Faces of Food Systems: Matthew Gabb

Job: Program & Social Science Research Coordinator at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment

  1. What’s your favorite food?

Fresh-made sourdough bread with butter.

  1. What do you enjoy about your work?

Being at a university, I love getting to work with students every day. I’ve only been out of grad school for a little over a year, but I still learn so much from folks even a few years younger than me.

  1. Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work?

Not being able to please everybody. At IonE, we do research on many multi-million dollar research grants at a time, mostly related to the social science of climate change and sustainability, including a lot of work on industrial ag emissions. As in planning, there are going to be times when people don’t like or want to hear what you have to say. So we do our best to handle that criticism head-on and address folks’ concerns, but all while remembering that what we do and research is important.

  1. What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work, and where does that fit in with the rest of the work that you do?

In addition to my role as a program coordinator and general cat-herder, I help with some of IonE’s research on state-level climate policy. This includes understanding what state- and county/city-level policies exist that tackle food systems and work to mitigate or adapt to climate change. Outside of work, my interests in food systems are largely in two areas: policy and community-building, which I’ll talk more about below.

  1. Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not?

Yes and no. In my current role at the university, I am definitely not a food systems planner. But a major project I led in grad school and still work on some is Olmsted County, Minnesota’s first-ever food security assessment. Working with a coalition of community partners, we did a deep-dive — including GIS analysis, statistical regressions, and literature reviews — on the state of food security in Olmsted County, including how it is impacted by race, class, transportation, zoning, health, and a number of other factors. It included a list of 34 policy and program recommendations pulled from communities around the US, and helped launch the new Olmsted County Food Security Coalition that is working to implement the recommendations of the assessment. That kind of community-driven work (that also let me dig into Census data, a guilty pleasure of mine) is what I love doing and hope to work on in the future.

  1. What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with?

I moved to Minneapolis in 2019 for planning school, and lived a few blocks from the MPD 3rd Precinct during the uprisings after the murder of George Floyd. Almost all of the national chain grocery stores in the surrounding neighborhoods were inoperable for many months in the summer and fall of 2020, with the remaining options being gas station convenience stores, an overpriced organic co-op, or driving/bussing to the suburbs or St. Paul. None of those are great options, so many of my neighbors tapped into existing mutual aid networks and set up new ones to make sure everyone’s needs were met. Armed with some Google spreadsheets, viral Instagram stories, and word of mouth, South Minneapolis came together to get people diapers, bus passes, food, water, hand sanitizer, rent money, garden seedlings, baby formula, face masks, you name it. When national and international media left Minneapolis, my neighbors were still out in the streets taking care of each other.

  1. How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field?

I thought more grocery stores and supermarkets were the answer to “food deserts.” Now I know that they are just a band-aid. Obviously grocery stores and necessary, but if we just slap a supermarket down in a so-called food desert (a term I take a lot of issue with now) it will not work unless we tackle more deep-rooted issues like wages that are too low, bus routes that don’t go to stores, the systemic racism poisoning every aspect of the food system — heck, even something as “simple” as making sure there are adequate, well-maintained sidewalks around a grocery store so folks with mobility aids and strollers can actually get into the store. The “food system” does not exist in the policy vacuum I once thought it did.

  1. Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner?

Two people: Charlotte Rodina, my AmeriCorps supervisor when I served at Beardsley Community Farm in Knoxville, Tennessee. The work she does at Beardsley opened my eyes to the notion that all food, transportation, wage, poverty, etc. policies are choices. And if we want people to have access to safe, culturally relevant, affordable food that they enjoy, we have to start making different choices as a community, a society, and a field. Most importantly, she taught me to remember to focus on the joy that can come from a good meal shared with your neighbors.

The second is my grad school advisor, Dr. Fayola Jacobs, who pushed me to think more critically about why I wanted to go into food systems planning and the policies I wanted to push for. She challenged me throughout my studies to make sure my thinking around food systems was actively anti-racist, non-paternalistic, considered the environment, and centered public health. I can never thank Fayola enough for helping show me a better world is possible when we envision everyone, not just ourselves, in the future.

