Faces of Food Systems Planning: Laine Cidlowski

LCidlowski.JPGLaine Cidlowski, AICP, LEED-AP is the Food Policy Director for the District of Columbia Office of Planning in Washington, DC. She was previously the Lead Urban Sustainability Planner for the Office of Planning where she was the project manager for the Office of Planning for the Sustainable DC initiative and Plan to make the city the healthiest, greenest, and most livable city in the United States. Prior to joining OP in March 2008, she worked as Planner-Urban Designer for the Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning Commission in Prince George’s County Planning Department. She holds a Masters Degree in City and Regional Planning – Certificate in Urban Design from the University of Pennsylvania and B.A. Degree from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill in Environmental Studies. Laine is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, and serves as a Co-Chair for APA-FIG.

This interview was conducted via email in March 2017 by Megan Bucknum, member of the APA-FIG Leadership Committee.

What is your current position? District of Columbia Food Policy Director, DC Food Policy Council and DC Office of Planning

How long have you held this position? Around a year and a half

What do you enjoy about your work? I love working with so many committed and dedicated activists and community organizers from diverse areas of the food system. It is really inspiring to see their creativity and enthusiasm as they come up with new programs to help build and support our local food system. I feel really honored to be able to build on their work and scale-up solutions for healthy food access, urban agriculture, procurement, food justice, food businesses and more at the citywide level. My job entails different things every day, and I enjoy that variety.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? First, the problems we face in food systems are deeply rooted in institutional racism, justice, and poverty. Although these cross-cutting systematic injustices are often the precursors to food justice programs, it’s important to understand that solving these problems cannot be done fully within food systems work. Prioritizing and focusing within such a vast field can also be a challenge, especially when there are so many different programs and organizations taking different tactics at how to approach the same issues.

What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work? Since I work at the citywide level, I work on a bit of everything. I coordinate for more than ten agencies of the District of Columbia who have responsibility over their respective part of our local food system, and also manage our Food Policy Council (FPC). Our FPC works on sustainable food procurement, food equity, food access, nutrition and health, food business, and urban agriculture issues.

In the work that you perform, where does addressing food systems issues fit in? How has this changed over time? Everywhere! This position was just created in 2015, so before I was hired, no one was looking at food issues systems wide.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? I’d say I do now, though my undergrad degree was in environmental studies, and my Masters in city planning and urban design. I worked my way to food systems through green infrastructure and sustainability, which I think are all interconnected, although my academic training did not focus on food systems.

What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/ organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? Access to grocery stores in low-income communities is the toughest issue for us, and the most urgent to get a handle on. Residents in our wealthiest neighborhoods have one grocery store per 13,000 residents. In our poorest areas, it’s almost 1 per 70,000. Nothing is a higher priority for us than to get full-service grocery options in those areas.

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field?I’ve always thought of it as a city or regional level system, but the more and more I learn about the field, the more interested I am in the behavioral psychology aspect of the issue. So much is influenced not just but the built environment and community but also by the choices of individuals, corporations, governments, and communities. Individual and group choice has a huge impact on our food systems as a whole, so gaining a better understanding of how and why people make decisions around food will help us to take a much more nuanced approach to our work in the future.

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? My prior boss, Harriet Tregoning had a huge influence on me. She taught me a lot about the power of being really strategic with your efforts at work, to use a combination of storytelling and data to persuade and work with decision-makers to make change in a community. She’s a really thoughtful and curious leader who always wanted to know the why and the detail of our efforts. She would encourage us to take risks, fail, and figure out how to quickly glean lessons from our failure and try again.

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? Don’t just send a blitz of copy and paste informational interview emails. So many young people are interested in this field right now, which is really wonderful; however I, and many of my colleagues get lots and lots of informational interview requests. The ones that get responses from me are the ones that are specific and provide some detail about why you’d like to talk to me specifically (i.e. you did a little research) rather than a blanket request.

Relationship building, making connections, and networking is almost as important as your work itself. If you have good relationships established, not associations based on needing something from someone, it is much easier to find common ground to work on a project or issue later. Those are skills that translate across many fields, but it is especially true for food systems.

What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? Take a zoning class, a law class, a regulatory class and a negotiation class. Knowing and understanding the regulatory system can help you understand the context for your work. Learning the art of negotiation can help you better understand the needs/wants of the people you work with.

