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.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Amanda Wagner

WagnerAmanda Wagner is the Nutrition and Physical Activity Program Manager for Get Healthy Philly, a program of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, working with stakeholders across the city to help Philadelphians eat healthy and be active.

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? Amanda Wagner

What is your current position? Nutrition and Physical Activity Program Manager – Get Healthy Philly – Philadelphia Department of Public Health

How long have you held this position? Since January 2014. Prior to this position I was the Food Policy Coordinator with Get Healthy Philly since 2010.

What do you enjoy about your work? I enjoy working across departments and sectors; looking into “policy, systems, and environmental” change opportunities; and making connections between individual, environmental, and public health.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? Identifying leverage points to make things happen at scale; balancing implementing initiatives and taking time to measure/assess outcomes and make tweaks as necessary; navigating bureaucracy, funding, and capacity.

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? Consumption and food retail including healthy food access in communities (corner stores, Chinese takeout, farmers’ markets, SNAP incentives, etc), institutional food procurement (city departments, hospitals, food programs); food access initiatives (including coordinating with Food Access Collaborative, City shelters, and feeding programs such as summer, afterschool, school lunch and breakfast). I am also starting to do more work with production. We received a recent grant on health impacts of urban gardening and greening on brownfields. I also work on integrating health (including healthy food access) into planning and zoning; and looking at opportunities to partner more with manufacturing, distribution, and food waste recovery.  

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? Yes and no. I think of myself as a planner whose work includes food system issues, but I also do a lot of implementation and policy work, and integrating with other health issues such as active design, physical activity and health equity.  I do oversee a “Healthy Communities Planner” who is integrating health into planning and zoning, and we do create and implement strategic plans that involve food system issues.  

What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? Identifying ways to address deep rooted poverty in Philadelphia, while making a livable wage for farmers in agriculturally-steeped region and workers throughout the food-chain. An ongoing process to be addressed that also involved building on the community, non-profit, and academic capital we also have on hand.

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? It needs to be married to economic realities and policy/implementation.

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? Alison Hastings has had a tremendous impact on me! She was my first supervisor after planning school and working on food system planning.  She demonstrates the effectiveness of bringing together planners with other stakeholders, and using planning tools and data to move projects forward. I was also influenced by a trio of professors at Penn’s Planning school – Tom Daniels (farmland preservation), Domenic Vitiello (urban agriculture and food justice), and Amy Hillier (food and health).

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? Knowing GIS and spatial analysis is helpful everywhere, also use skills in projection, stakeholder convening, good PPT design, bridging spatial and other factors together.

What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? Carefully think about compensation and student loan debt!  And get a good combination of hard and soft skills in your coursework.


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. 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: Andrea Petzel

APetzel.jpgAndrea Petzel, AICP, is the principal of Broadview Planning, a women-owned consulting firm specializing in community planning and public engagement. Before founding Broadview Planning in 2014, Andrea was a project manager and senior urban planner for the City of Seattle. During her time at the City of Seattle, Andrea led the legislative process for the city’s Urban Agriculture Ordinance, one of the nation’s first comprehensive urban agriculture ordinances aimed at removing barriers to growing and producing local food. In 2016, Andrea made the shift from policy to practice by starting her own backyard urban farm, Alouette Acres.

Andrea serves on APA-FIG’s Leadership Committee and was interviewed by Valerie Pacino on February 28, 2017.

How long have you been in this position? I founded Broadview Planning three years ago after leaving a position with the City of Seattle’s Office of Sustainability and Environment. While I was at the City of Seattle, I was lucky to work on a wide range of policy projects, from food systems and health impact assessments to energy efficiency and workforce development. When I left, I was eager to find a new opportunity to continue to work on a wide range of policy and public process projects. I quickly realized consulting was the best fit for my skills and interests, and so I created that role for myself by starting my own firm.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? No, I consider myself a traditional land use planner, but I seek out projects at the nexus of health, sustainability, and the built environment. I’ve been really lucky to work on some exciting food systems work, but I wouldn’t say I’m a food systems planner.

How did you get involved in food systems planning? Through my work on the City of Seattle’s Urban Agriculture ordinance, the goal of which was to reduce code barriers to growing and selling food in city. Through the policy development process, I was introduced to a great network of food systems planners, academics, urban farmers, and non-profit organizations all working towards a shared goal of increasing access to local grown, healthy food. It was a really exciting project, because at the time no other city had legislated a comprehensive approach to allowing urban agriculture in the city. It was thrilling to lead such a creative and collaborative policy development process that laid the groundwork for a much larger conversation about health and planning at the City of Seattle. The success of the Urban Agriculture ordinance led us to pursing federal funding to develop Seattle’s Healthy Living Assessment (HLA), a framework to assess health impacts at the neighborhood level. We worked to create clear, measurable metrics to assess community health at the neighborhood level using data that was easy to access, and readily used by community members in order to track progress toward health outcomes. The project was awarded a 2013 National Planning Achievement Award for a Best Practice from APA.

What do you enjoy about your work? The range of projects I get to work on brings me joy, and I thrive on bringing a health and food systems perspective to new clients and projects. I also love learning new things and thinking through new ideas, so I launched my own urban farm endeavor, and watching how policy translates into the real-life practice of growing and selling food is fascinating.

What do you find challenging about your work? Definitely getting people to make the link between food systems and the built environment. Also getting policy makers to embrace genuine community engagement in order to understand the very real challenges of people doing the work they’re trying to legislate.

Any advice to people who want to work in food systems planning? I believe a solid grounding in traditional land use planning is essential. Find a network of people doing the work you’re interested in and engage with them however you can – be curious, persistent, and helpful. Join APA-FIG! Also, find out what’s happen in your community and get involved with local projects.


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: Ben Kerrick

Ben Kerrick head shotBen Kerrick has been a consultant with Karen Karp & Partners in New York City for nearly three years. Ben has a wide range of life experiences and technical expertise, all of which he brings to bear on his work as a food systems planner. With nationally renowned food system consultant Karen Karp, Ben co-hosted the 2015 Heritage Radio Network podcast series, How Great Cities Are Fed. Inspired by W.P. Hedden’s 1929 book of the same name, Karen and Ben examine food systems in historical and contemporary terms through topics such as refrigeration, foodsheds, transportation, and “the middlemen.” Karen and Ben are joined by guest experts and friends from the food sector as they delve into the issues and hidden workings of how our great cities are fed.

This interview was conducted via email on July 5, 2016, and was edited by Marcia Caton Campbell. She highly recommends binge listening to How Great Cities are Fed on your favorite podcast subscription service.

What do you enjoy about your work? We work all across the food chain, and as consultants our work is project-based, so there’s a tremendous variety and dynamism to the work – no two days are the same. So far this year my work has included designing a kitchen and café program for a social services non-profit, assessing a food bank supply chain, developing a concept for a new food education hub in a small town, and researching feasibility and market demand for a new slaughterhouse in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. So it’s really engaging, and we often get to see the way our work impacts organizations and people in tangible ways. I also get to make maps and other data visuals fairly often, which I get a big kick out of. And, you know, I love to eat, so I feel pretty lucky that I get to talk and think about food every day.

My background is in the arts – I have a degree in theater, and I spent five years working for a New York City arts non-profit – so I also enjoy being able to draw on that experience whenever I can, whether in our event design projects, or by engaging with artists and designers whose work deals with issues of food, agriculture, and sustainability.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? There’s so much to learn. Food systems are so complex – I sometimes feel overwhelmed by how much I don’t know. But that’s also what keeps it exciting and interesting, and I learn something new every day and with every project. I ask a lot of questions.

Another challenging and engaging dimension of food systems work is that food is so fundamental to daily life – we all eat, everyday – so people have strong personal feelings and opinions about food, and the stakes often feel high. But that also convinces me that this work matters. And it’s rewarding when you can work with a diverse group of stakeholders to find some new solution to a gap in the food system.

What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work? As I mentioned, we work all along the food chain. I’m the only one trained as a planner on staff, so I do tend to work on the more “planner-y” projects – community or regional food assessments, economic development through food business, things like that. I’ve also done food access-oriented work with food banks and social services organizations. We do event design and facilitation for food-related events (such as the James Beard Foundation Food Conference), and with my background in theater and the arts, I work on those as well. Others in our company focus on different areas, like culinary education, supply chain analysis, and program design and evaluation (though much of my work touches those things too).

In the work that you perform, where does addressing food systems issues fit in? How has this changed over time? I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that most or all of the work I do addresses food systems issues. It just depends on the lens you’re using, and how explicit it is. Sometimes it’s a community saying, “Research and assess our food system, identify issues and needs, and help us find opportunities for improving it.” Other times it’s an independent entity like a non-profit or business doing something that touches food, and we’re working on some narrow component of it – but even in that case, the first thing we do is always to contextualize that program within the larger food system.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? Absolutely. All of my work relates to food systems planning in some way.

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? I came to the broader field of planning by way of food systems planning – not vice versa. I went to graduate school knowing I wanted to study food systems, and did dual Master’s degrees in Environmental Science and City & Regional Planning. So I entered the urban planning world sort of thinking everyone else would be as excited about food systems as I am, which needless to say wasn’t exactly the case. But I was lucky that there were some great food systems-oriented opportunities in my planning program, and I’ve been very lucky to continue that trajectory into my current work.

But I think food systems planning is still kind of a blip in the larger world of planning. In most contexts, when I’m talking to someone new, I have to explain what food systems planning is – the phrase alone usually elicits blank stares. I go to a monthly happy hour with LGBT urban planners, and even people I meet there – practicing urban planners! – don’t usually know about food systems planning as a field and discipline. I experience the same thing at the APA conference. That all being said, I do think there’s more and more food systems planning happening out there, and I think it will continue to grow.

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? Dr. Casey Hoy was my advisor at Ohio State University – and after I graduated I managed the Agroecosystems Management Program that he directs. He really instilled in me a willingness to not shy away from areas of daunting complexity in food systems research, and a deep commitment to robust, rigorous data analysis – and the ability to communicate that analysis clearly and effectively. Casey is great at getting a diverse group of stakeholders to the table and “translating” between the different languages that, say, farmers, academics, policymakers, and businesspeople use. That skill is crucial to successful food systems work, and I try to get better at it with every project. If the people you bring to the table all speak the same language, you’re probably not trying hard enough to get diverse voices into the conversation.

And now I have the pleasure of working with an outstanding staff at KK&P – we all bring something different to the table and I learn from each of them every day. Karen Karp has been doing this work for over 25 years, so she was really early on the scene of food systems work (though I’m not sure that phrase would have been used then). My background is firmly in the non-profit/public service/academic world, whereas Karen came to this work through restaurant and business consulting. So working with Karen has really broadened my knowledge and toolkit in terms of working with food businesses and entrepreneurs to create a more resilient food system. Karen, like Casey, is also a really skilled facilitator of diverse stakeholder groups, so I learn a lot from her in how she approaches those conversations.

Do you have any advice for someone entering the food systems planning field? What skills do you use the most in your food systems planning related work? I think effective food systems planners need to be both generalists and specialists. So I would advise an aspiring food systems planner to get exposure to as much of the food system as possible – agriculture, processing, distribution, retail, institutional feeding, food access work, the list goes on – to build an understanding of how the pieces fit and relate to each other. And whenever a particular topic or area really catches your interest, dig deep to develop more specialized expertise. I wouldn’t say I’ve been especially strategic about picking my areas of expertise, but I’ve followed my interests and passions and that has served me well.

I also think effective stakeholder engagement and facilitation is absolutely foundational to successful food systems work that pursues sustainability, resilience, and equity. Keep asking, “Who’s not at the table? Whose voices are being left out of this conversation, and how can we include them?” I’ve never taken formal facilitation training, but it’s central to the work that we do, and I would highly recommend seeking training or opportunities for learning about stakeholder engagement and facilitation.


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: Laine Cidlowski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have any advice for someone entering the food systems planning field? What makes you successful in your work? What skills do you use the most in your food systems planning related work? Don’t just send a blitz of copy and paste informational interview emails. So many young people are interested in this field right now, which is really wonderful; however I, and many of my colleagues get lots and lots of informational interview requests. The ones that get responses from me are the ones that are specific and provide some detail about why you’d like to talk to me specifically (i.e. you did a little research) rather than a blanket request.

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

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


Faces of Food Systems Planning is a series of interviews with practicing planners from across North America who are engaging in food systems planning and policy work. This series is part of APA-FIG’s efforts to highlight food systems planning as an important planning topic. The APA will be featuring 8 food system planners at the National Planning Conference this May 2017 in a special “Faces of Food Systems Planning Session”. Click here for more information.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Kara Martin

KaraMartin_headshot.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Yes!

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

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

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


Faces of Food Systems Planning is a series of interviews with practicing planners from across North America who are engaging in food systems planning and policy work. This series is part of APA-FIG’s efforts to highlight food systems planning as an important planning topic. The APA will be featuring 8 food system planners at the National Planning Conference this May 2017 in a special “Faces of Food Systems Planning Session”. Click here for more information.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Erin Hardie Hale

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

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

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

How long have you held this position? Since 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have any advice for someone entering the food systems planning field? What makes you successful in your work? What skills do you use the most in your food systems planning related work? I don’t think that we necessarily need new technologies or scientific research to tell us how to grow healthy food and get it to everyone who needs it in an ethical and responsible way. What we really need to know how to do is share ideas and learn from each other. People are making it work in small and big ways all over the region; learning about what works in one place and adapting it for another and supporting that innovation and collaboration is a driving force of the NH Food Alliance.

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

 

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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.