  1. Do you have any advice for someone entering the food systems planning field?

Sit down, shut up, and listen to what any communities you work in actually want and need. Because even with all our expensive, fancy training and all the acronyms after our names, we will never be as knowledgeable as community members. Do everything you can to make the futures they envision a reality, no matter what you think is “best” for them.

  1. What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school?

Public speaking and non-academic writing skills, which not enough planners are trained in. Planners’ most important job is to be communicators, and we often are not taught how to do that effectively.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Kajsa Beatty

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Kajsa Beatty

 

Job: Hubert H Humphrey Masters of Urban and Regional Planning Student and Executive Assistant to the Commissioner of Agriculture at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture

  1. What’s your favorite food?

Anything with pesto on it!

  1. What do you enjoy about your work?

I love getting to meet all the people who work in agriculture in Minnesota through my work with the department of Agriculture. I have learned so much about the food system that I wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise.  For school, I love getting to learn more about the theories of public engagement and planning with the public. 

  1. Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work?

Sometimes it is fast paced and I have to be ready to scrap something that was being worked on that is no longer happening. For school, It’s challenging to learn about the breadth of planning after learning about the breadth of food systems. It makes it hard to focus on one part when you know all the systems connect and affect each other.

  1. What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work, and where does that fit in with the rest of the work that you do?

At MDA we are focused on regulation, promotion and supporting of agriculture in the state of Minnesota. The work we do impacts all Minnesotans, and I try to keep that in mind everyday. I am going back to school for my planning degree to learn how to incorporate food systems into planning processes. My hope is to regionalize our food system and to get more people growing food.

  1. Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not?

In the making! My undergrad degree is in food systems and I am going back to school to get my masters in planning. In two years I will!

  1. What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with?

The meat processing issues that were caused by Covid-19 has sparked a major reinvestment in local, small and mid-sized meat processors in the state of Minnesota. This will allow smaller farmers to produce meat for their communities at an affordable price and lessen our reliance on industrial meat processors.

  1. How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field?

After learning more about planning this semester, food systems planning is one tiny piece of the planning puzzle. It is not normally thought of as planning and I feel like a bit of an odd duck at school, but hopefully that changes more in the future! 

  1. Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner?

Not a professional answer, but my mom! I didn’t realize it at the time, but my mom instilled and exposed me to so many things that shaped how I view the world. Currently I am learning so many new things that are easier to understand because of the context I can put them in. Also my professor Rob King who included Thinking in Systems by Donella H. Meadows in his course and it helped me think about systems problems in a whole new way.

  1. Do you have any advice for someone entering the food systems planning field?

Don’t limit yourself to learning about only certain parts of the food system. We know some parts of it are harmful to the environment and people, but it should still be understood so you can be a part of the solution. And its all connected!

  1. What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? 

GIS! The learning curve is steep. 

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Erica Hall

Name: Erica Hall, M.S. CED, MBA, ARM

Current Position: Board Chair/Exec Dir., Florida Food Policy Council, Exec Committee Vice Chair, Suncoast Sierra Club

What’s your favorite food?

Tie between BBQ and Italian Food

What do you enjoy about your work?

Meeting new people and learning about the interesting projects they are working on. Creating linkages and partnerships.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work?

Fighting to implement Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) principles in Food System work, especially now. 

What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work, and where does that fit in with the rest of the work that you do?

Food Justice, food insecurity, nutrition insecurity, racial, social, climate and environmental justice. All areas fit together because they are interconnected. 

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner?

No, because I am not a planner by profession. I am a Community Development Professional, with a legal background. My planning experience comes from my work in the fields of the built environment, urban planning, sustainability, and resiliency. 

What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with?

As a BIPOC leader in this space, Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) is the biggest hurdle. This current system creates a racialized landscape in which people of color tend to experience worse health outcomes than white people. Black, Latinx and Native American communities face some of the steepest environmental barriers to socioeconomic well-being. These barriers include but are not limited to: segregated communities with substandard healthy food options, hazardous housing conditions, and unwalkable neighborhoods that are systematically polluted. It has not been dealt with as evidenced by the recent turn of events, politically, economically and racially.  However, in light of a new Administration, there is hope these hurdles will begin to be addressed. 

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field?

