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.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Janice Hill

Name: Janice Hill, AICP

Current Position: Executive Planner and Farmland Protection Manager; Owner, Acreage43560, LLC – A Local Food and Farmland Consulting Firm. Janice Hill, AICP, has worked in the planning field for 37 years. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania where she envisioned local food production in North Philadelphia in the early 1980s, Janice works as executive planner for Kane County, IL. She is also the owner of Acreage43560 LLC, a farmland consultancy.

What do you currently enjoy about your work?

I enjoy the mix of computer and field work.  Taking a trip “into the field” is usually the best part of my week, camera in hand always. I cannot understand why some planners only use google maps; there is no substitute for eyeing your subject area in person. 

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work?

In the past as a municipal planner, it was the planning commission night meetings, and then the long drive home.  At the same time, plan commissioners are some of my favorite people, dedicated to making their communities the best, volunteering their time.  I’ve learned a lot from the municipal and county commissioners I’ve worked with during my 37 years in planning.

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?

It’s hard to separate a portion of the food system out from the rest, but I am first a land use planner, it’s the first lens I use in all my work. We need the land base to produce food (even food grown in the built environment) and I believe all planners should first be well-schooled in land use.

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

I’m a land use planner first, systems thinker second, farmland protection specialist third and local food planner and advocate, not only as a professional but as a farm family granddaughter.  I don’t take it for granted and I believe all people deserve fresh and local food, and menu items cooked from scratch. 

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

The greatest challenge was overcoming a disappointment when a multi-year project failed when handed over to a private operator after being in the public/community hands for years. I still have faith in public/private partnerships, but in the food and farm sector we still have a lot to learn about making the relationship work successfully.  It has been done more in other sectors like transportation; growing local foods isn’t the same as building local roads. 

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

Many of us feel that the pandemic pushed the average shopper into awareness of the local food system by showing the weaknesses of our current centralized system.  Also the results of the highly processed foods are showing in our health. 

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner?

My first mentor and influencer is my dear friend since undergrad days, Barry Miller, a planner extraordinaire from Berkeley, CA. We’ve been friends since age 18, and I remember I suggested first, after seeing his hand-drawn maps, that he should be a planner; and two years later, when I was dissatisfied with clinical psych classes, he suggested I take a social planning class. We both have extremely successful careers and I can’t imagine either of us taking different career paths.

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 believe all planners should be trained in land use and zoning first and should spend time in public sector planning working “at the counter” at some planning office.  And field work is essential. I worry that too many planners rely on the screen instead of their own field work.  Push away from the screen: aerial photography doesn’t begin to show everything.  Also talk to people, find out what their ideas and thoughts are about their environment, neighborhood, gardens, farms, tabletops, shops, etc. 

I strongly believe that planners should build their design skillset: photography, film, map-making. I believe policy comes second to design and spatial skills.  Training planners to understand fundamentals of land use, design, geography, soils, and water resources must come before learning about change.

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

Nothing, it was perfect for me.  I was ready but I had already taken a few courses as an undergraduate in an undergraduate planning program, which there aren’t that many of. If I was starting now without undergraduate coursework, I’d become familiar with map-making, basic hand-drawing, photography, videography, public speaking, and work on my social skills to be comfortable engaging with all kinds of people.

How do you think COVID 19 will shape/change your job/food systems?

I’m hopeful that in the future every school has large garden, greenhouse and chef and that kids don’t start to study local foods in grad school; they start in kindergarten!

*Some portions edited for length.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Luis Nieves-Ruiz

Name: Luis Nieves-Ruiz, AICP

Current Position: Economic Development Manager for the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council (ECFRPC), a council of governments located in Orlando, FL.

Lusi Nieves-Ruiz, AICP

What do you currently enjoy about your work?

My current position allows me the flexibility to pursue my individual interests and passions including regional food systems. This requires me to identify potential funding sources and continuously develop new scopes of work, project methodologies, and grant applications, forcing me to flex my creative and entrepreneurial muscles quite often. Working for a technical assistance provider, I also get to be involved in different types of projects such as economic impact modeling, industry cluster analysis, and resiliency planning, among other areas. In turn, the experiences gained through these projects have helped to inform how I approach my food systems work. Finally, I get the opportunity to collaborate with a variety of stakeholders including economic development agencies, public health departments, and academic institutions, among other organizations.  This always keeps work interesting. 

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work?

Money is always a problem for our agency. Every year we have to raise about 60 percent of our budget through grants and contracts. You are often forced to do more with less.  In my case, I am usually working on three or four different projects at the same time:  not only managing the project, but also doing the basic research, designing the document’s graphics and layout, and doing the final write up. I used to have to do most of this work by myself. Recently, I have been able to hire other planners to assist me with some of these tasks. The lack of consistent funding is usually a deterrent for me to focus on the implementation of long-term projects and initiatives. Another challenge is time. You can have great ideas, but sometimes there is not enough time to make them a reality. 

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?

My research work has three focus areas. I spent a good part of the last five years developing a sound methodology to assess regional food production systems. This includes identifying and mapping critical assets such as agricultural lands and food production businesses (farms, processors, and distributors). My approach to studying food systems is rooted in my interest in industry cluster analysis. I like to understand how the parts of the system work or do not work together. My planning background has also helped me to understand that land use regulations can act as barriers to the development of regional food systems. I specifically study how jurisdictions regulate food uses in their zoning codes. Finally, as an economic development official, I am working to develop a framework to use regional food systems to revitalize distressed communities.  Food production can help to generate much needed jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities in low-income areas. 

