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.
Current Position: APA Food System’s Division’s Student Representative
Vincenzo Ferriola is a Master’s Student in City and Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania. Vincenzo has received their Bachelor’s degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Rowan University. Vincenzo is currently interning with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation to support Growing from the Root: Philadelphia’s Urban Agriculture Plan. Vincenzo has previously worked with Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative to co-manage a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in West Philadelphia and curate workshops in agroecological growing practices for high school students. Vincenzo is committed to improving food sovereignty and increasing local food production with underserved populations.
What do you enjoy about your work? Being that this is my first position with a city agency and one of my first professional positions, I am finding that the work that I am doing can impact an entire population of around 1.5 million people. My previous positions have been at much smaller scales and I am now understanding the power dynamics between the government and the residents of Philadelphia.
Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? This position has challenged me to think critically, keeping an open mind. For example, while I might advocate for a fruit tree to be planted in the public right of way (such as a sidewalk or traffic median), there are many people who don’t have the same desire. Instead of making decisions too quickly, which might retrace some of the problematic and racist planning practices of history, we should be intentional and deliberate, hearing and uplifting voices that need to be heard. That is what I envision a more successful planning process might look like.
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? I am quite new to the food systems planning world, although agriculture has been a part of my upbringing and continues to motivate me. The Master’s program requires students to choose a concentration that best fits one’s professional goals. I resonated the most with the community economic development concentration as my personal and professional motivations are grounded in community visualized and realized processes.
Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? While I am still new to this profession, I am constantly learning and unlearning, growing and pruning old branches. I do consider myself a budding food systems planner. Food is something we all need. Fresh, locally grown, culturally significant food is something we need even more. I’d like to be able to provide (at least some of) the resources to make this possible for the many communities that make up Philadelphia. This requires a holistic approach to understand and appreciate not only a place, but also the people and the unique cultures that make it so enriching.
What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? Even though I am new to Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, I am aware that there is a complicated and lengthy process to attain land rights for urban farming. Agriculture is not legally seen as a land use in Philadelphia, which makes land sovereignty and ultimately self-sufficiency unattainable. When land is seemingly bought so quickly by developers, it is unjust that agriculture does not receive the same support. This is a racial inequity, currently and historically, as black and brown growers are more adversely impacted by discriminatory land use laws. This makes me eager to learn more about land use laws, land tenure, and zoning, to learn how I can best advocate for people who need the most support.
How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? Quite honestly, I did not know what food systems planning was a year ago. I’ve worked on an urban farm in West Philly, but it wasn’t until taking a graduate course in Metropolitan Food Systems Planning with Domenic Vitiello that I fully (or at least more fully) understood the workings and dynamics of this field. Food systems planning is not uni-dimensional. There is no one position that precisely fits the description of a food systems planner.
Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? I owe an incalculable amount of respect to Philadelphia’s Director of Urban Agriculture, Ash Richards. They have been my role model since their appointment to this position. Ash’s practice embodies intentionality and consensus building, which is what I strive to incorporate as a new professional in the planning field. They aim to uplift voices who have traditionally been left out and concretely emphasize racial justice. I cannot thank them enough for giving me the opportunity to learn under them.
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? Planning should be a reflective practice. Haste might produce more, but does not mean it’s a superior outcome. I believe it’s imperative to be thoughtful and deliberate, to fully ground decisions in what is needed for the people who need it. To understand the outcomes and potential consequences of decisions. To practice empathy, sympathy at the least.
What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? I made the decision to attend planning school immediately after graduating from undergrad, which put me at a different place professionally from the majority of my peers. Rather than seeing this as a deficit, I turned it into an opportunity to learn not only from my professors, but also from my cohort. There is less of a formula in planning than there is in civil engineering, both in learning (and unlearning) and in practicing. I found myself initially seeking the one path that led to the final product. But, planning is not just about a product, in my opinion, it’s about the process.
How do you think COVID 19 will shape/change your job/food systems? Being that I started my current position during COVID-19, I have acclimated myself to a work-from-home mode. This has been a bit of a challenge to connect with coworkers on a more personal level, although I’m hoping for in-person, socially distanced meetings in the future.