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. The APA will be featuring 8 food system planners at the National Planning Conference this May 2017 in a special “Faces of Food Systems Planning Session”. Click here for more information.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Kara Martin


Kara Martin recently became the Program Director for the Food Innovation Network (FIN) based in south King County, WA. Previously, Kara was a food systems planning consultant who worked independently since 2009. Based in Seattle, Kara works with communities to create equitable, vibrant places for people to lead healthy lives.

Kara serves on APA-FIG’s Leadership Committee and was interviewed by Andrea Petzel on January 26, 2017.

How long have you been in this position? I became the FIN Program Director in 2017- while the position is new, I worked as a consultant on the project for the past three years. Previously, I was owner/principal of Healthy Community Planning LLC, and I’ve worked as a consultant for food systems planning since 2009. After graduating with a master’s degree from the University of Washington in 2009 in the heart of the recession, I didn’t think a job would be waiting for me. Everybody was being laid off, and because of the focused work I did I was aware of some interesting funding opportunities and had the right relationships to make consulting for community food systems planning work right out of grad school.

How did you become a food systems planner? Before becoming a planner I did a lot of work around food security and hunger relief. During that time I read Sweet Charity by Janet Poppendieck, got halfway through it and got upset about the state of our food system here in Seattle. Working in downtown Seattle for a meal program, and seeing what life was like for people after hours, when businesses close their door, made me rethink my focus. I started making the connection between food systems, food access, and built environment, and ultimately ended up pursing a master’s degree in planning at the University of Washington’s College of the Built Environment, where I focused all my energy on food systems planning work.

What do you enjoy about your work? The range of projects I get to work on. Because it’s systems work I can work with food entrepreneurs, farmers, city planners, residents; a lot of people with people with different perspectives, which leads to a lot of innovative strategies and innovative thinking. I particularly enjoy community-ownership of food system efforts. FIN works with community food advocates, community leaders, who guide our strategy development and implementation while engaging their communities in the mission.

What do you find challenging about your work? I think getting people to understand the link between the food system and built environment. Food systems planners are often working in silos or in other fields of planning, which makes it challenging to move any goals or policies forward.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Yes!

What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work? Two areas: community food access and economic development around the local food economy. I like to think of food as a community development strategy that’s not just about locally produced food. We need to better connect local food to the broader food economy and all communities.

In the work that you perform, where does addressing food systems issues fit in? How has this changed over time? In the beginning I spent almost three years working on a healthy food retail project. I don’t do that now, but now I work with a lot of food entrepreneurs, and my earlier work gave me a lot of credibility because I worked with small food retail businesses. I have the unique role of having one foot in the policy world, and the other in the “real” world, such as helping businesses get started and grow.

Any advice to people who want to work in food systems planning? Take any class, workshop, webinar you can – if it’s not food focused, find a way to make your projects and papers on food policy topics. Attend food policy council meetings, volunteer, and get to know your community and the work that’s happening on the ground.

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. The APA will be featuring 8 food system planners at the National Planning Conference this May 2017 in a special “Faces of Food Systems Planning Session”. Click here for more information.

APA FIG Reception in NYC

On behalf of the APA-FIG Leadership Committee, we would like to invite you to the annual networking reception in New York City on Monday, May 8, 2017. This year, we will be hosting a joint reception with the APA Healthy Communities Collaborative. We hope to see you in NYC!


National Planning Conference NYC 2017


Don’t forget to register for one of the biggest National Planning Conferences! Registration rates increase starting March 3!

The APA-FIG Leadership Committee hopes to see you in New York City this May. Check out all the exciting food systems planning related events and sessions (16 in total!), including the APA-FIG Business Meeting and Annual Networking Reception. We look forward to seeing many of you at the conference!


Hudson Valley Local Agriculture and Foodshed | Friday, May 5, 2017 | 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. | https://www.planning.org/events/nationalconferenceactivity/9107838/

Gotham West Market, Housing & Community Development Division Lunch Reception | Saturday, May 6, 2017 | noon – 1 p.m. |  https://www.planning.org/events/nationalconferenceactivity/9116698/

Modern Food Hall: Redevelopment Aid or Trend | Saturday, May 6, 2017 | 1 p.m. – 2:15 p.m. | https://www.planning.org/events/nationalconferenceactivity/9107948/

Incentivizing the Sale of Healthy and Local Food | Saturday, May 6, 2017 | 2:30 p.m. – 3:45 p.m. | https://www.planning.org/events/nationalconferenceactivity/9109374/

