Local Food Systems Key to Healthy, Resilient, Equitable Communities

From Planning magazine Winter 2021

This story is part of Planning’s Disruptors series, a year-long look at the trends, challenges, and opportunities driving change in our communities. Visit Planning magazine online to read the article in full.

By Cynthia Currie and Mary Hammon

New Resources for Learning about Shared Kitchens and Food Business Incubators

Shared-use commercial kitchens, kitchen incubators, and other food business programs build entrepreneurial opportunities in local food systems by providing affordable commercial kitchen space. These for-profit and nonprofit facilities have been sprouting up around the country in response to the growing market for local, artisan foods. Exciting new business models are emerging and many planners are eager to learn more about them and the regulatory questions they raise. We would like to highlight a couple new resources that may be beneficial to APA members interested in the topic:

NICK Summit is an upcoming gathering of some of the nation’s leading shared kitchens and business incubators that will explore successful incubation programs and kitchen management strategies. The day-long Summit by the Network for Incubator and Commissary Kitchens will be held on October 10, 2018, at The Good Acre in Falcon Heights, MN. The day will include a keynote on kitchen innovations, a panel of impact-driven programs, exciting quick fire sessions, and opportunities to discuss sticky kitchen management issues with peers and experts in the industry. This inaugural event is a collaboration of The Food Corridor, Grow North, The Wallace Center, The Good Acre, and Fruition Planning & Management. Attendees can also take advantage of exciting events at The Inaugural Food | Ag | Ideas Week and Twin Cities Startup Week.

A new reference guide, the Shared Kitchen Toolkit: A Practical Guide to Planning, Launching and Managing a Shared Use Commercial Kitchen, was published earlier this year by The Food Corridor in partnership with Purdue University Extension, with funding from the USDA North Central SARE. This comprehensive resource provides guidance on definitions, business models, funding sources, planning considerations, and daily operations. The Toolkit is available as a free downloadable PDF or wiki.

Growing Local: Strengthening Food Systems Through Planning and Policy


Local governments are becoming increasingly involved in planning and policy making for community food systems, both as leaders and as partners with the private sector. Often responding to community pressure, in some cases they are the driving force, motivated by a desire to strengthen local economies, improve food security and nutritional outcomes, and to support agriculture and preserve farmland…

For the entire blog post, check out the American Planning Association’s website here.

Urban Food Planning: Seeds of Transition in the Global North



Rooftop Farm in Brooklyn, NY. Photo by Rositsa Ilieva.

Bridging community food systems and urban planning matters, now more than ever. Over the past fifteen years, more than 100 scholarly publications on the topic have appeared in architecture and urban planning journals worldwide and over 90 local food systems strategies have been released by local administrations in the Global North alone. On October 15, 2015, the first international urban food policy agenda – the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact – was signed by more than 100 cities and set a precedent, charting a new avenue for sustainability-minded planners. Unsurprisingly, thus far, research has not kept the pace with these innovations, leaving many opportunities untapped and the limits and promises of urban food planning insufficiently understood.

Against this backdrop my research, and my new book “Urban Food Planning: Seeds of Transition in the Global North” (Routledge, 2016), seek to lay the groundwork for urban food planning scholarship and practice from a global perspective. A central goal of this endeavor is to systematically assess and celebrate the emergent food systems planning initiatives and support the work of an increasing number of researchers, community advocates, and policymakers striving to advance sustainable cities and community food systems in tandem. To this end, I examine emergent urban food planning innovations through the lens of theories of sociotechnical transitions which enable me to discern the nonlinear dynamics of socio-spatial change and identify levers that can help steer future urban and food systems transitions. While the boundaries of the field are still in the making, it is fair to say that it encompasses both efforts to facilitate alternative practices, like urban agriculture and shopping at farmers markets as well as efforts to address anomalies in the mainstream food system, such as unequal access to fresh food retail, disproportionate urbanization of prime agricultural land, wobbly disaster preparedness of food distribution and transportation networks, and inefficient or nonexistent organic waste recycling infrastructure.

The practitioners behind innovative urban food planning practices are a broad constituency of urban food policy “entrepreneurs” having the common goal to make the urban food system work in the public interest to generate healthy, prosperous, and ecologically sound human settlements. Urban planners are just one group of practitioners across the many private practice professionals, activists, and government officials from a wide range of economic sectors and disciplines at the forefront of its development. Planners have, however, played a key role in advancing the urban food planning agenda by developing dedicated policy guides on the subject, creating working groups in their professional and academic associations on both sides of the Atlantic (e.g., the Food Interest Group of the American Planning Association [APA-FIG] in the US – the authors of this Blog, and the Sustainable Food Planning group of the Association of European Schools of Planning in Europe), and popularizing the topic through scientific journals, books, and academic conferences.