COVID-19 really started to impact Philadelphia mid-March into April. Grocery stores with 45+ minute waits and empty shelves were alarming and anxiety inducing. I looked to farm shares and found the majority to have wait lists. As the supply and demand leveled out over the past few months, grocery stores have been able to restock most of their products, especially the products in high demand. I hope this pandemic strengthens the case for localized food production with an increased need for urban agriculture.
Current Position: Good Food Purchasing Coordinator, City of Philadelphia
Molly is currently the Good Food Purchasing Coordinator at the City of Philadelphia Department of Public Health Division of Chronic Disease & Injury Prevention. She is responsible for helping implement the City’s Nutrition Standards and increase the amount of local, sustainably-grown, fairly-produced food the City purchases for its food programs at its prisons, summer and after school programs, homeless shelters, and other congregate settings. Beyond purchasing, her work includes policy and program development to support a good food economy in Philadelphia.
Molly earned her Master’s in Regional Planning from Cornell University, and has worked at the intersection of agriculture and economic development through several nonprofits and academic roles. She was a lead author of The Promise of Urban Agriculture, a national study of commercial farming in urban areas, and of Good Eats, an assessment of the Philadelphia food economy’s potential to support health, equity, and economic growth.
What do you enjoy about your work? I get to explore new ideas about what a good food future looks like, and figure out ways to make it happen. The “how” is always more complicated, but working within the confines of a public agency makes me stretch my creative muscles to figure out new ways to achieve that future.
Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? One of the most challenging parts of my work at the City is raising the profile of food as a priority area. Food system planners know that food cuts across so many other priority areas for city leaders: land use, housing, small business development, large business attraction, health, waste reduction, gardening & farming, education, climate resilience and adaptation, and on and on. But governments don’t often look at systems: they look at specific issues and how to solve the problem at hand. It’s hard to keep people’s attention long enough to explain what “good food” means, let alone get them to envision the multi-pronged approach to realizing a good food economy.
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? The core of my work is focused on food programs funded via public dollars, but to change that food I engage distributors, manufacturers, and restaurants. That means my work is wide-ranging: I work with distributors to develop reporting metrics to find out what percent of City food comes from regional sources; I work with the Drexel Food Lab to engage manufacturers in producing lower-sodium foods that meet good food criteria. I work with groups engaged in urban agriculture and waste reduction to create intersections and synergies that support our vision for a good food future. My work is seeing those synergies through, and every day is different.
Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? I do consider myself a food systems planner, because while I’m not focused on land use policy or economic development, my work hinges on understanding interrelationships across the food system and developing policy and program recommendations that can advance positive change in one area without having negative consequences in another area. The “plans” may not look like what most planners think of when they think “plan,” but the functions are the same.
What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? Philadelphia has a deep history of urban agriculture, primarily through the work of people of color and especially Black farmers and gardeners. And while the City made some concessions to urban agriculture and ran some of its own programming, there was no plan in place to support growers in securing land and resources to continue to farm. Through a multi-year effort led by urban agriculture advocates and supported by City leaders, staff, and elected officials, we finally got the funding to hire an Urban Agriculture Director who is leading the process of developing an urban ag plan for Philadelphia. It is a strong process rooted in community engagement and undoing white supremacy, and it would not have been possible if that urban agriculture community had not worked together for years to make it happen.
How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? It is a lot more varied than what I had originally envisioned, where you are either the Food Policy Director of a city or working for a handful of consulting firms. There are so many ways to work in this field that, on their face, have nothing to do with planning, but in which a planning background truly sets a person apart.
Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? Susan Christopherson was my advisor at Cornell and initially woke me up to regional economic development through cluster activities. Becca Jablonski was earning her PhD at Cornell at the same time, and I had the opportunity to work with her on an economic impact assessment of a regional food hub that laid the foundation for the creation of the Local Food Impact Calculator. Working with Becca set me on my path to understanding the potential for regional food distribution as a means of wealth creation in rural areas, and her work continues to inspire me and guide my upstream approach to food systems change.
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? Talk to as many people doing the work you think you’re interested in as you can, and ask them questions. Also, see if they have any jobs available. I did not intern or work in the planning field before entering graduate school, and I think I would have asked more or different questions if I had. Asking others for their expertise—and everyone has expertise—is the primary thing that I learned from planning and what has helped me in my work. You can’t change things through sheer will or good ideas; you have to engage others’ expertise so that together you can come to a better solution than any single person alone could design.