My perception of food systems planning hasn’t changed since I was first introduced to this work. In cities across the United States, racism still exists in built form. There’s a long history of intentionally racist policies such as race-restricted covenants preventing minority groups from moving to certain areas, redlining that limited access to housing finance, which concentrated nonwhite residents in neighborhoods that were then systematically underserved. These policies have had long-term negative impacts on access to healthy foods, jobs, wealth creation, health, and countless other socioeconomic factors. As previously stated, I am hopeful that with a new Administration that is focusing on environmental justice, climate change, and food justice, we will change the dynamics of years of systemic and structural racism. 

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner?

As a BIPOC leader, my influences historically were people like W.E.B. DuBois and Dorothy Mae Richardson, a community activist who fought against redlining. Her efforts led to the founding of Pittsburgh-based Neighborhood Housing Services, along with the national group now known as NeighborWorks America, one of the leading community development institutions. I worked for NeighborWorks America for seven years in the General Counsel’s office.

As a food systems planner? Currently, one of my influences is Julian Agyeman, Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning, Tufts University, who is an urban planning academic who teaches a course on food justice. I am also a fan of BlackSpace, a collective of 200 Black designers, architects, artists, and urban planners, committed to Black-centered planning and design. The organization works through community workshops, planning exercises, and cooperative design efforts to proactively bring Black voices and concerns into a development process that has long ignored them.

Do you have any advice for someone entering the food systems planning field?

Be flexible and open in your work, which may lead you to unexpected but surprisingly fulfilled places. What makes you successful in your work? My flexibility, adaptability, listening ability, collaboration, partnership, and network building.   What skills do you use the most in your food systems planning-related work? GIS Mapping Data, research, zoning and comprehensive codes, policies, land laws. 

What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school?

Again, my education is in Community Economic Development and a Global MBA so not applicable. However, had I known what I know now, I may have gone to planning school.

How do you think COVID 19 will shape/change your job/food systems?

COVID has already changed the way we do our work. Meetings, convenings and discussions have gone virtual, with very little in person meetings. Due to racial and social injustice, food systems planning is being revisited using a JEDI intersectional lens.

*Some portions edited for length.

Faces of Food System Planning: Ellie Bomstein

Current Position: Project manager, Wallace Center at Winrock International

What’s your favorite food? How many kinds of cheese do you have in your fridge?

I have 14 kinds of cheese, probably. We’re members of 4PFoods, which aggregates from many producers in the mid-Atlantic region, including small scale cheese producers. This time of year, though, watermelon and tomatoes are my favorite. I’ve been known to eat a tomato like it’s an apple.

What do you enjoy about your work?

At the Wallace Center I help manage the Food Systems Leadership Network, building capacity and connection for people doing community-based food systems work. What that means in practice is that I get to talk to a lot of practitioners who are doing the most amazing, cutting-edge food systems work in the country. I love the chance to connect with people and learn, see the whole food system, and notice the trends that are popping up all over the place.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work?

Funnily enough, it’s the other side of the coin of the best part of my work. Because the Wallace Center is a national organization, I don’t have direct community connection or as much of a sense of place in our work as I did when I was working at a statewide organization. We help folks with their work at those levels, but don’t always have the sense of the impact of our capacity building work—we don’t get to see them applying what they’ve learned in practice and track that impact. As a result, the way we work, through a million light touches all the time, can be challenging. We hear feedback from network members that they really get a lot out of what we offer, but I don’t get to actually witness it all that often. More broadly, the food system is so vast and such a wicked problem that we’re learning the complexities of it every day, as well as how it is tied into other complex and entrenched systems (e.g., environmental degradation, racism, capitalism)—and that can make it hard to find concrete solutions.

What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work, and where does that fit in with the rest of the work that you do?

We look at the food system from the systems level, zooming in and out between the forest and the trees. We work across the entire food value chain: with food hubs, with community-based organizations, with USDA, with academics researching the food system. The center of gravity for the work is whatever makes the food system more resilient, more equitable, and brings people more food sovereignty and self-determination. But the specific part of the system we work in to help push those changes varies.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? 