The evidence shows that urban food planning has grown into a new niche for social innovation, research, and practice and there are plenty of reasons and unique opportunities for planners to make a difference, while doing what they already do, only better. Planners who see food as priority in their work are still a minority, however, the public understanding that food is an urban system and that ensuring its sustainability is part of the responsibilities of local governments, in both developed and developing counties, has started gaining prominence over the past decade. In “Urban Food Planning,” I argue that there are at least 10 good reasons why now, more than ever, it is in planners’ interest to engage with urban food planning. Among these, are a rapidly expanding food systems planning community of practice to work with, a rising demand for expertise in urban food planning from both public, private, and civil society sectors, the potential for increasing the legitimacy of planning interventions, and the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) mandated by the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Urban food planning – the bundle of government, business, and civil society practices aimed at building sustainable cities and food systems in tandem – is a “hybrid” social niche in-the-making, encompassing a host of creative conceptual, analytical, design, and organizational responses to fundamental questions such as: What’s wrong with the urban food system? Why should we care? How do we fix it? and Who is in charge? In fact, urban food planning is both a distinct practice and a bundle of place-based practices (e.g., community food security assessments, mapping existing and potential sites for urban agriculture and current demand, conducting regional foodshed analyses, devising comprehensive food systems strategies and plans, among many others). Local government provisions, such as zoning and financial incentives for fresh food stores, bans on fast food outlets in school districts, removal of building code barriers for rooftop greenhouses, or reducing restrictions for onsite processing and selling of produce, are also part of the bundle. Thus, differently from other niches for social innovation, like the UK-based Transition Towns movement for instance, urban food planning novelties stretch beyond the circles of citizens’ groups and community advocates alone.

Each practitioner involved in urban food planning possesses distinct strengths and competitive advantages to advance the global Agenda for just and sustainable food systems. Beginning to map and recognize such strengths, alongside the obvious limitations of working in a niche, is a task that needs to be timely addressed. One of the biggest challenges in trying to map a transition process in its early stages of development, however, is that the speed of change is such that by the time one takes a snapshot of a fragment of the system, the entire landscape has already changed – some novelties have died out, others have moved on, and new ones have emerged. This can be frustrating for the academic investigator, let alone the planner practitioner or the policymaker, seeking to legitimize their research, long-term plans, or policy recommendations. Yet, as food systems planner Martin Bailkey recently put it, not being able to keep up with the pace of innovation in the field is “a good challenge to have.”

A more stable suite of urban food planning practices has the potential to transition urban food planning from an unstable niche to a robust social innovation in the position to challenge incumbent planning and food system regimes, helping local governments and communities to pursue a “bolder vision for the city.” Strategic levers for change include opportunities to strengthen present endeavors to represent, understand, and transform the urban food system, as well as to legitimize city-level interventions in the public domain, but also to question its current assumptions and ideologies. In fact, as the narrative of the book cruises through different food planning novelties, the reader is cautioned that there is nothing inherently good in a new practice per se, nor there is anything inherently sustainable in the scale at which practices are carried out, however, both new ideas and local actions are fundamental in imagining and enacting societal transitions. And we, planners and allied professionals in the Global North, have the moral obligation to be at the forefront of this institutional and environmental transition.

Finally, the focus of “Urban Food Planning” is on experiences from the Global North, not because food systems planning innovations do not manifest in developing economies regions – in fact, they greatly do, but because the impact of rich cities on their local and global hinterlands is so extensive and, at the same time, so scarily well concealed, that every effort to address it offers a rare chance to break the myth that we are living in a benign and harmless cornucopia. Only by making visible and by appreciating the critical mass of city-regional food system innovations, taking place in our own backyards, can we debunk the delusion that food is working in the public interest and it is superfluous in sustainable urban development projects and strategies in wealthy states. The goal of integrating local food infrastructures in and around cities has been in urban planning’s DNA since its inception, but for over a century it has remained suppressed for cultural, political, and economic reasons. There has hardly ever been a better time to restore it.


Rositsa T. Ilieva, Ph.D.
Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy
Parsons School of Design
The New School, New York, NY 10003
E-mail: ilievar@newschool.edu
@RositsaTIlieva, LinkedIN: www.linkedin.com/in/rositsa-ilieva-73236016

Exploring “The Color of Food” – A book and website by Natasha Bowens

The Color of Food by Natasha Bowens (New Society Publishers) is the result of the author’s multimedia project launched in 2010 to share and amplify stories of food sovereignty in communities of color.  It uses stories and photographs to tell stories of farmers and explore and document the relationships between race and food.  The Color of Food tells stories of individuals, their experiences with issues ranging from crop loss to farmworkers’ rights, connecting lives with the food sovereignty movement through firsthand storytelling and observation. A central aim is to serve as an outlet for the voices of people of color in food and farming.  As the author says, “If we cannot see and hear from our communities, we will not have a food system free of racial inequalities.”

