Andrea Petzel, member of the APA-FIG Leadership Committee, conducted this interview in October 2015. The following responses have been edited.
Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? I am not a traditional planner, but I do consider myself a food system planner. In my current job I am coordinating the implementation of the Farm to Plate Strategic Plan. But I’ve also worked for a planning agency in Vermont to develop a regional food system plan for a three county region, and on a local level, I have also overseen a local food system assessment and have incorporated a food system chapter into our municipal plan.
What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work? The Farm to Plate Strategic Plan is perhaps the most comprehensive in the country; its nearly 1,000 pages include all elements of the food system. It began largely as a plan to spur economic development and jobs in the farm and food sector, but quickly broadened to include food access, health, environment, etc.
What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? While we have a very collaborative environment here in our little state, the diverse views of network members bring a host of challenges. For example, strategies that help make farms more viable may inadvertently be contrary to making food more accessible and affordable. Sometimes Network member organizations are in direct opposition around a policy or program initiative, such as a livable wage or paid sick days legislation. We certainly look at win-win opportunities, but sometimes we need to have challenging conversations, including issues of racial justice, equity, and working conditions.
How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? When I first worked as a transportation and land use planning consultant, I was aware of local food systems but I was unaware that food system planning was a field until I came across APA’s food system planning documents. I was really excited when I found these reports as they catalyzed a desire to focus on the food system field.
Who has had the most influence on you as a food systems planner? Wendell Berry has been a big influence on me as a person, and his writings have influenced my relationship with food, the land, and community. Donella Meadows was another big influence in terms of understanding leverage points for systems change. Growing up in a small rural state and having a close connection with the people who grew the food we ate (and growing it ourselves) also had a big influence on my understanding of food systems and community.
Do you have any advice for someone entering the food systems planning field? It’s really important to understand complex systems because plans ultimately need to be aimed at creating systems change. Even if you want to focus on one area of planning, an integrated approach that addresses the interrelatedness of issues is really helpful. Other knowledge areas that have aided me in my work include: policy analysis, research methods, public administration, economics, ecology, and sociology. Writing and communications are great skills to have too – using data to tell a story is a skill I am still working at!
Faces of Food Systems Planning is a series of interviews with practicing planners from across North America who are engaging in food systems planning and policy work. This series is part of APA-FIG’s efforts to highlight food systems planning as an important planning topic. Click here for more information.