RIDGE Program and Extramural Research

ERS encourages new and innovative research through joint projects between ERS staff and outside researchers. The ERS extramural research program component uses two main mechanisms to promote food and nutrition assistance research from a broad arena:

Research Innovation and Development Grants in Economics Program (RIDGE)

The Research Innovation and Development Grants in Economics (RIDGE) Program encourages new and innovative research on food and nutrition assistance issues and broadens the participation of social science scholars in such research. RIDGE is funded by ERS and USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) and is administered in partnership with Tufts University and the University of Connecticut (UConn). This partnership, established in 2016, brings together Tufts' Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and UConn's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, two institutions with a long record of leadership in food and nutrition research. 

2019 Grant Awards

The RIDGE Program has funded eight new research grants to enhance food security and dietary quality in Federal nutrition assistance programs. Using a wide variety of data sources, including surveys, administrative data, and qualitative methods, these eight research projects can inform programs that provide nutrition assistance to people at all ages and in all parts of the country. See: Eight New Research Grants to Enhance Food Security and Dietary Quality in Federal Nutrition Assistance Programs.

The RIDGE program issued the request for proposals in early 2019. Applicants were invited to submit short concept letters in early spring, and selected applicants were invited to submit full proposals in late spring. All full proposals were reviewed by external reviewers, USDA reviewers, and by the program directors at the University of Connecticut and Tufts University. Using recommendations from the RIDGE Program, the award decision was made by USDA’s Economic Research Service and Food and Nutrition Service.


The Tufts/UConn RIDGE partnership oversees the application, peer review, award, and performance processes of the research grants provided through the RIDGE Program. Tufts/UConn serves as a hub for mentoring and training researchers interested in food and nutrition assistance issues and provides a source of timely and accessible information on new research findings. Tufts/UConn is currently seeking applications from a diverse community of experienced nutrition assistance researchers, graduate students, early career scholars, and established researchers who bring expertise in another research area (see Funding/RIDGE at Tufts/UConn).


Annual Conference

ERS and its partner institutions host the Food and Nutrition Assistance RIDGE Program Conference in the Fall of each year at which RIDGE researchers present findings of completed projects. Last year’s RIDGE Conference was held on Thursday, October 11, 2018, at the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU), 1307 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, DC. An agenda is available. For information about the conference, see 2018 Research Innovation and Development Grants in Economics Program (RIDGE) Conference.   

Research Project Summaries

RIDGE, known as the Small Grants Program through 2006, has funded more than 285 projects at over 100 educational and research institutions during 1998-2019. For detailed findings from research projects conducted during the past several years, see the previous RIDGE partners at the Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP), University of Wisconsin-Madison; the Center for Regional Development, Purdue University; and the Southern Rural Development Center, Mississippi State University.

In addition, many research projects were conducted through previous RIDGE partners at the American Indian Studies Program, University of Arizona; the Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago; the Joint Center for Poverty Research, University of Chicago and Northwestern University; and the Department of Nutrition, University of California, Davis.   

The RIDGE Program annually summarizes research findings of projects that were awarded grants through its partner institutions in a given year. The summaries are available in a searchable electronic database. To perform a customized search of all RIDGE project summaries by keyword(s), project, research center, investigator, or year, see:

RIDGE Projects and Summaries

USDA Center for Behavioral Economics and Healthy Food Choice Research

The Duke-UNC-USDA Center for Behavioral Economics and Healthy Food Choice Research—a partnership between Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—was established in September 2014. The Center, funded jointly by ERS and USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), applies behavioral economic theories and concepts to improving food choices. The Center has made a number of sub-awards to other researchers but is not presently accepting applications. For more information on the center and previous sub-awards see Duke-UNC-USDA Center for Behavioral Economics and Healthy Food Choice Research