The web-based companion (http://thecolorofood.com/projects/) to the book provides resources for food systems planners, workers, researchers, and anyone else interested exploring issues of race, food sovereignty, and inequality within the food system. It includes an online (free) map and directory of people of color leading food and farming businesses, including farms, farmers markets, and other organizations, as well as a photo blog. Recent posts include pieces from CivilEats about a resurgence of black farmers in Texas and how the food movement can learn from #blacklivesmatter. Another central feature of the online site is the Color of Food Speakers Collective – a list of people working in farming, education, activism, food justice, and other realms, available to speak at events and for organizations on a range of issues, intertwining racial disparities in the food movement, the importance of preserving culture and building community, and personal stories.

Connection to food systems planning

Topics of food justice, food equity, and “food deserts” have become increasingly visible throughout food systems planning and policy work, yet many of the people most directly (and often indirectly) impacted by these issues are not visible or do not control the systems that result in disparities. Addressing inequity in the food system is a priority of a substantial portion of food systems planning and policy work these days and The Color of Food, the website, and speaker collective can serve as a forum and resource for exploring issues of race, equity, access, and justice.  They can help planners deepen our understanding of the impact of the dominant food system on communities of color and the impact of food planning and policy on communities. It can be frustrating, disheartening, and difficult to take on issues of race, class, and social injustice, but as planners who believe in equity – or any type of planners at all, we must. As Eric Holt-Gimenez, Executive Director of Food First put it recently in a post on CivilEats, in order to have a restorative food system, we must first tackle racism, and doing that shouldn’t be seen as “extra work” but rather “the” work.

By Erin Thoresen, APA-FIG member

University of Kansas Planning Students Partner with Wyandotte County on Food Policy Assistance

In Spring 2016, the University of Kansas Urban Planning Department and the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas partnered together to develop three options for integrating food access and food production into the current City Wide Master Plan. The Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas is a prime example of a community poised for practical, fresh food production and access policies. Healthy Communities Wyandotte (HCW), a health-focused countywide initiative, is an example of this sort of innovation. Through the work of numerous action teams, HCW works to mobilize community members to improve health, as Wyandotte County once again received the lowest health rating in the State of Kansas in 2016. Wyandotte County was recently selected to receive food systems policy and program training and assistance from Growing Food Connections to further their health initiatives. Healthy Food Happy County serves as a supplemental policy document, as directed by Growing Food Connections, that explores the viability of food systems policies within Wyandotte County.

Exploring Stories of Food Systems Planning and Policy Innovation


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

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

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

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

How to Conduct a Community Food System Assessment- A New Guide for Planners

APA’s current PAS (Planning Advisory Service) Memo focuses on how planners can conduct or support a community in a community food system assessment. A community food system assessment provides a comprehensive tool to identify the assets and barriers for a community’s food system. Conducted at the neighborhood, city, or even regional level, this assessment tool offers a systems approach that provides planners and the community ways to identify issues and solutions, engage the community, and inform policy-making. The Community Food System Assessments (Nov/Dec 2015) Memo, by Kara Martin and Tammy Morales, includes examples of assessments, resources, and a case study on Buffalo, New York to demonstrate how various communities have used this tool.

The Memo is just one of APA’s many resources focused on food system planning. The 2008 PAS Report, Planners Guide to Community and Regional Food Planning (PAS 554), by Samina Raja, Branden Born and Jessica Kozlowski Russell, is particularly helpful for understanding how planners play a role in the food environment. The policy report, Planning for Food Access and Community-Based Food Systems: A National Scan and Evaluation of Local Comprehensive and Sustainability Plans by Kimberley Hodgson (2012), is useful for communities incorporating food access into their comprehensive plans or sustainability plans. Check out these and other APA’s food system publications that can help you and your community in taking steps to building a healthy, equitable food system.

Request For Abstracts: Health Affairs “Food And Health” Theme Issue

HealthAffairsJournalHealth Affairs is planning a theme issue on food and health in November 2015. The issue will present work that explores the relationship between the food we consume and our wellbeing on the individual, societal, and global levels. Articles will address causes and consequences of dietary excess and insufficiency, analyze policies and programs aimed at influencing these, and explore the roles of public policy, industry, and stakeholder groups in the context of dietary behavior. To be considered, abstracts must be submitted by midnight, EST, Monday, February 23, 2015. For more information, click here.

Agricultural Land Use Planning Modules

Agriculture and Food System Planning_COVER

A series of agricultural land use planning modules are now available as a resource for land use planners on such topics as farmland conservation, farm and property taxes, commercial composting, agritourism, and food system planning. The planning guide is a project of the Vermont Farm to Plate Network’s Agricultural Land Use Planning Task Force. The modules are specific to Vermont but may also be helpful to municipal, regional, and statewide planners in other states.