I wouldn’t say that I do. When I think of a food systems planner, I definitely think of someone more place-based having an impact on a particular regional food system. Because we [the Wallace Center] have a national vantage point, we see ourselves as connectors and intermediaries; we don’t have that same physical boundary that I think food systems planners have. Also in my work I do a lot of “sensing” rather than planning. We’re opportunistic, so we very much are constantly searching for the innovation and the need—we’re reactive and responsive to signals in the network, whereas I think of a planner as a more proactive role.

What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with?

Something that the Wallace Center really had to grapple with and push ourselves on over the past 5-6 years was understanding how essential addressing race and racism is to any systems-level solution in the food system. We can’t get to the type of transformational change that the food system needs without addressing that. What is the role for a primarily white-led/staffed organization in this work? How can we position ourselves as a conduit, a platform, and an accomplice for the people who are dealing with the most harmful impacts of inequities in the food system? This has been a huge area of growth for me personally, but also for the organization. Trying to both embody that change and authentically tell the story of our process, while recognizing that there’s no end point to that work, it’s been a big area of growth for us, and will be for a long time!

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field?

When I went to grad school in 2011, I knew I wanted to do food systems work, but there weren’t many places to study how to do it. When I was in college, taking an introduction to planning class, I had a graduate student teaching assistant (Dierdre Stockmann) who was doing work on food systems then. When I decided to go to planning school, I reached out to her to ask where I could go to combine the study of food systems with planning. Since then, I think my understanding of the field and how vital it is to planning has grown a lot. I’ve honed my understanding of why the food system is so exciting to me—it’s both a Trojan horse that allows entry into every other social problem and a tangible way of solving some of our most entrenched social problems.

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner?

When I was in planning school at Cornell, in the introduction to planning class, Professor John Forester said, “pretty much everywhere you go in the world, places look the way they do because people decided they should look that way.” That, in some ways, is overwhelming to contemplate, but we all have a measure of power to influence those things. It helps me feel like there’s a way out. As a food systems planner, Tom Lyson, who had been at Cornell and died a few years before I arrived as a graduate student, wrote a book called Civic Agriculture that had a huge influence on me in terms of understanding how planning and food systems were interconnected.

Do you have any advice for someone entering the food systems planning field? 

Having some experience on the production and supply chain side of food systems is important, to understand the pressure and dynamism of that work and how exhausting and unpredictable it can be. Or, try and work in a small community-based organization. I spent time working in a food hub so I know, for example, how a late delivery of eggs can foul up an entire day—that experience keeps me grounded in the work that I do now. I recommend that anyone wanting to do food systems work spend some time on a farm, in a food hub, doing community organizing, generally being close to the ground, and do it with a lot of humility, before moving into any kind of service delivery or planning role. 

What makes you successful in your work? 

Asking lots of questions and then doing a good job listening is essential. As a person in a role with a big audience, it’s really important to be super conscious of whose voices we’re amplifying—who’s in the room, what are their interests and priorities? How are they reflected, or not reflected, in the services we deliver, and the stories we tell? The people who have the answers are most always the ones closest to the problems, so if you have a seat at the table and are able to open up access for those people, that’s a great role for a planner or someone in a higher capacity organization.

What skills do you use the most in your food systems planning-related work? 

Relationship building, trust building, and seeing people’s humanity are important. Those may not be considered traditional planning skills, but they make a huge difference to the work, especially in a community-based context.

What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? 

I took one year off between undergrad and grad school. I didn’t really gain any professional experience to speak of in that year. I noticed that other students in my program who had so much to offer and were the most engaged in the classes were oftentimes the ones who had been in the workforce for a few years before coming to grad school. The stakes are so much higher for people who leave their lives to go back to school, and they put so much more into it and as a result get so much out of it, because they feel like they have more to learn and something is missing from their lives. A hallmark of their approach was taking advantage of things outside the classroom as well, such as volunteering and putting skin in the game in other ways. So, I think I would have taken more advantage of the opportunity if I had a little professional ability under my belt first.

How do you think COVID 19 will shape/change your job/food systems? 

