About Mari Gallagher


Mari Gallagher is Principal of Mari Gallagher Research and Consulting Group. Clients and partners include grassroots community and civic organizations, government entities, foundations, and major international corporations. She and her firm have collaborated with the Institute of Medicine of the Academy of the Sciences, the Urban Institute, Harvard, MIT, the National YMCA, and many other organizations.

Mari is also the Founding President of the National Center for Public Research. NCforPR’s mission is to provide meaningful and unbiased data and information to improve quality of life, quality of health, and financial wellbeing for all people and communities.

Both MG and NCforPR are headquartered in Chicago.

Mari is also Adjunct Associate Professor at the Institute on Urban Health Research at Bouvé College of Health Sciences at Northeastern University in Boston.

Mari has enjoyed a national reputation for diverse, high impact projects around the country for over 20 years of professional history. Expertise includes quantitative and qualitative research projects; financial services, housing, community development, community planning, workforce issues, the economy, immigration, food deserts, and community health; market analyses, commercial site assessments and hands-on redevelopment consulting; business strategies; mapping; expert testimony, facilitation, and public forums.

Publications include “Examining the Impact of Food Deserts on Public Health in Chicago” sponsored by LaSalle Bank (now Bank of America), a breakthrough study which popularized the term “food desert” across the country. MG was the first to develop a block-by-block metric for “food deserts” and “food balance” linked with health measures and has since done similar work in Detroit, rural Michigan, Louisville, Harlem, Savannah, Birmingham, Los Angeles and other areas. Mari’s work motivated Congressman Bobby Rush to address the problem of food deserts through the Farm Bill and through the mandating of a follow-on study to be completed by the USDA. Mari’s research shows that residents of food deserts die prematurely more than they would otherwise from diet-related conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Under Mari’s leadership, MG has provided free diabetes screenings to school age children in Richmond, Virginia, to help identify diabetic and pre-diabetic children and adolescents.

Over the last 20 years, Mari has enjoyed a colorful career. As the former executive director of a community development corporation, she led the co-development of a $75 million shopping center anchored by a full-service grocery store. The CDC secured a 5% ownership in the project and continues to receive revenue from it to support community programs. Mari also led a number of additional commercial, housing and job development and training projects, many of which won prestigious awards. She was the president of a technology company. And before launching her own firm, Mari directed a major Washington-based national research initiative aimed at identifying new ways to measure African American and Latino markets. Specialties include “below the radar” data, indexes, neighborhood report cards, and market analyses for undervalued and high-transition markets. She was one of the first researchers to identify and study the “undocumented Mexican” ITIN mortgage market.

Mari has received dozens of awards over the years for her leadership in community improvement projects from the University of Illinois, where she earned her Masters in Public Policy and Planning, the Boy Scouts of America, the American Heart Association and many other institutions. She led a research project for the Federal Reserve Board of Governor’s on Mexican immigrant banking and remittance patterns, which won a prize from a national consumer advocacy group. She was a founder and president of a soccer association that served Hispanic youth, a founder and volunteer for a homeless support network and food pantry, and active in other volunteer efforts. One of her initiatives years ago to develop a community garden in a vacant lot where a man was beaten to death received 32 media placements including House Beautiful and won an award from Chicago Mayor M. Daley. The project included a “fantasy mural” designed by former gang members.

Mari’s work continues to be covered by USA Today, National Public Radio, CNN, and many other venues. Mari also writes for the Huffington Post, which has 14 million unique visitors daily. She has been a guest speaker for various high-level forums across the country, including the National Community Reinvestment Coalition and the U.S. Conference of Mayors. She continues to be a well-received facilitator and presenter on many diverse topics. In addition to public forums, she provides executive briefings to the heads of major corporations.

Mari lived and studied in Latin America, speaks Spanish fluently, plays chess, and is married to Northwestern University economic historian Joseph Ferrie.


Mari has authored or co-authored over 100 studies on food access, community health, commercial revitalization, and other content areas over the course of her career. Here is a partial listing of publications.

• Ticket to Ride: A Needs Assessment on Transportation Needs for Seniors for ITNChicago, 2010

• The Peapod & Neighbor Capital Healthy Families Research Project, 2010

• New Day in the Garden: A Food Desert & Food Balance Analysis in Savannah, Georgia, 2009

• The Harvard / MIT Food Access Report, 2009

• A Professional Opinion of a Recent Study by the Center for Urban Research and Learning of Loyola University Chicago Concerning the Impact of Chicago’s West Side Wal-Mart, 2009

• Food Desert Report to Congress, in collaboration with the Institute of Medicine and other researchers, 2009

• Professional Opinion of a Recent Study by the Center for Urban Research and Learning of the Loyola University Chicago Concerning the Impact of Chicago’s West Side Wal-Mart, 2009

• Chicago Food Desert Update, 2009 (updating the original 2006 report)

• The Potential Impacts of a Wal-mart Supercenter  [At 83rd & Stewart in Chicago, Illinois] on Grocer Agglomeration, Food Deserts, Food Balance, and Public Health, 2008

• Mobile Grocer Opportunities for Kraft Foods, 2008

• The Detroit Food Desert Storyboard Series, 2008

• Housing Challenges in Central Iowa, 2008

• Examining the Impact of Food Deserts on Public Health in Detroit, 2007

• Food Access, Food Balance, and Food Deserts in Louisville, 2007

• Sun-Times Briefing on USDA Food Stamp Liquor Stores, 2007

• Women and Children Last in the Food Desert, 2007

• Untapped Opportunities for Grocers, 2007

• The Food Desert and Mobile Grocers: A Look at the Pea Pod Experience, 2007

• Show Me the Money: A Needs Assessment for a CDFI, 2007

• State of Illinois Asset Poverty Maps, 2007


Ms Gallagher has made well over a few hundred presentations across the country during the course of her career. Here is a partial listing of recent presentations:

• New Methodologies in Tracking Food Access, Food Balance, and Public Health, The Kellogg Foundation, Battle Creek

• Food Deserts & Health, a special forum convened jointly by Harvard and MIT, Boston

• The Path to Good Food, Alabama Food Summit, Birmingham

• The Intersection of Community Needs and Market Forces, Main Street Birmingham

• Food Deserts and Public Health, FamilyFarmed (various years and topics), Chicago

• Using Data to Track Neighborhood Change, a special forum convened by the University of Chicago, Chicago

• Association of Health Care Journalists, national conference in Chicago

• Examining the Impact of Food Deserts on Public Health in Chicago, LaSalle Bank Forum, Palmer House Hilton, Chicago

• African Americans & Obesity: Race, Place, and Access to Healthy Foods, Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, Suburb of Chicago

• Food Deserts and Public Health, Roseland Congregational Coalition, Chicago

• Life and Death in the Food Desert: What Does it Mean to Faith-Based Groups, Dominican University Food Summit, Suburb of Chicago

• Life and Death in the Food Desert: The Impact on Hospitals and Rising Health Care Costs, Rush University Preventive Medicine Grand Round Series, Chicago

• Food Deserts & Community Health: What Does it Mean for the Field of Medicine? Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine, Suburb of Chicago

• Food Access and Health, Women in Planning and Development Conference, Chicago

• Food Access in Chicago, Food Policy Summit, Chicago

• Untapped Opportunities for Grocers in Chicago, City of Chicago Grocer Expo (multiple years), Chicago

• Trends in the Latino Community, Illinois Latino Legislative Caucus, Suburb of Chicago

• Chain Reaction: Income, Race, and Access to Chicago’s Major Player Grocers, City Council Hearing / Presentation, Chicago

• Chain Reaction: Income, Race, and Access to Chicago’s Major Player Grocers, Partnership for New Communities / Bank of America forum, Chicago

• Food Deserts and Public Health, public forum in Chattanooga

• Food Deserts and Health, National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, Dallas

• Below the Radar Market Opportunities, US Conference of Mayors, Denver

• Examining the Impact of Food Deserts on Public Health in Detroit, LaSalle Bank Forum, Detroit Athletic Club, Detroit

• Housing Challenges and Opportunities, Des Moines

• Food Balance & Healthy Communities, Lake of the Ozarks

• Tracking Change Through Participatory Evaluation, Los Angeles

• Problems with Food Access in the State of Michigan: Legislative Briefing, Lansing

• Designing Healthy Communities, pubic forum in Lansing

• The Competitive Forces Affecting Today’s Neighborhood Supermarket: Is Desire Enough? LISC Urban Forum, Miami

• Repositioning Your Business District Amid Ever-Changing Retail & Consumer Trends, 2006, LISC Urban Forum, Miami