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

If you had asked me this question five years ago, I would have said no. However, after being awarded $150K in grants and contracts to complete this type of work, I can confidently call myself a food systems planner. It is all about validation. When I started doing food systems work in Orange County, most of my peers regarded this work as a nice hobby. Thankfully, I had a planner colleague that really believed in my work more than I did myself. Winning the first grant to study Orange County’s regional food production system was definitely a game changer for me.  It helped me to start developing a body of work in the food systems area. These projects helped me to be selected as a Regional Food Economies Fellow by the Wallace Center at Winrock International in 2018. This has certainly been the highest point of my career as a food systems planner. Currently, I dedicate about 40 percent of my time to work on food systems projects.

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

I think that there is generally some antagonism between planners and food systems practitioners. Most food systems practitioners are entrepreneurs that want things to happen immediately. On the other hand, urban planners take a long view and understand that change takes time. I witnessed some of this dynamic when East Central Florida started its food policy council. After a couple of months, most of the food business owners had left the group. One thing that I have started to do is try to bridge the gap between both groups by developing some common language and tools. I am still working on it. 

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner?

Alissa Barber Torres, my first planning supervisor in Orange County, taught me two very important career lessons. First, it is important to let young planners pursue their passion areas. She provided me with the opportunity and space to work on my food systems planning and economic development projects. These two areas are currently the backbone of my planning career. I continue to use these lessons in my planning work and apply with the younger planners in the office. Sadly, my journey as a food system planner has been more lonesome. I can’t think of any other planners that were doing similar work to mine. Through my involvement with the Wallace Center and the Council for Development Finance Agencies, I met some great food systems practitioners.

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?

Food systems planning is a very broad field. While it is important for planners to be conversant in all areas, at some point you will need to identify your own niche within the profession. To get to this point though, you need to understand what your strengths are.  Some of the skills that I use in my food systems work include Geographic Information Systems (GIS), data analysis, and policy analysis. Finally, to be successful in this line of work you have to be a good communicator. I credit my experience with Toastmasters for my ability to develop a concise message that that can be tailored to different audiences. 

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

Most planning school students are idealists by nature. They go to planning school to learn how to change their communities for the better. However, professional planners often get caught in the “planning review process wheel” which prioritizes short-term projects (rezonings, site plan developments, etc..) over long-term policy solutions. There is also a plenty of antagonism towards planning and government in general. Your role is to convince multiple stakeholders and elected officials that what you propose is the best option for the community. Therefore, this idealism needs to be tempered by the understanding that in real life change is slow and incremental in nature. To become a more effective planner you need to become a better listener and focus on building bridges to allow for real collaboration. 

How do you think COVID 19 will shape/change your job/food systems?

It has been interesting to see how the COVID-19 pandemic has spurred interest in mapping regional food systems. In the ten years I have been involved in food systems, I have never seen so many webinars discussing ways to map community food assets. However, most of these efforts will fall short if there is no concrete goal behind the mapping exercise. The end goal should not be to produce a cool map, but to develop an analysis tool to help food systems practitioners identify trends and patterns in the data. 

 Moreover, by exacerbating the inequities and brokenness of the current food system, the pandemic has also opened opportunities to discuss alternatives to the status quo. Every crisis is an opportunity. Elected officials and other stakeholders might now be more open to addressing food deserts and identifying ways to increase local food production. 

*Some portions edited for length.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Vincenzo Ferriola

Name: Vincenzo Ferriola

Current Position: APA Food System’s Division’s Student Representative

Vincenzo Ferriola

Vincenzo Ferriola is a Master’s Student in City and Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania. Vincenzo has received their Bachelor’s degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Rowan University. Vincenzo is currently interning with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation to support Growing from the Root: Philadelphia’s Urban Agriculture Plan. Vincenzo has previously worked with Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative to co-manage a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in West Philadelphia and curate workshops in agroecological growing practices for high school students. Vincenzo is committed to improving food sovereignty and increasing local food production with underserved populations.

What do you enjoy about your work? Being that this is my first position with a city agency and one of my first professional positions, I am finding that the work that I am doing can impact an entire population of around 1.5 million people. My previous positions have been at much smaller scales and I am now understanding the power dynamics between the government and the residents of Philadelphia.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? This position has challenged me to think critically, keeping an open mind. For example, while I might advocate for a fruit tree to be planted in the public right of way (such as a sidewalk or traffic median), there are many people who don’t have the same desire. Instead of making decisions too quickly, which might retrace some of the problematic and racist planning practices of history, we should be intentional and deliberate, hearing and uplifting voices that need to be heard. That is what I envision a more successful planning process might look like.

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? I am quite new to the food systems planning world, although agriculture has been a part of my upbringing and continues to motivate me. The Master’s program requires students to choose a concentration that best fits one’s professional goals. I resonated the most with the community economic development concentration as my personal and professional motivations are grounded in community visualized and realized processes.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? While I am still new to this profession, I am constantly learning and unlearning, growing and pruning old branches. I do consider myself a budding food systems planner. Food is something we all need. Fresh, locally grown, culturally significant food is something we need even more. I’d like to be able to provide (at least some of) the resources to make this possible for the many communities that make up Philadelphia. This requires a holistic approach to understand and appreciate not only a place, but also the people and the unique cultures that make it so enriching.