That’s the big question right now, isn’t it? It feels like there’s a renewed attention and understanding of how resilient and redundant food systems and supply chains need to be – which, of course, food systems planners have known for a long time. It’s a great moment to capitalize on this opportunity. There are just so many new resources in the system now, especially from the federal government. The Wallace Center has been doing a lot of work to try and influence some decision making at USDA, helping people access the expanded funding opportunities and seeing how to amend programs to better serve the needs of people who use them. So, we’re hoping that USDA will make some smart decisions about what to do with that money now to catalyze long term change, and also update how they operate beyond this current money to keep throwing their weight around for resiliency in the local food system. The local food “movement” has the attention of some big players right now and hopefully that results in some new opportunities, short and long term. 

Sept. 23rd Membership Meeting – register today!

We’re excited to resume our 4th Thursday Membership Meetings on September 23rd 3pm/4pm/5pm/6pm start time from West-East. We have a new registration link, so please sign up here. We have lots to discuss, and lots of opportunities to get engaged and help grow our Division. 

See you on the 23rd!

APA FOOD Executive Committee

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Janice Hill

Name: Janice Hill, AICP

Current Position: Executive Planner and Farmland Protection Manager; Owner, Acreage43560, LLC – A Local Food and Farmland Consulting Firm. Janice Hill, AICP, has worked in the planning field for 37 years. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania where she envisioned local food production in North Philadelphia in the early 1980s, Janice works as executive planner for Kane County, IL. She is also the owner of Acreage43560 LLC, a farmland consultancy.

What do you currently enjoy about your work?

I enjoy the mix of computer and field work.  Taking a trip “into the field” is usually the best part of my week, camera in hand always. I cannot understand why some planners only use google maps; there is no substitute for eyeing your subject area in person. 

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work?

In the past as a municipal planner, it was the planning commission night meetings, and then the long drive home.  At the same time, plan commissioners are some of my favorite people, dedicated to making their communities the best, volunteering their time.  I’ve learned a lot from the municipal and county commissioners I’ve worked with during my 37 years in planning.

What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work, and where does that fit in with the rest of the work that you do?

It’s hard to separate a portion of the food system out from the rest, but I am first a land use planner, it’s the first lens I use in all my work. We need the land base to produce food (even food grown in the built environment) and I believe all planners should first be well-schooled in land use.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? 

I’m a land use planner first, systems thinker second, farmland protection specialist third and local food planner and advocate, not only as a professional but as a farm family granddaughter.  I don’t take it for granted and I believe all people deserve fresh and local food, and menu items cooked from scratch. 

What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with?

The greatest challenge was overcoming a disappointment when a multi-year project failed when handed over to a private operator after being in the public/community hands for years. I still have faith in public/private partnerships, but in the food and farm sector we still have a lot to learn about making the relationship work successfully.  It has been done more in other sectors like transportation; growing local foods isn’t the same as building local roads. 

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field?

Many of us feel that the pandemic pushed the average shopper into awareness of the local food system by showing the weaknesses of our current centralized system.  Also the results of the highly processed foods are showing in our health. 

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner?

My first mentor and influencer is my dear friend since undergrad days, Barry Miller, a planner extraordinaire from Berkeley, CA. We’ve been friends since age 18, and I remember I suggested first, after seeing his hand-drawn maps, that he should be a planner; and two years later, when I was dissatisfied with clinical psych classes, he suggested I take a social planning class. We both have extremely successful careers and I can’t imagine either of us taking different career paths.

Do you have any advice for someone entering the food systems planning field? What makes you successful in your work? What skills do you use the most in your food systems planning-related work?

I believe all planners should be trained in land use and zoning first and should spend time in public sector planning working “at the counter” at some planning office.  And field work is essential. I worry that too many planners rely on the screen instead of their own field work.  Push away from the screen: aerial photography doesn’t begin to show everything.  Also talk to people, find out what their ideas and thoughts are about their environment, neighborhood, gardens, farms, tabletops, shops, etc. 

I strongly believe that planners should build their design skillset: photography, film, map-making. I believe policy comes second to design and spatial skills.  Training planners to understand fundamentals of land use, design, geography, soils, and water resources must come before learning about change.

What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school?

