Faces of Food Systems Planning: Mary Chicoine Praus

Mary Chicoine Praus head shotMary Chicoine Praus is a Land Use Planner at Franklin Regional Council of Governments in Greenfield, Massachusetts. The organization is the co-author of the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan and has undertaken various regional food system planning efforts.

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

What is your current position (include your title and name of organization)? I am a Land Use Planner at the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, the regional planning agency for Franklin County. Our agency is located in Greenfield, Massachusetts.

How long have you held this position? Five and a half years

What do you enjoy about your work? I like being able to focus on several areas of interest, including farm and food system planning, green infrastructure and urban trees.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? I find it challenging to have many projects at one time and to have enough time to devote to them all, especially those as complex and intricate as our food system.

What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work? I’ve focused on several areas: statewide comprehensive food system planning, regional farm and food planning for Franklin County with a focus on land and food access, and community food assessments for individual towns. We’ve completed the Franklin County Farm and Food System Project, focused on increased food access and food production, and co-authored the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan.

In the work that you perform, where does addressing food systems issues fit in? How has this changed over time? Food system planning per se was not a stated focus of our agency five years ago. Now we are regularly working on food system related projects at several scales. Even if the primary goal of a planning project is not related to the food system, my colleagues and I are often thinking about the food system when we are working on open space plans, master plans, or transportation planning. I think there is more focus on social equity and food access, and more awareness of the need for access to affordable farmland, which permeates many areas of planning at the FRCOG.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Although my official title is Land Use Planner, I do also think of myself as a food system planner.

What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? I think funding is one of the biggest hurdles both for our organization and for many organizations and businesses in our region. After successfully obtaining funding for a couple of significant food system projects at the FRCOG, it has become more difficult to find funding. It has also become more competitive over time, especially for food system planning projects.

Do you have any advice for someone entering the food systems planning field? Ground your planning work in the real world – and do your homework to understand what work has already been done before hand. Be respectful of farmers and food processors – value their time and their real world experience. Don’t ask farmers and food processors to participate in your project unless there is real value to them for doing so.

What makes you successful in your work? What skills do you use the most in your food systems planning related work? I think being respectful of those already doing the work in the food system helps me to be more effective. The day-to-day skills I use the most are conducting research, analysis, and GIS mapping, creating graphics and infographics, and doing outreach to farmers and others in the food system community.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Sharon Lerman

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Sharon Lerman is the Food Policy Advisor for the City of Seattle. Based out of the City’s Office of Sustainability and Environment, Sharon provides policy direction and strategic advice to increase options for access to healthy and affordable food for Seattle’s residents. Sharon was interviewed on July 7, 2016 by Andrea Petzel.

What do you enjoy about your work? Food systems planning is still a young field, and there is so much to learn from other disciplines about how we approach our work. I enjoy working with smart people across disciplines and learning from the decades of experience in their fields. There are so many translatable lessons from the history of housing policy, community development, economic development, land use planning, and others. I also love working for local government – knowing that the reason I go to work every day to make Seattle a better place for people who live here.

What do you find challenging about your work? Food systems planning is complex, and often there isn’t a single solution to all the challenges we’re wrestling with. It’s sometimes difficult to set one priority aside to really focus on another, but I believe we sometimes need to do that. Ultimately, it’s a suite of activities, policies, and initiatives that are needed to build the just and sustainable food system that we’re working towards.

Where does addressing food systems issues fit in for your work with the City of Seattle?  All of my work is about food systems, and I get to address it from many angles. Sometimes I’m focusing more on human services aspects, sometimes on supporting small businesses, and other times on farmland preservation. I work with many folks in city government, and some of our best food systems champions are in positions that aren’t titled “food” people, but they bring a food lens to their work and are able to help make sure food is considered across the work of city departments.

 What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work? My work as food policy advisor is greatly informed, and influenced by Seattle’s Race and Social Justice Initiative. This has led to a strong focus on food access and affordability, which were top concerns raised by the community during the development of Seattle’s Food Action Plan. Seattle is becoming increasingly unaffordable for low-income people and other vulnerable populations, healthy food is one of the first things to go when people struggle financially. So while my work also includes supporting our local food economy, food waste prevention, and local food production, healthy food affordability has been a prominent focus.

How did you become a food systems planner? My interest in food policy started as an undergraduate with an interest in hunger in the developing world. Understanding the role that political, distribution, economic, and power systems played in solving – and also creating – hunger, I wanted to understand how these same systems worked locally. I worked for community-based organizations for a number of years, and eventually pursued a joint master’s degree in City and Regional Planning and Public Health at the University of California Berkley, focusing on health equity.