What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? Even though I am new to Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, I am aware that there is a complicated and lengthy process to attain land rights for urban farming. Agriculture is not legally seen as a land use in Philadelphia, which makes land sovereignty and ultimately self-sufficiency unattainable. When land is seemingly bought so quickly by developers, it is unjust that agriculture does not receive the same support. This is a racial inequity, currently and historically, as black and brown growers are more adversely impacted by discriminatory land use laws. This makes me eager to learn more about land use laws, land tenure, and zoning, to learn how I can best advocate for people who need the most support.

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? Quite honestly, I did not know what food systems planning was a year ago. I’ve worked on an urban farm in West Philly, but it wasn’t until taking a graduate course in Metropolitan Food Systems Planning with Domenic Vitiello that I fully (or at least more fully) understood the workings and dynamics of this field. Food systems planning is not uni-dimensional. There is no one position that precisely fits the description of a food systems planner.

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? I owe an incalculable amount of respect to Philadelphia’s Director of Urban Agriculture, Ash Richards. They have been my role model since their appointment to this position. Ash’s practice embodies intentionality and consensus building, which is what I strive to incorporate as a new professional in the planning field. They aim to uplift voices who have traditionally been left out and concretely emphasize racial justice. I cannot thank them enough for giving me the opportunity to learn under them.

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? Planning should be a reflective practice. Haste might produce more, but does not mean it’s a superior outcome. I believe it’s imperative to be thoughtful and deliberate, to fully ground decisions in what is needed for the people who need it. To understand the outcomes and potential consequences of decisions. To practice empathy, sympathy at the least.

What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school?  I made the decision to attend planning school immediately after graduating from undergrad, which put me at a different place professionally from the majority of my peers. Rather than seeing this as a deficit, I turned it into an opportunity to learn not only from my professors, but also from my cohort. There is less of a formula in planning than there is in civil engineering, both in learning (and unlearning) and in practicing. I found myself initially seeking the one path that led to the final product. But, planning is not just about a product, in my opinion, it’s about the process.

How do you think COVID 19 will shape/change your job/food systems? Being that I started my current position during COVID-19, I have acclimated myself to a work-from-home mode. This has been a bit of a challenge to connect with coworkers on a more personal level, although I’m hoping for in-person, socially distanced meetings in the future.

COVID-19 really started to impact Philadelphia mid-March into April. Grocery stores with 45+ minute waits and empty shelves were alarming and anxiety inducing. I looked to farm shares and found the majority to have wait lists. As the supply and demand leveled out over the past few months, grocery stores have been able to restock most of their products, especially the products in high demand. I hope this pandemic strengthens the case for localized food production with an increased need for urban agriculture.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Molly Riordan

Name: Molly Riordan

Current Position: Good Food Purchasing Coordinator, City of Philadelphia

Molly Riordan in greenhouse
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Molly is currently the Good Food Purchasing Coordinator at the City of Philadelphia Department of Public Health Division of Chronic Disease & Injury Prevention. She is responsible for helping implement the City’s Nutrition Standards and increase the amount of local, sustainably-grown, fairly-produced food the City purchases for its food programs at its prisons, summer and after school programs, homeless shelters, and other congregate settings. Beyond purchasing, her work includes policy and program development to support a good food economy in Philadelphia.

Molly earned her Master’s in Regional Planning from Cornell University, and has worked at the intersection of agriculture and economic development through several nonprofits and academic roles. She was a lead author of The Promise of Urban Agriculture, a national study of commercial farming in urban areas, and of Good Eats, an assessment of the Philadelphia food economy’s potential to support health, equity, and economic growth.

What do you enjoy about your work? I get to explore new ideas about what a good food future looks like, and figure out ways to make it happen. The “how” is always more complicated, but working within the confines of a public agency makes me stretch my creative muscles to figure out new ways to achieve that future.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? One of the most challenging parts of my work at the City is raising the profile of food as a priority area. Food system planners know that food cuts across so many other priority areas for city leaders: land use, housing, small business development, large business attraction, health, waste reduction, gardening & farming, education, climate resilience and adaptation, and on and on. But governments don’t often look at systems: they look at specific issues and how to solve the problem at hand. It’s hard to keep people’s attention long enough to explain what “good food” means, let alone get them to envision the multi-pronged approach to realizing a good food economy.

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? The core of my work is focused on food programs funded via public dollars, but to change that food I engage distributors, manufacturers, and restaurants. That means my work is wide-ranging: I work with distributors to develop reporting metrics to find out what percent of City food comes from regional sources; I work with the Drexel Food Lab to engage manufacturers in producing lower-sodium foods that meet good food criteria. I work with groups engaged in urban agriculture and waste reduction to create intersections and synergies that support our vision for a good food future. My work is seeing those synergies through, and every day is different.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? I do consider myself a food systems planner, because while I’m not focused on land use policy or economic development, my work hinges on understanding interrelationships across the food system and developing policy and program recommendations that can advance positive change in one area without having negative consequences in another area. The “plans” may not look like what most planners think of when they think “plan,” but the functions are the same.

What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? Philadelphia has a deep history of urban agriculture, primarily through the work of people of color and especially Black farmers and gardeners. And while the City made some concessions to urban agriculture and ran some of its own programming, there was no plan in place to support growers in securing land and resources to continue to farm. Through a multi-year effort led by urban agriculture advocates and supported by City leaders, staff, and elected officials, we finally got the funding to hire an Urban Agriculture Director who is leading the process of developing an urban ag plan for Philadelphia. It is a strong process rooted in community engagement and undoing white supremacy, and it would not have been possible if that urban agriculture community had not worked together for years to make it happen.

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? It is a lot more varied than what I had originally envisioned, where you are either the Food Policy Director of a city or working for a handful of consulting firms. There are so many ways to work in this field that, on their face, have nothing to do with planning, but in which a planning background truly sets a person apart.

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? Susan Christopherson was my advisor at Cornell and initially woke me up to regional economic development through cluster activities. Becca Jablonski was earning her PhD at Cornell at the same time, and I had the opportunity to work with her on an economic impact assessment of a regional food hub that laid the foundation for the creation of the Local Food Impact Calculator. Working with Becca set me on my path to understanding the potential for regional food distribution as a means of wealth creation in rural areas, and her work continues to inspire me and guide my upstream approach to food systems change.

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? Talk to as many people doing the work you think you’re interested in as you can, and ask them questions. Also, see if they have any jobs available. I did not intern or work in the planning field before entering graduate school, and I think I would have asked more or different questions if I had. Asking others for their expertise—and everyone has expertise—is the primary thing that I learned from planning and what has helped me in my work. You can’t change things through sheer will or good ideas; you have to engage others’ expertise so that together you can come to a better solution than any single person alone could design.

What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school?  How much of the most valuable learning happens outside of the classroom. I worked two part-time jobs while I was in grad school, so I did not have as much time as my classmates for volunteer work weekends or studios that took us off campus for several days at a time. I couldn’t have done much differently from a financial standpoint, but maybe I could have restructured some things to take full advantage of that off-campus learning.

How do you think COVID 19 will shape/change your job/food systems? When COVID-19 hit, it was like everyone who had ever eaten a meal was all of a sudden an expert in the food supply chain and emergency food provision. And while it was tough at first to bring other staff up to speed on what is and is not possible or ideal in that emergency moment, it did make food a priority in a way that it hadn’t been before. And then George Floyd’s murder and the protests for racial justice opened everyone’s eyes to the fact that inequitable food access is a consequence of systemic and institutional racism in the United States. The dual fights to end white supremacy and end food insecurity intersect in food systems planning, and I hope that we can finally use our tools to reshape a future that is better for all of us.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Ross Daniels

Name: Ross Daniels

Current Position: Community Planner and Policy Analyst at the Public Health Law Center, and based in St. Paul, MN

Ross Daniels
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Ross works at the intersection of public health and the built environment, improving both via food systems, trails, parks, sidewalks, and bike paths. His work includes development of research, trainings, and toolkits for funders and partners in these areas, and assists in drafting ordinances, resolutions, and memoranda of understanding to incorporate projects into official local policy. Prior to the Public Health Law Center, Ross held a planning position in Nashville, TN, and earned a dual masters in Urban & Regional Planning and Public Health from University of Wisconsin Madison.

This interview was conducted via email by Molly Riordan in June 2020, member of the Food Systems Division Executive Committee.

What do you enjoy about your work? I don’t think that urban planners traditionally get to think about the types of things that I get to think about on a day-to-day basis. I get to think about how infrastructure and community development can shape public health and address public health issues.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? My profession has its roots in public health, and I think for decades we lost sight of that. Because of that, we don’t have a very robust evidence base or menu of best practices on how to solve some of the most pressing health issues of today through planning. When I’m working with a community on how to improve physical health through a built environment intervention, or how to close health disparity gaps, often there are few examples to draw from and replicate.

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? I tend to focus on food production (e.g., urban growth boundaries and conservation zoning) and markets. With respect to the latter, I explore how land use and zoning tools can be leveraged to promote access to food via mixed-use development, incentive zoning, planned unit developments, and other methods that push back against the Euclidean type of zoning model we’ve been accustomed to for decades.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? I provide technical assistance on how planning can help create a better and more equitable food system, but I have not done the planning myself. When it comes to food systems, I’m more of a policy analyst than a planner, evaluating what planners are doing to improve everything from cultivation to consumption.

What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? COVID-19 has really challenged the way we’ve been going about things from a food systems perspective. One of my organization’s ongoing projects is the Healthy Food Policy Project, which captures municipal government policies designed to promote good and resilient food systems. When the pandemic hit, the supply chain faced some stresses, workers from cultivation through sales were put at risk of infection, food service establishments shuttered at least temporarily, and people lost their jobs. Suddenly our work had this added dimension of how municipalities could simply keep people fed. Right now, we as planners are in this uncertain space where we don’t really know what cities are going to look like in the future, and how food systems will play into it.

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? Speaking with people in food systems, I have begun to understand more about how the layers of regulations—economic, environmental, and so on—affected growers. These policies are often written with large, industrial farms in mind, but in many cases they apply across the board, even for smaller scale farms or urban growers. Because food policies have been implemented piecemeal over the years and across many agencies that don’t talk to one another, it is extremely difficult to promote and advocate for new and different models of agriculture.

