What is the RIDGE Center’s Purpose?

The purpose of the RIDGE (Research Innovation and Development Grants in Economics) Center for Targeted Studies is to invest in innovative social sciences-based research that explores the food and nutrition assistance challenges of rural people and places. The program is interested in a wide array of topics and issues. Proposals that focus on Native Americans, Hispanics, African Americans and other racial/ethnic populations, as well as children and low-wealth individuals/households, are strongly encouraged. This document outlines the key information for applicants planning to submit grant proposals.

RIDGE Center’s History

USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) named the Southern Rural Development Center (SRDC) at Mississippi State University as one of two RIDGE Centers in 2010. The Purdue Center for Regional Development (PCRD) became the new host site in 2015. The RIDGE (Research Innovation and Development Grants in Economics) Center for Targeted Studies invests in innovative social sciencesbased research that explores the food and nutrition assistance challenges facing residents and communities in rural America, including Native Americans, immigrants, other racial/ethnic minorities, youth, single parents, the persistently poor and other key populations.

The Center’s Research Priorities

The RIDGE Center is interested in basic, applied, policy and evaluation-related research proposals that align with one or more of the following priority themes and possible research topics (NOTE: Other possible topics relevant to each priority theme are welcomed from grant applicants.)


  • Examine challenges associated with the availability and use of child nutrition programs or the advancement of child nutrition in rural areas.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of federal and/or state child nutrition programs in advancing the nutritional health of children.


  • Explore the current and/or changing characteristics of food insecure populations in rural areas and the strategies used to cope with food insecurity.
  • Assess implications and/or consequences of increases in SNAP funding in 2008 and/or decreases in SNAP funding in 2013 on low-income families/households.
  • Examine the extent to which food insecurity is being experienced in different ways by adults (females and/or males) and children within households.


  • Assess the impact of health care costs on adult and child food assistance participation rates.
  • Examine if food assistance programs serve as an economic safety net for low-income families/households, protecting them from hardships resulting from income losses and major unexpected expenses.
  • Explore the nature of the relationship (if any) between the mental/physical health of individuals or families and participation in food assistance programs.


  • Examine whether features of the “built environment” (i.e., availability of local offices, access to transportation services, web-based or face-to-face enrollment process) have effects on food assistance program participation rates.
  • Determine whether federal or state policy decisions regarding the “built environment” have positive or negative impacts on food assistance program participation.


  • Examine the away-from-home food consumption patterns of adults and/or children and the consequences on their nutrition and health status.
  • Assess the role of behavioral economics and incentives in helping adults or children make better health/nutrition-related choices.


  • Explore how place-based factors may affect the nutritional health of local residents, such as the availability of a variety of healthy food products by type of stores, the cost of healthy diets, diet quality, and access to healthy foods.
  • Assess the impacts of community-led efforts to promote weight reduction on the health status of local residents.
  • Determine whether the introduction and expansion of local or regional food systems alters the food assistance and nutritional status of local residents, in general, and/or key sub-populations, in particular.


  • Timely topics (not outlined above) that the applicant believes would be of interest to the RIDGE Center for Targeted Studies are welcomed. The key is to ensure that the research explores the social sciences based aspects of your food assistance and/or nutrition-related topic.

RIDGE Partners & Sponsors

The Economic Research Service provides Research Innovation and Development Grants in Economics to stimulate innovative research on food and nutrition assistance issues. The SRDC is one of two partnership institutions.