What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? During planning school, I pursued internships and hands-on projects with many different organizations. I found it impactful to apply the concepts that I was learning on the ground, and also to get a feel for different types of agencies and organizations. I’d encourage students to seek out different types of stakeholders to work with. Understanding their priorities and what drives them will also help you to better identify your own priorities and what really drives you, as you embark on your career.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Mary Yetter



Image Source: Piedmont Park Conservancy


Mary Yetter is a Program Coordinator at the Piedmont Park Conservancy in Atlanta, GA where she manages the Piedmont Park Green Market. In her unpaid work, she is also a small-scale grower/farmer and dedicates herself to increasing access to local food.

This interview was conducted via phone by Erin Thoresen, a member of the APA-FIG Communications & Outreach Working Group on July 8, 2016. The following responses have been edited. 

What is your first and last name? Mary Yetter

What is your current position? Program Coordinator, Piedmont Park Conservancy

How long have you held this position? 2.5 years

What do you enjoy about your work? The flexibility to do what I want.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? I find the lack of interest by my organization in what I do challenging. There is a general apathy in the organization.

What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work? In my work I focus on farmers markets, going from the farm to the market, and promotion to get people to purchase. Local food. In my unpaid work, I farm. I am in small-scale production.

In the work that you perform, where does addressing food systems issues fit in? How has this changed over time? Hoping to effect change to bring smaller scale availability and local availability to the population. We’re working to get fresh – I don’t like to say that – just-picked food to people. Before I even did this position, it was really different here. Coming to Atlanta was eye-opening – the lack of access, lack of availability, lack of awareness. Atlanta ranks low in that area. Now there are a more markets – we’ve probably reached saturation even. But there’s not enough promotion to make them successful. There is change [happening], but I just don’t think that the change and the promotion are working hand-in-hand. It’s getting there, but progress is slow.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? Well, in a broad sense, yes. I have a public health background. I approach everything from public health perspective. I work with small-scale farmers and growers. I also work with [the organization] Community Farmers Markets a lot. So I think yeah, it’s part of that system. Part of what I do is work in my own local community to create access, to connect people with food. When I got here, there was nothing in terms of fresh-picked or local. It was – I hate this term, but it was a food desert. Now that is starting to change.

What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/ organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? Actually we’ve been planning and developing an urban farm, but it hasn’t taken off due to a lack of buy-in and lack of funding available. I think there’s still a long way to go in terms of financing and buy in for these types of things. It’s a barrier. I see this across Atlanta in general. They [the City] hired a sustainable urban agriculture guy, but he’s not even a grower. He’s a landscape architect who is well versed in City ways. It looks good, but I see it as superficial action with no real change. It’s going to take a group of more grassroots people to call people to task.

Do you think that group exists already? The grassroots group to make that change happen? For small farmers, they’re so busy they don’t have time. Plus they’re wary of crossing the City. It’s going to take time.

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the field? I was working on an international perspective, but here I’ve gotten more involved in trying to push and work with smaller farmers to empower them. Helping with land acquisition, financing, and support them. It’s not organized but in small circles of folks I work with. The Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group is great. They put on a great conference.

Who has had the most influence on you as a food systems planner? Not one person specifically, but I work with farms and partner with them. I work with a couple of older farmers who take on younger farmers to teach and mentor them – since I don’t have my own land. They teach seed, soil, working with tractors. They’re very generous with their energy. I also admire Crack in the Sidewalk farm – they are true-blue in terms of trying to change, to create access where it doesn’t exist, promoting small scale urban ag. They follow sustainable practices,

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’m an action-oriented person. Going to meetings is fine, but if you don’t do something, then it doesn’t matter. Doing something in the physical sense. Physical skills are essential. Problem solving and mediation – that’s what I really do. Sometimes it’s like being a psychologist.

What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? How much I like farming and food systems. I would have redirected into a different area.

Exploring Stories of Food Systems Planning and Policy Innovation


Growing Food Connections is excited to announce the addition of 5 free publications to the Exploring Stories of Innovation series, a series of short articles that explore how local governments from across the United States are strengthening their community’s food system through planning and policy. These include:

Beginning in 2012, Growing Food Connections (GFC) conducted a national scan and identified 299 local governments across the United States that are developing and implementing a range of innovative plans, public programs, regulations, laws, financial investments and other policies to strengthen the food system. GFC conducted exploratory telephone interviews with 20 of these local governments. This series highlights some of the unique planning and policy strategies used by some of these urban and rural local governments to enhance community food security while ensuring sustainable and economically viable agriculture and food production. The first four articles in the series featured:

For more information and to download these free publications, visit http://growingfoodconnections.org/research/communities-of-innovation/.