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? If more people had listened to Jane Jacobs, planning might not have created and perpetuated so many racial and socioeconomic inequities.

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? We are living in a moment where racial inequities have been laid bare. Look at how food systems have mapped onto health disparities across racial lines, and think about how to undo the cycles of poverty and illness to which our profession has contributed. Think creatively, too. Think about what you know about, say, TIF districts or overlay districts or TDR programs. Chances are you learned about these ideas in the context of housing or economic development, but you can apply them to food access as well. You don’t always have to completely invent brand new strategies when you’re trying to improve your local food system.

What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school?  I went into planning school thinking about land use mainly, and to be honest knowing its hold in transportation, economic development, food systems, and so many other spaces. I went through a cycle of thinking I was going to do everything. One day I was going to be a transportation planner, the next I was going to do NEPA, and so forth.

How do you think COVID 19 will shape/change your job/food systems? When this is all over, we are going to see brick-and-mortar retail shuttered permanently and office buildings abandoned. We are going to see commuting patterns change, particularly as work-from-home becomes the norm for much of our white-collar workforce. We might see a reaction against density. These are going to have massive ramifications to the physical landscape, and it is my hope that this will get us to think about how our transportation system can get people to food and vice versa, and how we can use our newly open spaces for more opportunities to cultivate food and provide it to people.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Trevor McCoy

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Name: Trevor McCoy

Current Positions: Georgia Tech – Masters of City Planning & Public Policy Candidate – Collaborating with my academic advisor, Dr. Michael Elliott to design and teach Georgia Tech’s first Sustainable Food Systems course.

Georgia Organics – Georgia Food Oasis Intern

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? As a student at Georgia Tech, I spend most of my time doing research, focusing on the environmental impacts of our global and national food systems. This is research that will be included in the Sustainable Food Systems course that my advisor and I have been designing and will teach together in January 2019.

My main interest lies in agriculture’s substantial carbon footprint, which does not receive the attention that it deserves. In 2014, the IPCC listed agriculture, forestry, and other land use as 24% of global carbon emissions. By comparison, all of land, sea, and air transportation combined are only 14% of our emissions.

Everyone eats. My goal is to bring as much attention to food’s role in our carbon footprint as I can.

2. What do you enjoy about your work? I like to focus on big problems. Although they’re intimidating and sometimes scary, the biggest problems also provide the most room for us to improve, become more efficient, and ultimately come closer to achieving sustainability. There is so much wrong with our food system that it can be depressing, or it can be motivating. When we focus on the world’s worst problems, we can create the world’s most important solutions.

3. Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? Food is deeply personal. This makes it easy to accidentally offend someone. People eat what tastes good, and it’s extremely difficult to change established dietary habits, as we’ve seen with products like sugary soft drinks. We know that these sugar-filled beverages aren’t healthy for us, but millions of Americans drink them every day. I find them particularly hard to resist around the holidays.

Similar to sugar’s role in America’s health, many foods play an important role in our most pressing environment issues. Like sugar, these foods are consumed by millions of Americans every day, which means that finding a way to approach conversations and debates about these issues with friends, family, or colleagues can be extremely tricky.

4. Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? This is a hard question for me to answer. The short answer is that I’m still training to be a food systems planner. I have gotten my feet wet by working with different organizations that are determined to eradicate food deserts, but most of my work has been researching the problems with our food system, rather than trying to actually solve them. I plan to transition from research to application over the next few years, taking the knowledge that I have built and applying it to create solutions through planning and policy.

5. What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? In my work with Georgia Organics’ Food Oasis Program, I have joined their efforts to improve nutrition and provide food security. We are helping the city of Augusta to connect and engage its residents with local farmers to organize community-led interventions for improving their local food environment. Additionally, we have been assisting individuals who are interested in contributing to the food system, especially through urban agriculture.

But America’s nutrition epidemic will not be solved without a heavy dose of creativity and a lot of hard work. It will take a coordinated effort that breaches political lines and all levels of government to win our country’s simultaneous wars on undernutrition and overnutrition.

6. How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? When I first came into the world of food systems planning, I didn’t really “believe” in urban agriculture. The amount of food that a city’s residents require is far greater than the amount that urban agriculture can offer. I used to grow frustrated with people who claimed that urban agriculture was the solution to our nation’s food crises. However, over time I have come to realize how much value urban agriculture has to offer.

There is no question that urban agriculture is not enough to feed our urban population. If we want to change the food system, it needs to take place in the urban setting as well as rural communities, where the vast majority of our food is actually grown. However, urban agriculture plays a vital role in our fight to overhaul the current system. Two hundred years ago, over 80% of Americans were farmers. One hundred years ago, over 20% of Americans were farmers. Today, less than 2% of Americans are farmers. This has distanced the average American’s connection to their food – seeing where it comes from, how it’s made, and what it takes to get food from the field to the plate.

Urban Agriculture helps to recreate the bridge between people and their food by bringing the production of food to the people in a role that is primarily educational. Although it cannot feed the population, urban agriculture reconnects us to our land and can help us to determine what we should eat in a world where such a simple question has become incredibly complex. I especially believe that every school in every city should have a thriving garden, where children can develop a connection to local fruits and vegetables, which will help them to choose which foods to eat during their entire lives. Ron Finley said it best in his Ted Talk, “Children who grow cauliflower will eat cauliflower.”

7. Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? Of course, all of my professors at Georgia Tech have been incredibly influential. Most of all, my advisor, Dr. Michael Elliott, who helped me to channel my interests in food systems into something productive and has had a formative influence on me since I joined this program.

I also need to mention Michael Pollan. Over the past year I’ve been reading all of his books and watching his documentaries, and it has been an eye-opening experience. His writings exposed me to some of the biggest issues of our food systems, and Omnivore’s Dilemma rocked my entire worldview.

8. What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? When I first came to Georgia Tech, I thought I would be happy in the environmental specialization, but I quickly realized that most of the environmental issues I cared about involved food. For some time, I wished that I had gone to a university whose planning department had a greater emphasis on food systems, and if I had known that I would be this passionate about food then I probably wouldn’t have chosen Georgia Tech. However, because Georgia Tech’s planning department has not historically placed a large emphasis on food, I have been given the opportunity to assist in the creation of the university’s first food systems class, which has been an honor. I believe that this will be the first class of many, and hopefully one day our planning department will offer an entire food systems specialization.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Marcia Caton Campbell

MCatonCampbell.jpgMarcia Caton Campbell is the executive director of the Center for Resilient Cities (CRC), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Madison, WI. CRC’s work pulls together many “systems” of a neighborhood: how we build community, how we feed ourselves, how we educate our children, how we produce energy and manage natural resources, how we create jobs, and how we design buildings and reclaim our neighborhood spaces. Marcia has close to 20 years of experience in community-based planning and food systems planning, research, and practice. Prior to joining CRC in 2006, Marcia taught urban and regional planning at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, specializing in food systems planning, community-based planning, and environmental conflict resolution. Her research, teaching, and publications focused on consensus building and community-based planning with diverse publics, and multi-stakeholder conflict resolution. She is a member of the American Planning Association’s Food Interest Group Leadership Committee and serves on the City of Milwaukee’s Green Team, coauthoring ReFresh Milwaukee’s food systems chapter. She is co-author of Urban Agriculture: Growing Healthy Sustainable Places and Principles of a Healthy, Sustainable Food System.

This interview was conducted via email in March 2017 by Kimberley Hodgson of Cultivating Healthy Places, and chair of APA-FIG.

What do you enjoy about your work? Although my entire career has been grounded in consistent themes of equity, social justice, collaboration and progressivism, what I enjoy the most about the work is that no two days are exactly alike. I am never bored – and I never tire of learning about what other food systems planners are doing and how I can bring their work to bear upon my own.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? The current national political climate is increasingly challenging for food systems work. It’s a climate we’ve been living with in Wisconsin for a while now. There’s a short-sightedness and lack of vision at the higher levels of elected office about the multifaceted nature of food systems planning – and how advances in our field translate into advances in neighborhood and community resilience, local and regional economies, public health, you name it. Food systems planning can serve a bridging function across political and economic spectrums, because everybody wants and needs to eat, healthfully, economically and, increasingly, sustainably.

What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work? My organization’s mission is to cultivate healthy, resilient people in healthy, resilient places. Our work is place-based, with community vision leading the way. In our current work, we operate the Badger Rock Center, a collaborative project in Madison, WI, that involves a neighborhood center, a public charter middle school with an urban agriculture curriculum, and a variety of food system-related activities (urban agricultural production, commercial kitchen, winter farmers market). We have been involved in local food policy work in both Madison and Milwaukee, and hold community gardens in trust in Madison.

In the work that you perform, where does addressing food systems issues fit in? How has this changed over time? I’ve worked on many aspects of the food system in planning over my career, from theory-building scholarship to professional practice, from site-specific urban agriculture projects to citywide food policy. What’s compelling to me right now from a planning perspective is cracking large institutional procurement and food supply chain issues, and developing food policy that leads to more resilient local and regional food systems. And, I want to see food justice achieved in the global North and South, though I recognize that the best role I might play in supporting that work may well be one of “stepping up to step back.”

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Absolutely.

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? Well, food systems planning didn’t exist when I first entered the planning field in the early 1980s. I was lucky to have been in the right place at the right time: to participate in the field’s early development in the late 1990s, and to continue working in food systems planning throughout my career. These days, I no longer have to explain – in certain circles, anyway – what a food systems planner does, thanks to the growing interest on the part of the general public in sustainability and resilience.

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? Dale Bertsch and Ken Pearlman, my planning professors at Ohio State, played a pivotal role in shaping my early interests and progressivism. I benefitted from working with them for many years, first as a master’s student, then as managing editor of the Journal of Planning Literature, and finally as a doctoral student. Tim Beatley’s thoughtful engagement and support of my work has been a great help over my entire career, dating back to my time at the Journal. I think I own every book Beatley has ever published.

But without question, Jerry Kaufman has had the deepest, most profound influence on me as an urban planner and food systems planner. I was so incredibly fortunate to become Jerry’s colleague as food systems planning was in its infancy. We worked together for close to a decade at the UW—Madison on research projects, scholarship, and professional practice issues — and then for the rest of his life, as close friends and colleagues on the Growing Power board of directors and as members of APA-FIG. Every professional conversation we had touched upon the food system. Many of the personal conversations did too.