City Food Policy Advisors Kick Plans into Action | Saturday, May 6, 2017 | 4 p.m. – 5:15 p.m. | https://www.planning.org/events/nationalconferenceactivity/9109407/

Food Systems Planning: Growing Connections and Planning for Health Across the Country | Sunday, May 7, 2017 | 9:30 a.m. – 10:45 a.m |  https://www.planning.org/events/nationalconferenceactivity/9109370/

The Resiliency of NYC Supply Chains | Sunday, May 7, 2017 | 9:30 a.m. – 10:45 a.m. | https://www.planning.org/events/nationalconferenceactivity/9107863/

Developing Vermont’s Food System through Planning | Sunday, May 7, 2017 | 2:30 p.m. – 3:45 p.m. | https://www.planning.org/events/nationalconferenceactivity/9110279/

Safe, Active Routes to Healthy Food | Monday, May 8, 2017 | 9 a.m. – 10:15 a.m. | https://www.planning.org/events/nationalconferenceactivity/9109887/

Food as Community Development | Monday, May 8, 2017 | 1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. | https://www.planning.org/events/nationalconferenceactivity/9110192/

Big City Planning Directors on Equitable Redevelopment and Food Access | Monday, May 8, 2017 | 2:45 p.m. – 4 p.m. | https://www.planning.org/events/nationalconferenceactivity/9109372/

Faces of Food Systems Planning | Monday, May 8, 2017 | 4:15 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. | https://www.planning.org/events/nationalconferenceactivity/9108203/

Food Systems Planning Interest Group Business Meeting | Monday, May 8, 2017 | 6 p.m. – 7 p.m. | https://www.planning.org/events/nationalconferenceactivity/9116909/

Joint Food Systems Planning Interest Group and Healthy Communities Collaborative Reception | Monday, May 8, 2017 | 7:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. | Porchlight 271 11th Avenue, NY, NY | https://www.planning.org/events/nationalconferenceactivity/9116911/

Planning for Healthy Rural-Urban Communities | Tuesday, May 9, 2017 | 8 a.m. – 10:45 a.m. | https://www.planning.org/events/nationalconferenceactivity/9109618/

Serving Up Health Equity Southern Style | Tuesday, May 9, 2017 | 11 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. | https://www.planning.org/events/nationalconferenceactivity/9109531/


Request for Information from Organizations Interested in or Operating Mobile Produce Markets

The University at Buffalo in partnership with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University and Nutrition Partnership’s Veggie Van program are developing a toolkit and technical assistance program for new mobile produce markets across the county. We are looking for mobile produce markets at different stages of planning and operation to both assist with the toolkit development (for more established mobile markets) and to potentially receive technical assistance (for new or developing mobile markets). We anticipate that funding will be available for organizations at both levels.

If you represent an organization that is planning or operating a mobile produce market, please complete this brief survey to help us better understand the types of mobile market programs that currently exist and to identify potential partnerships.

Link to survey: https://goo.gl/forms/maYkyqK6IwLC90mp2

Please note: For the purpose of this survey, a mobile produce market is defined by sales of fresh produce at multiple non-permanent locations (or delivered to people’s homes) by an organization that is not the primary producer (i.e., farmer).

For additional information contact: Lucia A. Leone, PhD

Assistant Professor of Community Health and Health Behavior

School of Public Health and Health Professions

University at Buffalo, State University of New York


Postdoctoral Position in Global Health and Food Equity – Available Immediately

(reposted from http://growingfoodconnections.org/news-item/postdoctoral-position-in-global-health-and-food-equity-available-immediately/)

The University at Buffalo invites outstanding candidates to apply for a postdoctoral position in food equity to join the university-wide Community on Global Health Equity

About the position

Applications are invited for an outstanding postdoctoral scholar to join a university-wide interdisciplinary research initiative on Food Equity and Global Health. Joining an interdisciplinary team of faculty, post-docs, graduate students, and research staff across multiple schools, including the Schools of Public Health and Health Professions, the School of Architecture and Planning, and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the selected postdoctoral scholar will focus her/his research on alleviating food and nutritional inequities by harnessing the power of non-health disciplines including architecture, applied economics, engineering, international development, social work, urban, regional and rural planning and policy, and related disciplines. The candidate will join the Food Equity project, and develop a research portfolio working under the guidance of faculty mentors in the School of Architecture and Planning, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the School of Public Health and health Professions.

