Students seek community volunteers for citizen science project

Jun 7th, 2021

Jeff Green

Students seek community volunteers for citizen science project

A pair of undergraduate students are looking for volunteers to join a project examining food prices in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Willa Neilsen and Morgan Davidson are working with the Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR), led by Dr. Max Liboiron, associate professor, Department of Geography, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.

CLEAR is partnering with the Social Justice Co-operative N.L. and the Nunatsiavut Government on the citizen science survey, collecting data on key food prices.

“The goal of the N.L. Food Pricing Project is to better understand the cost of key food items across our province,” said Ms. Neilsen, who is from North West River, Labrador, and is completing a bachelor of science degree.

She and Ms. Davidson, who is originally from Clarenville and is working towards a bachelor of science degree, are eager to expand the study.

“Our need for volunteers stems from our goal of collecting food pricing data from different stores in different areas all around the province,” said Ms. Neilsen.

“The role of volunteers is to regularly go to a local food store in their area and fill out either our paper data form or our online Google form with the information it asks for.”

Price of food

Patricia Johnson-Castle, director of policy and planning with the ‎Nunatsiavut Government, says food security is a serious issue for northern communities such as Nain and Hopedale.

“We know that food is more expensive up here but some studies fail to highlight other factors that contribute to food insecurity,” she told the Gazette.

Things such as the weather and transportation delays can limit the freshness and availability of items such as produce. She says the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has also affected food distribution chains resulting in a rise in prices for products such as ground beef and pork chops.

“We know that food is expensive — but how much more expensive is it?” she said, adding that people, especially those living in the North, often share photos of skyrocketing food prices on social media.

She says this project will shed light on prices and their fluctuations throughout the year.

“We’ll be able to use this to hopefully further talks with the federal government on how food is subsidized,” Ms. Johnson-Castle added. “We want to bring some attention to the issue.”

Connecting citizen scientists

Kerri Neil (BA(Hons.)’16, MA’19) co-chair of the Social Justice Co-operative, says the group was excited to partner with CLEAR and the Nunatsiavut Government for this project.

“We have an action team working around food sovereignty,” said Mx. Neil, who is also a member of Memorial’s Board of Regents. [Editor’s note: “Mx.” is a gender-neutral honorific.]

“Not a lot of people in the province have access to traditional foods from sustainable sources. Food is so important to our every day and we want to make sure people have access to good nutritious food.”

Mx. Neil says her group is helping connect citizen scientists throughout the province with CLEAR.

How to get involved

Once a month, volunteer participants will collect data from their local food store and share that information with CLEAR.

Ms. Neilsen say the pandemic has slowed their research but they want to increase publicity for their project and recruit further volunteers.

More information about the N.L. Food Pricing Project is online or you can email Ms. Neilsen to get involved in the project.