My enthusiasm for food systems planning continues to be fed by the second and third generations of food systems planners, in the breadth, depth and richness of their food systems work. I think of Samina Raja and Kimberley Hodgson especially – and too many others to name! I have a front row seat for a lot of this, in my capacity as a member of APA-FIG’s leadership team.

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? Food systems planning is both a stand-alone area of intensive focus and work, and interdisciplinary and connected to every other subfield of planning. To be successful, you need to be grounded traditional planning skills: systems thinking combined with attention to detail, time and project management, data collection and analysis leading to evidence-based recommendation. But you also need the softer skills of negotiation, mediation, conflict resolution; collaboration, especially in cross-sectoral partnerships; the ability to recognize your own inherent privilege and associated biases; and above all, the ability to listen to what others have to say.

 What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? That there’s lots of room for outside-the-box and creative thinking. I wish I had thirty more years of food systems planning ahead of me – I think it’s the most exciting work to do as a planner.


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: Kimberley Hodgson

KHodgson_2013Apr.jpgKimberley Hodgson, MURP, MS, AICP, RD is the principal and founder of Cultivating Healthy Places, an international consulting business based in Vancouver, BC that specializes in community health, social equity, and resilient food systems planning. Before launching her business in 2012, she worked for the American Planning Association in Washington, DC as a senior research associate and manager of the Planning and Community Health Center. As a certified planner and health professional, her work focuses on conducting policy-relevant research and providing technical assistance on the design and development of healthy, sustainable places. She is a co-investigator of Growing Food Connections, a national project to build local government capacity to strengthen community food systems. She chairs the American Planning Association’s Food Systems Planning Interest Group and serves on the Vancouver Food Policy Council. She is the author of Planning for Food Access and Community-Based Food Systems, co-author of Urban Agriculture: Growing Healthy Sustainable Places and co-author of the Principles of a Healthy, Sustainable Food System.

This interview was conducted via email in March 2017 by Marcia Caton Campbell of the Center for Resilient Cities, and member of the APA-FIG Leadership Committee.

What do you enjoy about your work? I love the variety of work I get to do. As a consultant, I work with a diversity of clients (from developers and municipal governments to large non-profits like universities) on a range of projects (policy identification and analysis, policy-relevant research and evaluation, etc.). My work spans the health, food systems, and planning fields. I never get bored.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? As a trained and certified urban planner and health professional, I sometimes feel that I don’t fit anywhere. I occupy a space in between fields. However, this dual background provides a unique perspective. I am able to navigate between the public health and planning fields.

What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work? My work focuses on the entire food system – from production to waste management, more specifically how urban and regional planners can plan for healthy, sustainable food systems and the role of plans and policies in strengthening local food systems.

In the work that you perform, where does addressing food systems issues fit in? How has this changed over time? Before becoming a planner, my work focused on nutrition and food access. While a dietetic intern in New York City, I was exposed to health and food access inequities faced by low-income residents. Many of my clients did not have a grocery store in their neighborhood or had to travel long distances to access healthy, affordable foods. This experience sparked my interest in urban planning. While nutrition education is important, I realized I was more interested in how the built and natural environments impact a person’s health behavior. Although my path was not linear, I ended up pursuing a second master’s degree in urban and regional planning. This degree allowed me to think about specific health inequities in different ways, about how an individual’s neighborhood can support or inhibit health and well-being.

My career in food systems planning initially focused on food access and equity, but the more work I did in the field, the more I realized that food access is a systems problem. A problem that is greatly impacted by how and what type of food is produced, how it is aggregated, distributed and processed, etc. Urban planners are trained to think in systems – how everything is connected to everything else. My work with the American Planning Association taught me that the food system is connected to other urban food systems – land use, transportation, solid waste, housing, air and water, and more. It is not an isolated system and shouldn’t be treated in isolation.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? I consider myself an urban planner with a specialization in community health planning and food systems planning.

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? For the past decade, my perception of food systems planning has evolved. I have been very fortunate to lead national research studies that have identified and explored how local governments and planners are planning for healthy, sustainable food systems. These studies have shaped my perception of the field and expanded how I view food systems planning.

Additionally, I have served as a member of the Vancouver Food Policy Council (VFPC) since 2012. This all volunteer civic advisory committee has helped me to experience the challenges residents and community groups face in affecting policy changes.

Who (or what) has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? I have been very fortunate to work with brilliant people throughout my career as a planner. Several people have had a huge impact on my work: Joseph Schilling, Jerry Kaufman, Samina Raja, Marcia Caton Campbell, Kami Pothukuchi, Nisha Botchwey, Bill Klein. Each of these people have mentored me at one point in time and taught me about the importance of community engagement, equity and sustainability within food systems planning.

My life experiences have also had a tremendous influence on me as a planner. I am passionate about food systems equity and justice work, in part because I grew up in a low-income family and was a recipient of free and reduced priced lunches and food stamps. I have first-hand knowledge of food insecurity.

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? A degree in urban planning is essential. While my background in food policy and nutrition has helped me in my career, my urban planning degree has allowed be to think about the bigger picture: how land use, transportation, solid waste, housing, development, and other decisions made by municipalities and counties influence the food system. How everything is connected. My urban planning degree has also provided me with a robust understanding of local government policy. That said, many universities offer a food system course. These courses, whether or not they are housed in planning, offer a chance to explore food system issues.