Eligibility requirements

Candidate must hold a doctorate in the following or related fields: urban and regional planning, international development, food systems, engineering, and/or public policy.  An eligible candidate’s dissertation and research interests should be related to advancing food equity and public health in a global setting, preferably in low-resource communities.

Skills and experience

Experience in conducting interdisciplinary research on food systems, food equity, and nutrition-related issues are essential. Supervision of graduate student research will be helpful. Candidates with quantitative or qualitative methodological strengths are welcome to apply. Familiarity with use of spatial analysis using Geographic Information Systems is welcome. Applicants from engineering disciplines will need to demonstrate capability in modeling complex systems; dealing with large quantity of data are a plus.


Selected candidate will conduct independent research with guidance from Drs. Samina Raja, Li Lin, Korydon Smith, and Pavani Ram. Candidates are encouraged to identify a principal mentor among this faculty group. Candidate will also collaborate closely with faculty aligned with the Food Equity Project within the Community of Global Health Equity. The department home for this position will be Urban and Regional Planning.
The candidate will be expected to contribute intellectually to the research portfolio of the Food Equity Project of the UB CGHE through research-related activities, including generating original scholarship and contributing to ongoing research through the UB CGHE.

About the UB Community of Excellence in Global Health Equity

The grand challenge of global health inequity is one of the defining issues of the 21st century, attracting unprecedented levels of interest and the attention of thinkers who are concerned about the underlying social, economic, political, and environmental factors of this challenge, in addition to the biomedical manifestations. The UB Community for Global Health Equity (CGHE) was established in July 2015 to bring the strength of UB faculty across many disciplines to bear on this most vexing of world problems. The UB CGHE advances global health equity by harnessing the power of interdisciplinary scholarship and action spanning architecture, planning, engineering, social sciences, and supportive disciplines (APEX disciplines). Read more about UB CGHE here: https://www.buffalo.edu/globalhealthequity.html

The selected postdoctoral scholar will be from an APEX discipline, and will join a team of faculty and researchers across multiple disciplines including public health and APEX disciplines.

The WHO defines health inequity as “unjust differences in health between persons of different social groups.”  These differences between one population (and group) and another are due, in part, to one or more of the following systemic barriers:

  1. gaps in foundational science (e.g., lack of drug discovery to treat neglected tropical diseases)
  2. socio-cultural barriers or phenomena (e.g., gender gap in provision and utilization of healthcare)
  3. ineffectual and/or unjust public policies (e.g., land-use policies that (inadvertently) limit people’s access to nutritious foods)
  4. ineffective practices or unequal access to best practices (e.g., lack of safe construction practices in hard-to-reach rural areas)

Low resources and/or low capacity for change at global, social, and/or institutional levels exacerbate these systemic barriers. This Community’s aim is to “influence the influencers,” the leaders, organizations, and policy makers that can reduce or eliminate barriers to improved global health and well-being for all in settings around the world:

  1. research bodies (e.g., universities or funding agencies)
  2. facilitative/dissemination organizations, including international organizations (e.g., state agency providing assistance to refugees or international organization promoting child health)
  3. policy makers and implementers (e.g., ministries of rural development)
  4. professional/practitioner organizations (e.g., urban planning organizations or organizations providing healthcare)

Application review, deadlines, and remuneration

Applications are being accepted on a rolling basis. The position is for two years. Salary and benefits are competitive and commensurate with experience. The University at Buffalo is an equal opportunity employer.

Apply online via the UB Jobs interface: https://www.ubjobs.buffalo.edu/applicants/Central?quickFind=59675

About the University at Buffalo

The University at Buffalo is a premier, research-intensive public university dedicated to academic excellence. It is the flagship and the largest and most comprehensive campus in the 64-campus State University of New York System. With 27,000 students, the University at Buffalo is a Carnegie Class I research university and a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU). The university offers 83 Ph.D. and 190 master’s degree programs, and has outstanding supercomputing, library, and research facilities, including numerous interdisciplinary centers and institutes for faculty collaboration. The University at Buffalo has three campuses: UB South campus, UB Downtown campus, and UB North Campus.

The post-doctoral position will be housed in the Community of Excellence in Global Health Equity located in historic Hayes Hall on UB’s South Campus.

The UB South Campus, home to the School of Public Health and Health Professions and the School of Architecture and Planning, is located in the University Heights neighborhood with coffee shops, eateries, bookstores, and a full array of commercial outlets and services. The campus is highly accessible, situated on a subway and other transit lines. Housing opportunities are abundant and affordable. With a combined population of 9.7 million, the binational Niagara region of Western New York and Southern Ontario offers a high quality of life and an exceptional setting for engaging planning issues. The region spans an international border, and includes large cities, varied suburbs, dramatic landscapes, and quiet villages. For additional information about the University at Buffalo and the community, see http://www.buffalo.edu/community.

Contact information

Dr. Samina Raja, Associate Professor and Community for Global Health Equity faculty sraja@buffalo.edu

New Senate Bill Aims to Boost Urban Agriculture

October 5, 2016

By Jason Jordan, Director of Policy, American Planning Association

The federal farm bill isn’t due to expire until 2018, but efforts to shape that legislation are already heating up on Capitol Hill.

The top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), has introduced a new bill to significantly boost urban farming. While the legislation will not become law in the few work weeks remaining in this session of Congress, Stabenow intends for the bill to get conversations started among lawmakers about raising the profile of urban agriculture in the next farm bill.

The legislation — the Urban Agriculture Act (S. 3420) — would both increase resources for urban farmers and add new flexibility to a range of existing U.S. Department of Agriculture programs to better address the needs of urban agriculture…

(For more information and the full blog post, click here.)

Consulting Opportunity: San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market

The San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market in San Francisco, CA is looking for a Fund Development Consultant.

Scope of Services

To continue to run the Market successfully and to implement the Reinvestment Plan, the Market needs to diversify funding beyond our traditional rent revenue model.

This contract position is responsible for developing and potentially implementing a broad funding program. More specifically, this position will create a strategy to diversify the San Francisco Market Corporation’s funding for capital improvements that will support infrastructure development, as well as provide resources to aid our programmatic work that focuses, but is not limited to, health, workforce development, local farmers, and food recovery.

We envision potential funding sources such as government- local, state, and federal, philanthropy- private, community and corporate, and alternative financing. We are not seeking to develop an individual donor program at this time.

About the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market

The San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market (SFWPM or “Market”), located in the Bayview Hunters Point community, is one of the largest, multi-tenanted produce wholesale and distribution facility in the US. The Market spans over 20 acres, including 485,000 square feet of warehouse and logistics space. The Market provides critical food infrastructure and services to over 30 wholesale and distribution businesses that store, aggregate, and distribute fresh produce to businesses across the Bay Area.

The San Francisco Market Corporation is the non-profit governing body of the Market. The mission of the San Francisco Market Corporation is to link the produce and food communities of SF and beyond, through the successful operation and development of the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market.

The vision of the San Francisco Market Corporation is to make the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market a vibrant, thriving and sustainable food center.

It is an exciting time at the Market; we have embarked on a multi-year Reinvestment Project to upgrade and expand our facility. The first phase of the Reinvestment Project included the transition of the Market to a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization and the construction of an 82,000 sq. ft. LEED-Gold warehouse. Future planned phases of the Reinvestment Project include building replacements and road infrastructure work with an approximate total cost of 100 million dollars. As we are investing and planning for the future of the Market, we continue to focus our efforts on increasing the impact of our programs, which include: local job generation, support for local farmers and growers, and maximizing food recovery opportunities.

 To Apply

We are looking for an individual or consulting firm with experience developing and implementing effective fund development strategies. If you are interested in helping us with this project please share with us your relevant experience, why you would be a good fit for this position, and two examples of similar projects that you have worked on to Elie Steinberg at esteinberg@sfproduce.org.

Sessions Due: APA National Planning Conference – New York City 2017


Community garden in Long Island City, NY. Photo by Kimberley Hodgson.

The next APA National Planning Conference will take place May 6-9, 2017 in New York City. APA-FIG is busy planning some unique sessions and networking events!

If you haven’t already, consider submitting a food systems planning related session proposal. Because of its location, this conference should draw a big crowd, and we would love to see a robust number of food systems planning sessions in the program. The deadline for proposal submissions is August 25, 2016.

If you need some inspiration, consider some of these session ideas:

  • Role of technology in food systems planning
  • Role of local food businesses in the local creative economy
  • Planning for food waste and its impact on sustainability goals
  • Role of the planner in food policy councils
  • Using Collective Impact for food systems planning and implementation
  • Role of state and regional planning efforts for local food systems

Also, if you are looking to join forces with other APA-FIG members or have a neat idea for a session, post a message on the APA-FIG Facebook page, LinkedIn page, or Twitter feed.