Nothing, it was perfect for me.  I was ready but I had already taken a few courses as an undergraduate in an undergraduate planning program, which there aren’t that many of. If I was starting now without undergraduate coursework, I’d become familiar with map-making, basic hand-drawing, photography, videography, public speaking, and work on my social skills to be comfortable engaging with all kinds of people.

How do you think COVID 19 will shape/change your job/food systems?

I’m hopeful that in the future every school has large garden, greenhouse and chef and that kids don’t start to study local foods in grad school; they start in kindergarten!

*Some portions edited for length.

APA Food Annual Business Meeting May 20th

Our Annual Membership meeting is coming up on May 20th from 6pm Eastern/5pm Central/4pm Mountain/3pm Pacific. This will be our Annual business meeting that would usually occur during during the National Planning Conference. We are moving it up a week from our usual 4th Thursday date to miss the long Memorial Day weekend and so those who want to attend all sessions of the virtual NPC are able to fully participate. This is your chance to learn more about the Division, hear about our work plan and budget priorities, and meeting others engaged in food systems planning.

Please Register in Advance: https://washington.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJAufuqtrzwjGNYPvlRT0ZErmwQ1IsSD8eMe 

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Luis Nieves-Ruiz

Name: Luis Nieves-Ruiz, AICP

Current Position: Economic Development Manager for the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council (ECFRPC), a council of governments located in Orlando, FL.

Lusi Nieves-Ruiz, AICP

What do you currently enjoy about your work?

My current position allows me the flexibility to pursue my individual interests and passions including regional food systems. This requires me to identify potential funding sources and continuously develop new scopes of work, project methodologies, and grant applications, forcing me to flex my creative and entrepreneurial muscles quite often. Working for a technical assistance provider, I also get to be involved in different types of projects such as economic impact modeling, industry cluster analysis, and resiliency planning, among other areas. In turn, the experiences gained through these projects have helped to inform how I approach my food systems work. Finally, I get the opportunity to collaborate with a variety of stakeholders including economic development agencies, public health departments, and academic institutions, among other organizations.  This always keeps work interesting. 

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work?

Money is always a problem for our agency. Every year we have to raise about 60 percent of our budget through grants and contracts. You are often forced to do more with less.  In my case, I am usually working on three or four different projects at the same time:  not only managing the project, but also doing the basic research, designing the document’s graphics and layout, and doing the final write up. I used to have to do most of this work by myself. Recently, I have been able to hire other planners to assist me with some of these tasks. The lack of consistent funding is usually a deterrent for me to focus on the implementation of long-term projects and initiatives. Another challenge is time. You can have great ideas, but sometimes there is not enough time to make them a reality. 

What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work, and where does that fit in with the rest of the work that you do?

My research work has three focus areas. I spent a good part of the last five years developing a sound methodology to assess regional food production systems. This includes identifying and mapping critical assets such as agricultural lands and food production businesses (farms, processors, and distributors). My approach to studying food systems is rooted in my interest in industry cluster analysis. I like to understand how the parts of the system work or do not work together. My planning background has also helped me to understand that land use regulations can act as barriers to the development of regional food systems. I specifically study how jurisdictions regulate food uses in their zoning codes. Finally, as an economic development official, I am working to develop a framework to use regional food systems to revitalize distressed communities.  Food production can help to generate much needed jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities in low-income areas. 

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? 

If you had asked me this question five years ago, I would have said no. However, after being awarded $150K in grants and contracts to complete this type of work, I can confidently call myself a food systems planner. It is all about validation. When I started doing food systems work in Orange County, most of my peers regarded this work as a nice hobby. Thankfully, I had a planner colleague that really believed in my work more than I did myself. Winning the first grant to study Orange County’s regional food production system was definitely a game changer for me.  It helped me to start developing a body of work in the food systems area. These projects helped me to be selected as a Regional Food Economies Fellow by the Wallace Center at Winrock International in 2018. This has certainly been the highest point of my career as a food systems planner. Currently, I dedicate about 40 percent of my time to work on food systems projects.

What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with?

I think that there is generally some antagonism between planners and food systems practitioners. Most food systems practitioners are entrepreneurs that want things to happen immediately. On the other hand, urban planners take a long view and understand that change takes time. I witnessed some of this dynamic when East Central Florida started its food policy council. After a couple of months, most of the food business owners had left the group. One thing that I have started to do is try to bridge the gap between both groups by developing some common language and tools. I am still working on it. 

