Subhashni Raj (right) with Kami Pothukuchi (left) and Samina
Raja (center), both members of the fellowship selection committee.
Raj works in Raja's Food Lab.
Fulbright scholar and climate activist Subhashni Raj, who just
completed her master of urban planning at UB, will start her PhD at
the university this fall as the first recipient of the Jerome L.
Kaufman Doctoral Fellowship for the study of food-systems
The fellowship honors the legacy of Jerome Kaufman, a University
of Wisconsin-Madison professor who carved out a place for the food
system within the field of planning through groundbreaking
teaching, research, and professional and community engagement.
Associated with UB’s new PhD in urban and regional
planning, the program will train the next generation of
food-systems planners and support new research on planning’s
role in building equitable and sustainable food systems—from
food production and processing to food access and consumption. It
is the first doctoral fellowship in food systems planning in the
U.S., organizers say.
Raj’s interest in food security developed after she joined
the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab (Food Lab) of
Samina Raja, UB associate professor of urban and regional planning,
to conduct master’s research. Here, Raj became closely
engaged in several food initiatives in the Buffalo community,
including a study of urban agriculture’s effects on fruit and
vegetable consumption among youth on the city’s West
“It’s the kids, seeing their hope and energy for the
future. I want to be a part of that,” says Raj, adding that
Buffalo’s wave of grassroots efforts makes it an ideal place
to study the issue.
As a Kaufman Fellow, Raj will have the opportunity to test her
research on a national scale by working with Raja and the Food Lab
on the Growing Food Connections initiative, funded by a $3.96
million grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture
of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That project seeks to bring
the tools of food-systems planning to 20 food-insecure regions
across the country through research and extension activities in the
Through the fellowship, Raj will explore planning as a tool to
manage and mitigate the impacts of climate change on the food
system. From Earth’s rising temperature to extreme weather
events, climate variability poses significant threats to an already
fragile global food system, says Raj.
“Food and climate are inextricably linked, and the
resource constraints on the planet require society to develop an
understanding of the intersection between the food system and
climate change,” she says.
As a Kaufman Fellow, Raj will receive three years of support and
work directly with Raja, an international leader in the discipline.
Raj also will work out of Raja’s Food Lab in the School of
Architecture and Planning.
Raj says the fellowship gives her the opportunity to fuse two of
her passions: pushing for solutions to the climate crisis and
ensuring food security for all.
When Raj came to UB’s Department of Urban and Regional
Planning in 2011, she already was a seasoned climate activist. She
had organized demonstrations around the globe as a volunteer with
350.org, a grassroots movement to address the climate crisis. A
native of Fiji, she also founded 350 Pacific, a youth-led network
fighting climate-change impacts across the Pacific Islands. As an
undergraduate in microbiology, she studied the impacts of global
warming on Fiji’s coral reefs.
According to members of the fellowship’s national
selection committee, Raj rose to the top of a highly competitive
pool of candidates due to the potential of her research to cross
“The committee felt that Subhashni reflected Jerry’s
aspirations the best. Her research has the greatest potential to
break new ground,” says Raja, who studied under Kaufman at
the University of Wisconsin and has conducted pioneering research
on the relationship of the food system to community health.
Committee member Kami Pothukuchi, associate professor of urban
planning at Wayne State University in Detroit, agrees.
“The field of climate studies is inherently
interdisciplinary, as is food planning. But those two fields have
not been linked. Subhashni’s proposal will begin to fill that
gap,” says Pothukuchi, a close colleague of Kaufman until his
Other committee members are Judith Zukerman Kaufman; Marcia
Caton Campbell, Center for Resilient Cities; Martin Bailkey,
Growing Power; and Branden Born, University at
For Raj, a doctorate in planning is a critical step in her
pursuit of global-scale impacts on climate change and food
“Through my experiences in bureaucracy and activism, I
have come to the conclusion that both require a body of knowledge
to provide them with the tools and mechanisms to make meaningful
change in the world.”