Growing Food Connections is supported by Agriculture and Food Research initiative Competitive Grant no. 2012-68004-19894 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

FUNDING OPPORTUNITY | Invest Health: Strategies for Healthier Cities

Invest Health is a new initiative that brings together diverse leaders from mid-sized U.S. cities across the nation to develop new strategies for increasing and leveraging private and public investments to accelerate improvements in neighborhoods facing the biggest barriers to better health. The program is a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Reinvestment Fund.

This initiative was developed to provide an opportunity for mid-sized cities to transform the way local leaders work together to create solution-driven and diverse partnerships. These partnerships will emphasize making changes in low-income neighborhoods to improve resident health and well-being. These changes can focus on increasing access to quality jobs, affordable housing, and nutritious food, and reducing crime rates and environmental hazards.

For more information on this funding opportunity, visit http://www.investhealth.org/#applyLetters of Intent are due by January 29, 2016 at 5pm EST.

Job Posting: Growing Food Connections Community Outreach Coordinator

American Farmland Trust (AFT) seeks an energetic self-starter to coordinate extension and outreach to help local governments build capacity to plan for food and agriculture and develop public policies to strengthen community food systems.

AFT is the nation’s leading national organization dedicated to protecting farmland, promoting sound stewardship and keeping farmers on the land. The Community Outreach Coordinator will support AFT’s partnership in a USDA-funded integrated research, education and extension project called Growing Food Connections (GFC). The Coordinator’s primary responsibilities will be to coordinate and deliver training and technical assistance to eight counties across the United States.

The ideal candidate will have a background in land use or community planning, sustainable agriculture, food systems and public policy at the local government level. S/he will have a passion for community engagement, excellent listening, communication and interpersonal skills, experience working with diverse populations, and demonstrated ability to work both independently and collaboratively as part of closely knit team. Strong computer skills and an ability to coordinate multiple people, partners and deliverables is essential.

The Coordinator will report directly to AFT’s Assistant Vice President of Programs and work closely with other project staff within AFT and with GFC partner organizations. The position is full time and based out of AFT’s Northampton, Mass. Office. Extensive travel is required.

For more information and details on how to apply, click here.

Job Opening: Detroit Food Policy Council

Detroit Food Policy Council Research and Policy Program Manager

DFPCLogo.pngThe Detroit Food Policy Council is seeking a Program Manager to plan and implement the Council’s research and policy activities. This is a full time salaried position with flexible scheduling to accommodate required evening and weekend work.

Area of Focus: Food Systems Research and Policy, Land Use, Urban Agriculture, Economic and Community Development

Organizational Description: The Detroit Food Policy Council (DFPC) is an advisory, monitoring and implementation body that is committed to nurturing the development and maintenance of a food-secure City of Detroit in which all of its residents are hunger-free, healthy and benefit economically from the food system that impacts their lives.

Position Summary: The Research and Policy Manager of the DFPC reports to the DFPC Executive Director works in partnership with the Council to plan and implement the Council’s research and policy activities.

Compensation: This is a full time position with flexible scheduling to accommodate required evening and weekend work.  This is a salaried position based on an average of 40 hours a week; benefits include paid holidays and vacation and an allowance towards reimbursement of health insurance costs.

Qualifications:  The successful candidate will be familiar with land use, economic development and policy related to urban food systems.  Candidates with familiarity with Detroit’s political, social and economic environment are preferred.   S/he will possess excellent research, analysis, written and communications skills. S/he will have demonstrated leadership skills, be self-motivated and have the ability to work with a diverse array of partners including residents, neighborhood and community groups, research and policy experts and government officials. Bachelor’s degree in urban planning, public policy, economics or related field and five years professional experience.

Additional Desired Experience and Skills:

  • Experience working with and leading volunteers from diverse communities.
  • Strong organizational and written/verbal communication skills.
  • Ability to work independently and as part of a team.
  • Proficiency in all Office applications required.
  • Passion for people and food justice issues in Detroit
  • Experience in research, marketing and communications tools, including survey methods, website and social media tools.

Duties and Responsibilities:

  • Serve as the staff liaison to the DFPC’s Research and Policy Committee which is currently reviewing the City’s Food Security Policy, developing a strategy for urban agriculture and land use tied.
  • Responsible for research, planning, and managing the DFPC Food Report project from inception to publication.
  • Participate on the team which is working to implement recommendations from the 2014 study of the economic impact of localizing the food system.
  • Develop and implement strategies that facilitate community engagement in the DFPC’s research and policy initiatives.
  • Work with other organizations to address policy issues related to food security and food system localization
  • Work with the Executive Director and Education and Engagement Program Manager to develop and implement community and neighborhood focused education and outreach programs that education residents and help inform the Council’s priorities.
  • Other duties as assigned.

Application Process

Please send cover letter, resume, three references and a writing sample electronically to: info@detroitfoodpc.org with DFPC Program Manager Application in the subject line or via mail to: Detroit Food Policy Council, Attention: Hiring Manager, 1420 Washington Blvd., Ste 230, Detroit, MI  48226.  Only potential interviewees will be contacted.  No phone calls please.

For more information about the Detroit Food Policy Council, please visit: www.detroitfoodpc.org

The Detroit Food Policy Council is an Equal Opportunity Employer.

City Region Food Systems: Join the Call for Global Action


Image Source: City Region Food Systems

City Region Food Systems (CRFS) is an international initiative that was established by a range of international organizations* to improve rural-urban connectivity in sustainable food systems work.

City region food systems encompass the complex network of actors, processes and relationships to do with food production, processing, marketing, and consumption that exist in a given geographical region that includes a more or less concentrated urban centre and its surrounding peri- urban and rural hinterland; a regional landscape across which flows of people, goods and ecosystem services are managed.

The term ‘City region’ refers not only to megacities and the immediate, proximate rural and agricultural areas surrounding them, but also to small and medium-sized towns that can serve to link the more remote small-scale producers and their agricultural value chains to urban centers and markets in developing countries.

A city region food system approach recognizes that there is great diversity between contexts, the nature of urbanization, sizes of urban centre (from small and intermediate towns to megacities), types of food systems, and nature of ties with the surrounding countryside and rural populations.

Join the Call for Global Action!

The strengthening of city regional food systems can play a key role in helping to feed an increasingly urbanized world in ways that are sustainable, resilient, fair and healthy and that help to create the Future We Want. Human settlements from villages and small towns to cities are expanding. The importance of territorial or landscape approaches to food systems development is increasingly recognized, but city regions, and the rural urban linkages that they represent, are not yet prominent in international dialogue on the future of food and nutrition security. A concerted effort is therefore required to enable these approaches to help shape the future of our food security and the healthy rural urban linkages upon which future well-being depends. This joint effort will require co-operation between subnational and local authorities associations, civil society and producer organizations in both rural agriculture-based and urban communities, the private sector, international organizations and the donor community. This multi-sector and multi-stakeholder effort will also need to collaborate with all levels of government, integrating economic, ecological, territorial and rights-based approaches.

Join the Call for Global Action for stakeholders across the world to engage in a concerted global effort in order to:
1. Increase awareness of the value and importance of CRFS
2. Develop and exchange knowledge on how to protect, support and further develop CRFS
3. Catalyze further action on the ground

Sign-up to today, by filling out the form on this webpage: http://cityregionfoodsystems.org/get-involved/


For more information about CRFS, visit http://cityregionfoodsystems.org/.

*This collaboration was initiated with the support of FAO Food for cities initiative, Global Food Security Cluster/Urban Working Group, Habitat International Coalition (HIC), ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, ILO, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), International Urban Food Network (IUFN), International network of Resource Centres on Urban Agriculture and Food security (RUAF), UN-Habitat, United Nations Capital Development (UNCDF), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), World Food Programme (WFP) and Prince of Wales’ International Sustainability Unit (ISU).

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Amy Verbofsky

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Amy Verbofsky is a planner working at the Office of Environmental Planning at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Laura An, a planning intern at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and a graduate student of planning at the University of Pennsylvania, conducted this interview in October 2015.

What is your first and last name? Amy Verbofsky

What is your current position? Planner in the Office of Environmental Planning at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC)

How long have you held this position? I’ve been in my current position since January 2015, 10 months. But I started at DVRPC as a food systems planning intern 3 years ago.

What do you enjoy about your work? There are always a lot of different things to work on; it’s a very broad topic and involves everything from economics and building the food economy to farmland preservation, and food access. There are lots of ways to get involved.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? You’re always learning as you’re going. I didn’t study food systems in school, but it’s more learning on the job, things like farmland preservation or financing food businesses.

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? Whatever stakeholders want you to focus on. For the last three years, I have worked on a Food Economy Strategy (increasing food access, building economic opportunities through food) for Camden, NJ. A recent project is a Food Promotion Survey for Montgomery County, PA. There are lots of different people in the food systems community and with lots of different interests.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? Yes, but I don’t typically introduce myself that way. It depends on my role in a given project because food systems are only a part of the overall work that I undertake at DVRPC.

What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? Planning can be slow, and often times the area or community you’re working with is changing rapidly. We need to make sure our work is always current and relevant to what’s happening in the community. For example, Camden City is changing significantly in just the past 3 years as several large corporations have announced relocating to take advantage of state tax incentives. The challenges that everyday people face haven’t really changed but the players who are involved in addressing those issues have changed, and therefore have also changed what growth looks like. It’s also difficult when you’re doing long-term work to keep stakeholders engaged over a long period and to ensure that your plan is eventually implemented over time.

Did you know you wanted to go into food systems when you first started that work? In graduate school, I focused on Community and Economic Development. I saw food systems as a way to address community/economic development issues from an equity/poverty perspective. Food systems came along with the internship and job opportunity with DVRPC. It is one way to address the problems I am interested in.

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? Learning just how broad food systems is, particularly that the problems are not just in distressed and low income communities but are also in rural areas. Food systems also incorporates broader topics, not just food access, but everything important to all the different players in food systems. Regional planning helps me see a lot of different perspectives, in different types of communities.

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? In terms of food systems, definitely Alison Hastings, currently DVRPC’s Manager of the Office of Communications and Engagement. From working with her in the past 3 years, watching her and learning how to run meetings, soaking in knowledge. Alison helped me find a niche and supported my career growth. She also transferred a lot of her food systems planning work and knowledge over to me.

Another influence is Samantha Phillips (Director of the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Emergency Management), gave me my first real job before grad school, inspired me to take on more responsibility and bring passion to work in public service. She’s a strong young female leader in government.

And last but not least, Amy Hillier, a professor at University of Pennsylvania who has a dual faculty appointment between the Department of City and Regional Planning and the School of Social Policy & Practice. She has a passion for Philadelphia and for similar issues.

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? Be open to opportunities. There are lots of ways to do food systems planning, and many ways to address all these issues in the food system. It’s helpful to also know how to work with others, building relationships, and finding partners. It’s a small community within food systems so it’s imperative to maintain good relationships.

The skills I use most are: writing, case study research, and meeting facilitation.

What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? Use grad school as a time to make connections, and get experiences like internships. The most valuable things I took away were not necessarily the hard skills, but the opportunity to intern at DVRPC. Being a grad student also gives you the opportunity to network and the opportunity to explore the field.

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.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Laura Raymond

LR head shot 1Laura Raymond is a Commerce Specialist in Small Farm Direct Marketing at the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

Andrea Petzel, member of the APA-FIG Leadership Committee, conducted this interview in October 2015. The following responses have been edited.

What is your current position (include your title and name of organization)? I currently work in a position funded by a federal Specialty Crop Block Grant and my role is to help small and direct marketing farms extend their markets within Washington State’s local and regional food system. These are farms that are selling direct to consumers and more directly to retailers or food services. Our state is unusual because we have so many small and mid-sized farms that grow specialty produce crops and 95% of farms in Washington State are considered small farms

Through extensive outreach I provide farmers with technical assistance to help navigate regulations and permits, and I help them develop marketing strategies and basic best practices for their businesses. There are so many levels of jurisdiction that intersect with growing and selling food, and we help make it easy for farmers to understand.

What do you enjoy about your work? Working with farmers and learning about their particular farms, businesses, and how they’re making it work. There’s so much diversity in people, places and crops, and farmers are really committed; it’s not the easiest place to make it work and they do it because they love it and that’s really inspiring. I also really enjoy being part of re-creating a viable regional food economy.

What do you find challenging about your work? There aren’t always easy solutions and there’s so much regulation, with good reason. But it can be difficult in the moment, when helping a farmer who is doing important, hard work, to remember there’s a good reason for a particular rule. Also, over the last 60 years agriculture and food systems have really been evolved towards to be large scale, industrially-modeled, and globally-oriented. But now there’s growing consumer interest for fresh, healthy food and this means more opportunity for small local farms. In our state increasing numbers of young people are bucking long term trends and are getting into farming. It’s exciting that people think farming is a good way to make their livelihood, and local governments are starting to pay attention and trying to be creative about creating and keeping a vibrant local farming scene.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? No – I’m not sure who the food systems planners really are! Food systems are so vast and interconnected, and are really are about the overlap of food, health, culture, transportation, and land use. Good policy needs input from all those sectors.

Do you have any advice for someone entering the food systems field? Find the thing you really care about and work on it. Find what you can do, connect with other people and do it! There are so many fields that interconnect with food; you can be a graphic designer and work in food systems!

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.