• Food Deserts: What You Can Do, national food pantry conference is New Orleans

• Food Deserts and Public Health, APA forum in Philadelphia

• More than the Corner Store, public forum in Raleigh

• Food Balance & Health, Savannah

• Food Deserts and Urban America, Urban Institute, Washington, DC

• Food Deserts and Healthy Communities, YMCA national conference, Washington, DC

• Food Deserts, Children, and Diabetes: Using Indicators to Make A Difference, Washington, DC

• New Opportunities for Grocery Stores in Underserved Areas, National Community Reinvestment Coalition, Washington, DC

• No Butcher, No Baker, No Candle Stick Maker: What to Do With Your Empty Commercial Storefronts, Various Locations

• How to Quantify Undocumented Populations in Local Commercial Buying Power Market Assessments, Various Locations

• International Council of Shopping Centers (various topics and locations)


Ms. Gallagher has been a member of a number of committees and task forces concerning underserved markets, food access, public health, and other areas over the years. Here we provide a partial listing of leadership and awards.

• University of Illinois Alumni Achievement Award, 2009 to present

• National Center for Public Research, Founding President, 2007 to present

• The Chicago Food Policy Advisory Council, Steering Committee Member, 2007 to present

• Illinois Food Marketing Task Force, 2008 and 2009

• Illinois Local, Organic Food and Farm Task Force Food Access Committee, 2008

• The Environmental Leadership Program Advisory Committee for “Food and Politics” Conference in Washington DC, 2007 to 2009

• City of Chicago Aldermanic Grocer Access Task Force Co-Chair, 2006 to 2007

• Women in Planning & Development President, 2005 to 2006
• Preservation Compact, Data Task Force Chair, 2004-2005

NIPC-convened XML Data Task Force Member, 2004-2005

• Chicago Association of Neighborhood Development Organizations, Board Member from 1994 to 2000. Former co-chair of its Commercial Committee and Nominating Committee, 1995 to 1997

• Fannie Mae, Chicago Partnership Office, Advisory Council Member, 2000 to 2002

• Woodstock Institute, Board Member and Treasurer, 1998 to 2001

• Local Initiatives Support Corporation, Awards Committee Member and Awards Judge, 1995 to 1998

• Chicago Association of Neighborhood Development Award for Best Community-Focused Real Estate Project, 1994

• Appreciation Award from the American Heart Association of Metropolitan Chicago for providing leadership in advancing the three-year South Chicago Pilot Project, which successfully became an AHA division, 1994

Sun-Times Award for Best Public / Private Partnership, 1995

• Appreciation Award from the Boy Scouts of America for chairing two fundraising drives that exceeded preceding campaigns by over 50%, 1992 and 1993

• Appreciation Award from the Constitutional Rights Foundation of Chicago for “outstanding contributions to the education of our nation’s youth for responsible leadership,” 1991

• City of Chicago Special Recognition Award presented by Mayor Richard M. Daley for “exemplary community service in creating a community garden representing the ideals of the City of Chicago,” 1990

• Special Appreciation Award from the South Chicago Chamber of Commerce for chairing its most financially successful street festival, 1989

• East Side Chamber of Commerce, Board of Directors, 1991 through 1994

• Southeast Youth Soccer Association, Fundraising Drive Chairperson, 1991, Board Member and Treasurer,1992 to 1994

• Host of Chicago Radio Information Service’s Access Chicago, a fifteen-minute special interest radio program for the blind and reading impaired, 1992 to 1994

• Southeast Chicago Network for the Homeless, Founding Board Member, 1991 to 1993

• Southeast Alcohol and Drug Abuse Center, Fundraising Committee Member, 1991

• Working Committee to Employ Developmentally Challenged Adults, 1989

• Working Committee to Engage Former Gang Members in the Arts, 1989

• Most Ingenious Game Award presented at the Women’s Midwestern Chess Championship, 1979, at age 13


University of Illinois School of Urban Planning and Policy, Chicago, Illinois. Master of Arts in Urban Planning and Policy, 2000.

DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois. Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, 1988.

St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota. Nominated for a Truman Scholarship presented to the St. Olaf student displaying the highest attributes of leadership and academic promise, 1983.

• Attained fluency in Spanish and Norwegian. Studied in Panamá, Ecuador, Perú, Costa Rica, and Colombia, 1986-1987.