will also include Laura Dresser, a labor economist and policy analyst from the High Road Strategy Center with more than two decades of experience researching low wage work and workforce development systems, and Alexia Kulwiec, a labor lawyer from the School for Workers who studies labor standards and policy within the U.S. agriculture and food system.

The team anticipates making five to seven sub-grant awards with a project maximum of $250,000 and an 18-month award period, to be announced in late spring 2025.

Gaddis’ work focuses on school food politics and systems change at local, state, national and comparative international scales. She is an internationally recognized expert on the U.S. child nutrition workforce with more than 15 years of experience in school food research. Gaddis is the author of two books: 2019’s The Labor of Lunch: Why We Need Real Food and Real Jobs in American Public Schools and 2024’s Transforming School Food Politics Around the World, co-edited with Sarah A. Robert.