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner?

Alissa Barber Torres, my first planning supervisor in Orange County, taught me two very important career lessons. First, it is important to let young planners pursue their passion areas. She provided me with the opportunity and space to work on my food systems planning and economic development projects. These two areas are currently the backbone of my planning career. I continue to use these lessons in my planning work and apply with the younger planners in the office. Sadly, my journey as a food system planner has been more lonesome. I can’t think of any other planners that were doing similar work to mine. Through my involvement with the Wallace Center and the Council for Development Finance Agencies, I met some great food systems practitioners.

Do you have any advice for someone entering the food systems planning field? What makes you successful in your work? What skills do you use the most in your food systems planning-related work?

Food systems planning is a very broad field. While it is important for planners to be conversant in all areas, at some point you will need to identify your own niche within the profession. To get to this point though, you need to understand what your strengths are.  Some of the skills that I use in my food systems work include Geographic Information Systems (GIS), data analysis, and policy analysis. Finally, to be successful in this line of work you have to be a good communicator. I credit my experience with Toastmasters for my ability to develop a concise message that that can be tailored to different audiences. 

What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school?

Most planning school students are idealists by nature. They go to planning school to learn how to change their communities for the better. However, professional planners often get caught in the “planning review process wheel” which prioritizes short-term projects (rezonings, site plan developments, etc..) over long-term policy solutions. There is also a plenty of antagonism towards planning and government in general. Your role is to convince multiple stakeholders and elected officials that what you propose is the best option for the community. Therefore, this idealism needs to be tempered by the understanding that in real life change is slow and incremental in nature. To become a more effective planner you need to become a better listener and focus on building bridges to allow for real collaboration. 

How do you think COVID 19 will shape/change your job/food systems?

It has been interesting to see how the COVID-19 pandemic has spurred interest in mapping regional food systems. In the ten years I have been involved in food systems, I have never seen so many webinars discussing ways to map community food assets. However, most of these efforts will fall short if there is no concrete goal behind the mapping exercise. The end goal should not be to produce a cool map, but to develop an analysis tool to help food systems practitioners identify trends and patterns in the data. 

 Moreover, by exacerbating the inequities and brokenness of the current food system, the pandemic has also opened opportunities to discuss alternatives to the status quo. Every crisis is an opportunity. Elected officials and other stakeholders might now be more open to addressing food deserts and identifying ways to increase local food production. 

*Some portions edited for length.

Local Food Systems Key to Healthy, Resilient, Equitable Communities

From Planning magazine Winter 2021

This story is part of Planning’s Disruptors series, a year-long look at the trends, challenges, and opportunities driving change in our communities. Visit Planning magazine online to read the article in full.

By Cynthia Currie and Mary Hammon

Call for Student Papers

AFHVS Logo

The Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society (AFHVS) invites submissions from undergraduate and graduate students to the 2021 AFHVS Student Research Paper Awards. The papers can come from students in a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds and should be on some topic of relevance to the Society’s focus. See more details in the full Call for Papers.

Winners will be invited/expected to present their paper at the June 2021 virtual conference co-hosted by:

  • The Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS)
  • Agriculture Food & Human Values Society (AFHVS)
  • Canadian Association for Food Studies (CAFS)
  • Society for the Anthropology of Food & Nutrition (SAFN)

Each award also includes:

  • The opportunity to present at the 2021 virtual conference;
  • Free registration to the 2021 virtual conference (seeCall for Abstracts);
  • A two-year membership in the Society;
  • $300 cash prize (not available to students that are not U.S. citizens, due to IRS restrictions).

The committee may also choose to award honorable mentions, which do not include the monetary items.

See more details in the full Call for Papers.

Submission: Email to spa-chair@afhvs.org by 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time on Sunday, February 21, 2021.

About the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society

About Agriculture and Human Values, the Journal of the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society

Questions? Contact spa-chair@afhvs.org. The current chair of the Student Paper Award Committee is Dr. Megan Horst, Portland State University, Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning.