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.

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