What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? How much of the most valuable learning happens outside of the classroom. I worked two part-time jobs while I was in grad school, so I did not have as much time as my classmates for volunteer work weekends or studios that took us off campus for several days at a time. I couldn’t have done much differently from a financial standpoint, but maybe I could have restructured some things to take full advantage of that off-campus learning.
How do you think COVID 19 will shape/change your job/food systems? When COVID-19 hit, it was like everyone who had ever eaten a meal was all of a sudden an expert in the food supply chain and emergency food provision. And while it was tough at first to bring other staff up to speed on what is and is not possible or ideal in that emergency moment, it did make food a priority in a way that it hadn’t been before. And then George Floyd’s murder and the protests for racial justice opened everyone’s eyes to the fact that inequitable food access is a consequence of systemic and institutional racism in the United States. The dual fights to end white supremacy and end food insecurity intersect in food systems planning, and I hope that we can finally use our tools to reshape a future that is better for all of us.
Over the next few months, we’ll be transitioning to our new APA website and more information will be available.
Please join us for our first (virtual) member meeting on Thursday, August 27th 6:00 ET. We’ll hold a conversation about the Division’s goals and work plan and learn how you can get involved. We encourage you to register in advance: https://washington.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJMud-iqpjMsG9T264YtcomfMUUEqHr2aHTM This will be the first of our membership meetings that will be held every other month, on the 4th Thursday.
First Membership Meeting
When: Thursday, August 27th 6-7pm ET/3-4pm PT
Current Position: Community Planner and Policy Analyst at the Public Health Law Center, and based in St. Paul, MN
Ross works at the intersection of public health and the built environment, improving both via food systems, trails, parks, sidewalks, and bike paths. His work includes development of research, trainings, and toolkits for funders and partners in these areas, and assists in drafting ordinances, resolutions, and memoranda of understanding to incorporate projects into official local policy. Prior to the Public Health Law Center, Ross held a planning position in Nashville, TN, and earned a dual masters in Urban & Regional Planning and Public Health from University of Wisconsin Madison.
This interview was conducted via email by Molly Riordan in June 2020, member of the Food Systems Division Executive Committee.
What do you enjoy about your work? I don’t think that urban planners traditionally get to think about the types of things that I get to think about on a day-to-day basis. I get to think about how infrastructure and community development can shape public health and address public health issues.
Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? My profession has its roots in public health, and I think for decades we lost sight of that. Because of that, we don’t have a very robust evidence base or menu of best practices on how to solve some of the most pressing health issues of today through planning. When I’m working with a community on how to improve physical health through a built environment intervention, or how to close health disparity gaps, often there are few examples to draw from and replicate.
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? I tend to focus on food production (e.g., urban growth boundaries and conservation zoning) and markets. With respect to the latter, I explore how land use and zoning tools can be leveraged to promote access to food via mixed-use development, incentive zoning, planned unit developments, and other methods that push back against the Euclidean type of zoning model we’ve been accustomed to for decades.
Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? I provide technical assistance on how planning can help create a better and more equitable food system, but I have not done the planning myself. When it comes to food systems, I’m more of a policy analyst than a planner, evaluating what planners are doing to improve everything from cultivation to consumption.
What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? COVID-19 has really challenged the way we’ve been going about things from a food systems perspective. One of my organization’s ongoing projects is the Healthy Food Policy Project, which captures municipal government policies designed to promote good and resilient food systems. When the pandemic hit, the supply chain faced some stresses, workers from cultivation through sales were put at risk of infection, food service establishments shuttered at least temporarily, and people lost their jobs. Suddenly our work had this added dimension of how municipalities could simply keep people fed. Right now, we as planners are in this uncertain space where we don’t really know what cities are going to look like in the future, and how food systems will play into it.
How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? Speaking with people in food systems, I have begun to understand more about how the layers of regulations—economic, environmental, and so on—affected growers. These policies are often written with large, industrial farms in mind, but in many cases they apply across the board, even for smaller scale farms or urban growers. Because food policies have been implemented piecemeal over the years and across many agencies that don’t talk to one another, it is extremely difficult to promote and advocate for new and different models of agriculture.
Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? If more people had listened to Jane Jacobs, planning might not have created and perpetuated so many racial and socioeconomic inequities.
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? We are living in a moment where racial inequities have been laid bare. Look at how food systems have mapped onto health disparities across racial lines, and think about how to undo the cycles of poverty and illness to which our profession has contributed. Think creatively, too. Think about what you know about, say, TIF districts or overlay districts or TDR programs. Chances are you learned about these ideas in the context of housing or economic development, but you can apply them to food access as well. You don’t always have to completely invent brand new strategies when you’re trying to improve your local food system.
What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? I went into planning school thinking about land use mainly, and to be honest knowing its hold in transportation, economic development, food systems, and so many other spaces. I went through a cycle of thinking I was going to do everything. One day I was going to be a transportation planner, the next I was going to do NEPA, and so forth.
How do you think COVID 19 will shape/change your job/food systems? When this is all over, we are going to see brick-and-mortar retail shuttered permanently and office buildings abandoned. We are going to see commuting patterns change, particularly as work-from-home becomes the norm for much of our white-collar workforce. We might see a reaction against density. These are going to have massive ramifications to the physical landscape, and it is my hope that this will get us to think about how our transportation system can get people to food and vice versa, and how we can use our newly open spaces for more opportunities to cultivate food and provide it to people.
The APA Food Systems Planning Division stands in solidarity with the Black community and with those protesting racial bias and racialized violence. Racism is a primary cause of structural food system inequities and disparities that our profession strives to undo. Our work necessitates that we dismantle white supremacy and endemic racism to create a just food system.
We commit to centering and amplifying Black voices in the struggle for racial justice and food justice.
We commit to listening for understanding, to hear with our open hearts and minds, to follow the lead of Black leaders in the food justice movement and in planning. We commit to applying our individual and collective skills and privileges to uproot racism.
We commit to employing the platform of this Division in service to Black communities, and to identifying and disassembling the policies, laws, practices, attitudes, and assumptions that perpetuate violence against Black bodies. In this, we include both physical violence and subtler forms of violence that have led to vast inequities in economic, health, and environmental realities that intentionally and disproportionately obscure, devalue, and cut down Black lives.
We commit to continuing the work of fighting systemic racism and lifting up the work of so many across our networks and regions who are doing the same. We condemn ongoing racist and white supremacist acts across our country and in our own regions.
Andrea Petzel Ben Kerrick Kara Martin Laine Cidlowski Marcia Caton Campbell Megan Bucknum Molly Riordan
Join Us for a Virtual Happy Hour This Friday, May 8th from 5-6pm CST
While we’re sad to not be together in person at NPC20 in Houston this year, the APA Divisions Council is still expecting to take a final vote on our Division status in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, though, please join for a virtual Happy Hour this Friday, May 8th, we’d love to get the chance to say hello and hear about your ideas for our new Food Division. We’re looking for folks to join us as we start up this new Division, so do let us know if you’re interested in volunteering or joining a Committee.
Join us for a virtual happy hour with APA’s 21 Divisions and 8 Interest Groups! Come to network and catch up with members of groups you belong to, or check out groups you’re interested in joining. When you register, please indicate which happy hour you’d like to join (we’ll be in the Food Systems Planning breakout). If you’d like to join more than one, you can communicate with the host during the meeting and they will put you in any room of your choice.
FIG is coming to Houston for the National Planning Conference, April 25-28. We will have a special announcement to celebrate, and are hoping to find a few local partners that can help us plan our annual reception.
We are seeking:
A great venue: Memorable, perhaps unconventional, and a bonus if it features the food system in some way (e.g. a community garden or urban farm); walkable or easily accessible via public transit from the George R. Brown Convention Center
Hooray! Thanks to your support, we’ve reached the required 300 signatures and are on to the next step in our quest to become an official division of the APA. Next, the Executive Committee of the Divisions Council is reviewing our proposed organizational structure, budget, and bylaws and will make a recommendation to the full Divisions Council. We anticipate that will be in January 2020.
Next, the Divisions Council will make a formal recommendation to the APA Board, who, in turn, will vote to approve APA Food Systems Division – the first new Division in four years. If all goes well, we hope to have official approval and celebrate at the APA National Conference in Houston in April 2020.
Look for updates along the way and thanks again for your support!