Faces of Food Systems: Arielle Lofton

Arielle Lofton face and shoulders, yellow blouse

Current Job: Master of Sustainable Urban Planning at George Washington University Planner at Stantec, and Associate Consultant at Karen Karp & Partners

  1. What’s your favorite food?

This is a hard question to answer because I LOVE so many different cuisines, but right now I’m really into Filipino food! This summer, I went to a local Filipino restaurant “Purple Patch” where I had a coconut-braised short rib adobo dish, and I’m still thinking about it.

  1. What do you enjoy about your work?

I  enjoy continuing to learn about urban planning and how it affects our lives daily. When you think about it, it affects where we live, our local transit, what we have access to, how our local and regional economies are run, etc… As a philomath, I love to learn and I’m thankful to have had great experiences working in the food industry and going to the Culinary Institute of America which has uniquely shaped my view of food systems.. I hope to continue to advocate for more sustainable development and healthier food systems, especially in underserved communities. Everyone should have access to fresh healthy food!

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

For me, the most challenging thing is working in a bureaucratic structure. Sometimes it’s extremely hard to get things done in local government because you have to have support and people have to value and understand your vision. It takes time but it’s not impossible!

  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 my current role as Associate Consultant at KK&P, I’m working on various food system-related projects focusing on local food procurement and food, and agriculture education for institutions. The world of urban planning is so vast and as a student, I’m building on every experience to help me figure out my strengths and further discover what I’m passionate about. 

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

At this point in my career not yet, I work on food system-related projects but I wouldn’t say I’m a “food-sytems” planner.

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

When I worked for a community garden program in southern Maryland our biggest problem was capacity. We didn’t have enough community gardens and staff to meet the needs of food insecurity in the county. By partnering with other local community-based organizations we were able to have a broader reach and get fresh produce to people who needed it most. 

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

Since starting planning school I’ve come to realize the intersections between food systems, public health, transportation, and overall regional development. We cannot fix our problems by only looking at things as isolated issues. Reaching across industries is vital in creating a healthy and equitable food system, especially for our under-represented and low-income communities.

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

Put yourself out there and get involved in your local community! You will always meet passionate people doing food systems work, building relationships and developing a network is very important in finding opportunities in this work.

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

I came into planning with no prior experience in the industry and I figured it out along the way with support from my network, faculty, and student body. If you are passionate about something go for it even though it may be daunting or intimidating! 

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