Faces of Food Systems: Arielle Lofton

Arielle Lofton face and shoulders, yellow blouse

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

  1. What’s your favorite food?

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

  1. What do you enjoy about your work?

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

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

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

  1. What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work, and where does that fit in with the rest of the work that you do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

APA Food Annual Business Meeting May 20th

Our Annual Membership meeting is coming up on May 20th from 6pm Eastern/5pm Central/4pm Mountain/3pm Pacific. This will be our Annual business meeting that would usually occur during during the National Planning Conference. We are moving it up a week from our usual 4th Thursday date to miss the long Memorial Day weekend and so those who want to attend all sessions of the virtual NPC are able to fully participate. This is your chance to learn more about the Division, hear about our work plan and budget priorities, and meeting others engaged in food systems planning.

Please Register in Advance: https://washington.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJAufuqtrzwjGNYPvlRT0ZErmwQ1IsSD8eMe 

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.

Call for Student Papers


The Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society (AFHVS) invites submissions from undergraduate and graduate students to the 2021 AFHVS Student Research Paper Awards. The papers can come from students in a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds and should be on some topic of relevance to the Society’s focus. See more details in the full Call for Papers.

Winners will be invited/expected to present their paper at the June 2021 virtual conference co-hosted by:

  • The Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS)
  • Agriculture Food & Human Values Society (AFHVS)
  • Canadian Association for Food Studies (CAFS)
  • Society for the Anthropology of Food & Nutrition (SAFN)

Each award also includes:

  • The opportunity to present at the 2021 virtual conference;
  • Free registration to the 2021 virtual conference (seeCall for Abstracts);
  • A two-year membership in the Society;
  • $300 cash prize (not available to students that are not U.S. citizens, due to IRS restrictions).

The committee may also choose to award honorable mentions, which do not include the monetary items.

See more details in the full Call for Papers.

Submission: Email to spa-chair@afhvs.org by 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time on Sunday, February 21, 2021.

About the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society

About Agriculture and Human Values, the Journal of the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society

Questions? Contact spa-chair@afhvs.org. The current chair of the Student Paper Award Committee is Dr. Megan Horst, Portland State University, Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning.

Food Systems Division – Link to join the Division now live on APA

We’re thrilled to announce that the link to sign up for membership for the new APA Food Systems Division is now live! Join us and become a founding member of the Division today.

Visit https://www.planning.org/divisions/food/ to sign up.

Over the next few months, we’ll be transitioning to our new APA website and more information will be available.

Please join us for our first (virtual) member meeting on Thursday, August 27th 6:00 ET. We’ll hold a conversation about the Division’s goals and work plan and learn how you can get involved. We encourage you to register in advance: https://washington.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJMud-iqpjMsG9T264YtcomfMUUEqHr2aHTM This will be the first of our membership meetings that will be held every other month, on the 4th Thursday.

First Membership Meeting
When: Thursday, August 27th 6-7pm ET/3-4pm PT
Where: Online

Register for the Membership Meeting & Happy Hour: https://washington.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJMud-iqpjMsG9T264YtcomfMUUEqHr2aHTM

We hope to see you there!
-The APA Food Systems Division Executive Committee

National Planning Conference NYC 2017


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


North American Food Systems Network: Connecting Food Systems Practitioners Across the U.S. & Canada

Special Guest Post from the North American Food Systems Network (NAFSN)

As a food systems lexicon continues to grow across academic, public, and private sectors, the practice of food systems work has taken shape.  A focus on how individuals and organizations are doing food system work has developed. By supporting food systems practitioners, The North American Food Systems Network (NAFSN) works to illustrate the true breadth and depth of food systems work, across sectors, within all communities, applicable to everyone who grows, manages, teaches or eats food.

NAFSN is a new organization founded in 2015 offering leadership and technical skills training, networking, and other professional development opportunities for the burgeoning group of individuals supporting the development of equitable and sustainable local and regional food systems. Members range from farm educators and community nutritionists to justice activists and scholars. The mission of this network is to coalesce the current disparate group of practitioners, and build individual and collective capacity to solve pressing food and agriculture issues across the U.S. & Canada.

So how does that happen from all corners of the United States and Canada? Presently, there are many innovative solutions and pioneering organizations working to address and understand the complex issues of food systems; for example, working to eliminate causes of food deserts, obesity, hunger, and other food-related human health issues as well as working to increase sustainable farming practices, ecological and economic health of farms and rural areas, and creating viable markets. There is a need for a holistic collaboration and coordination between and among these efforts.

Leaders are needed to guide and propel projects and insights, and NAFSN aims to provide the tools to build the necessary human capital and create a place for sharing and collective learning. NAFSN expects to see growth of competencies, increased best practices, and more effective targeting of resources as results of its efforts. Currently, NAFSN members are organized around Circles that house work teams. Collaboration, skill and knowledge sharing, and mentorship have driven special projects from certification and training expansion, policy and governance building, and social media and communications development.

NAFSN Founding Members are currently working on projects specific to funding, racial equity and inclusion, and member networking. We’d love to hear from you! For more information about our national partner organizations, membership, and current projects check out our website: foodsystemsnetwork.org, or facebook: facebook.com/NAFSN, or e-mail: Membership@FoodSystemsNetwork.org

Atlanta Seeks Urban Ag Director


Anyone interested in an exciting new job? The City of Atlanta, Georgia, recently announced their search for a Director of Urban Agriculture. Applications are due September 15. Among a number of duties, this position will: “Coordinate with various City of Atlanta Departments to streamline procedures for the creation and support of urban agriculture in the city, including improving access for growers to public and private lands, facilitating the permitting process, obtaining necessary zoning permits, code compliance, brownfields conversion and other issues related to advancing urban agriculture in Atlanta.” To find out more and learn how to apply, click here.

APA Mentor Match Program Needs Food Systems Planners

APA is looking for food systems planners that will be attending the APA National Planning Conference in Seattle for their Mentor Match Program. There are several mentees interested in food systems planning, and currently no mentors to match them with.

Are you a seasoned professional willing to provide career advice to the next generation of planners? Are you a veteran of National Planning Conferences willing to share your expertise and tips to newbies?

If so, then register to be matched with mentees at the 2015 National Planning Conference. The deadline has been extended through Tuesday, March 31, 2015.

Matches will be assigned based on areas of expertise and geography as much as possible. Mentors and mentees are expected to meet at least once during the conference, but further interaction is enencouraged.