And last, but not least, APA-FIG is looking for sponsors for the annual network event. If you work for an organization that may be interested, please let me know.

We look forward to seeing you in New York City.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Erin Hardie Hale

ErinHardieHale_headshotErin Hardie Hale is a Research Associate at University of New Hampshire, which coordinates the NH Food Alliance that is developing a statewide food systems strategy, which is connected to the broader New England Food Vision.

This interview was conducted via email and phone by Erica Campbell of the Vermont Farm to Plate Network, and member of the APA-FIG Leadership Team.

What is your current position, and how does your organization engage in food system planning efforts? I am a Research Associate at the NH Food Alliance. The NH Food Alliance aims to be an informed, connected, and active food systems network. We are developing a statewide food systems strategy, which is connected to the broader New England Food Vision. We convene working groups, regional and statewide gatherings, and other opportunities for participants to build relationships that add value to their work. We communicate and share information and resources about the NH food system with the network and general public regularly and in multiple ways. We also collaborate to implement, monitor, and adapt the action priorities identified by network participants.

How long have you held this position? Since 2013

What do you enjoy about your work? I find working in food systems exciting, because figuring out how to feed ourselves is at the core of so many critical issues, including environmental sustainability, social justice, community health, and economic viability.

I also find that people who work in the food system – from producers and entrepreneurs to food access advocates and policymakers – are passionate about what they do. The NH Food Alliance is all about encouraging collaboration in the food system and I love working with and learning from people who love what they do!

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? The complexity of the food system means there’s no one way to address challenges that will satisfy everyone, and finding common ground takes time, trust, and relationship building. There is a constant tension in our network between what many people see as the time intensive work of collaborative planning and building relationships and the need to take action or “do something” concrete.

What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work? The NH Food Alliance connects individuals, organizations, and businesses across the food system so people in sectors that don’t traditionally collaborate can learn from each other and work together toward shared goals. Our first initiative, the Farm, Fish, and Food Enterprise Viability Initiative, is the result of over two years of building our network, listening to hundreds of NH residents, and synthesizing dozens of reports. The common thread emerging from this work is that thriving local businesses are at the heart of our food system and can create cascading benefits for us all. Because we approach viability from a food systems perspective, our goals and approaches go beyond improving the bottom lines for individual entrepreneurs. Instead, we’re looking to create the conditions that support thriving businesses through education, market development, improved food access, and land and sea resource protection.

In the work that you perform, where does addressing food systems issues fit in? How has this changed over time? Everything we do addresses food system issues!

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? Not by training! I have a PhD in agriculture and science education from UC Davis with a focus on coalition building and collaborative learning and research between farmers and conservation groups in California’s Central Valley. I also have a master’s degree from UC Davis in International Agricultural Development, have worked on farms in Oregon and NH, and have extensive experience in agricultural training and education, working with farmers, farmworkers, and rural communities around the globe, from California and Kenya to Bolivia and Egypt.

What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? As I mentioned before, building trust between stakeholders with different perspectives has been a big challenge. There was some skepticism early on about why the UNH Sustainability Institute was taking the lead to coordinate the network building and planning process and so it was difficult at first to get all of the key stakeholders and leaders in the room talking with us. We worked hard to distribute leadership across different groups, make strategic connections, and be very transparent about our process. We also chose to focus our first initiative on viability, in part, because it was an issue that groups across the food system could unite behind.

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? I learned everything I know on the job. Curtis Ogden, our process facilitator, and his organization, the Interaction Institute for Social Change, had a profound impact on the way we approached our network building and planning effort. We’ve also had a very supportive group of other state planners in New England that meets in a monthly Community of Practice call hosted by VT Farm to Plate coordinators, so we were able to learn from other states like Vermont, Maine and Rhode Island that were ahead of us in the process or doing things differently.   Food Solutions New England has also provided an important regional framework and avenue for thinking about planning beyond state borders.

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 don’t think that we necessarily need new technologies or scientific research to tell us how to grow healthy food and get it to everyone who needs it in an ethical and responsible way. What we really need to know how to do is share ideas and learn from each other. People are making it work in small and big ways all over the region; learning about what works in one place and adapting it for another and supporting that innovation and collaboration is a driving force of the NH Food Alliance.