Traveling and living in a number of different places has exposed me to a number of urban planning and food systems issues. I grew up in a suburb of Dallas, TX, lived and worked in New York City; Paris, France; Boston, MA; Blacksburg/Roanoke, VA; Alexandria, VA; Washington, DC; and Vancouver, BC.

In terms of consulting, skills in time, budget, and project management are essential. I was fortunate to learn them in a previous job. Without them consulting would be daunting.

What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? One thing planning school doesn’t teach you is to think “outside the box” in terms of jobs and career possibilities. Being a public sector planner or working for a private firm are not the only job positions available to planners. I have met so many “undercover” planners working in various non-planning jobs and doing amazing food systems work.


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: Megan Bucknum

MB.JPGMegan Bucknum is ¾ faculty with the Department of Geography, Planning and Sustainability at Rowan University in New Jersey where she currently teaches planning courses, including food systems planning. As a consultant, she has worked on food projects throughout the country and has held staff positions at New Venture Advisors LLC, Philly CowShare, The Food Trust, Fair Food Philadelphia and the Wallace Center at Winrock International, as well as assisting with the University of Vermont’s inaugural Food Hub Management Certificate course. She has been a contributing author to a the planning guide Building Successful Food Hubs, the Healthy Food in Small Stores report, and the book “Reclaiming Our Food: How the Grassroots Food Movement is Changing the Way We Eat.” Megan serves as a board member for the Share Food Program in Philadelphia, and is a member of the APA-FIG Leadership Committee.

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

What is your current position? Part-time Faculty at Rowan University (NJ) + Independent Consultant

How long have you held this position? Just over 3 years, with different degrees of teaching/consulting split

What do you enjoy about your work? Listening to and learning from people’s agrarian experiences. The majority of my consulting work has been conducting primary research, mostly through interviews, and facilitating public meetings. Through this work, I have been able to talk with and meet people from across the food supply chain in the quest to find where there are barriers and opportunities to increase the amount of regional food available within an area. The great part about splitting my time between consulting and teaching is that I get to help spread the stories of food producers to the next generation.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? This field has a lot of turnover, mostly due to the predominance of grant-funded positions within the subject area. I feel that it can be hard for projects and initiatives to create projects based on institutional knowledge because of staff turnover. Additionally, I think improvement can be made to try to connect various efforts within the good food movement to ensure that projects are not recreating the wheel.

What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work? While my career focus has been varied, the majority of my work (and interest) has been in regional food distribution and procurement, specifically integrating regionally produced food into conventional distribution routes. While this focus is very distinct, achievement of this goal will have wide benefits for both producers and consumers of regional food.

In the work that you perform, where does addressing food systems issues fit in? How has this changed over time? Addressing the food system has always been the core of the jobs that I have held.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? Building upon my previous answer, I have always sought after jobs that are completely food systems related. Because of this I have held a lot of nontraditional planning jobs and have often referred to myself as a “quasi planner.” I always preface my Introduction to Planning courses by mentioning how I am a planner, but a bit of a weird one.

The majority of the food-related jobs and projects on which I have worked may not seem fully planning related on the surface, like conducting a food hub feasibility study. However successfully implementing food systems projects requires working on more traditional planning related tasks, like farmland conservation, economic development incentive packages and making sure there are adequate accessible commercial properties available.

What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? In my opinion, over (or premature) investment in infrastructure is a hurdle to food systems projects. While it may be look great for a food systems related project to have a large warehouse, or for a municipality to have been able to offer subsidization for that project, if the business model is not secure, this project will likely not be viewed as a success for long.

An alternative is to have municipalities assist in the business development phase of a food-based project by leveraging a collaborative planning approach. This technique can help qualify and quantify regional food supply and demand as well as make connections that could be used for infrastructure sharing.

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? The more time I spend in this field, the more I favor public-private partnerships to implement food systems projects, especially those associated with regional food supply chain development. Because the market is still developing for source-identified foods, some financial assistance may be necessary to jump start programs, projects and businesses. I have seen more success in projects that have forged a public-private partnership to secure some of this assistance than projects that are fully grant funded.

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? My graduate advisor at the University of Virginia Tanya Denckla Cobb. Not only did she deepen my understanding of the food system in general, but she taught me the most valuable tool to any project and community development: facilitation. Drawing from her experience as a trained mediator and facilitator, she taught me how to conduct a successful interview, facilitate a meeting and design a project plan that allows for public inclusion in a meaningful way. Lastly, she taught me to ask people, “if you had a magic wand, what would you do?” I cannot tell you the wealth of information I have unearthed by asking this question…right after the interviewee asks if I’m serious.

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? Work in this field before you consider any academic training, even undergraduate education! Yes, this is coming from someone who teaches at a university and teaches a food systems planning course. Because this field is so specific, I think people really need to be sure that they want to focus on this before they make the financial commitment to a traditional education experience. If you are interested in working in the food system, start at the source: the farm. Apprentice on a farm and consider a Food Systems 101 class; feel free to email me and I’ll send you a list of readings to accompany your work experience.

The skill I use most in my food systems work that has allowed me to successfully contribute to projects is listening. Truly listening to people, not just hearing them, will reveal both hurdles — as well as their possible solutions — in our food system. People experiencing a problem have often thought about a solution. Try asking them about their ideas.

What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? A little bit more about the discipline! I embarrassingly did not know a lot about this field, I had to look up who Jane Jacobs way the first week of classes.


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.