Faces of Food Systems Planning: Kajsa Beatty

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Kajsa Beatty


Job: Hubert H Humphrey Masters of Urban and Regional Planning Student and Executive Assistant to the Commissioner of Agriculture at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture

  1. What’s your favorite food?

Anything with pesto on it!

  1. What do you enjoy about your work?

I love getting to meet all the people who work in agriculture in Minnesota through my work with the department of Agriculture. I have learned so much about the food system that I wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise.  For school, I love getting to learn more about the theories of public engagement and planning with the public. 

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

Sometimes it is fast paced and I have to be ready to scrap something that was being worked on that is no longer happening. For school, It’s challenging to learn about the breadth of planning after learning about the breadth of food systems. It makes it hard to focus on one part when you know all the systems connect and affect each other.

  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?

At MDA we are focused on regulation, promotion and supporting of agriculture in the state of Minnesota. The work we do impacts all Minnesotans, and I try to keep that in mind everyday. I am going back to school for my planning degree to learn how to incorporate food systems into planning processes. My hope is to regionalize our food system and to get more people growing food.

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

In the making! My undergrad degree is in food systems and I am going back to school to get my masters in planning. In two years I will!

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

The meat processing issues that were caused by Covid-19 has sparked a major reinvestment in local, small and mid-sized meat processors in the state of Minnesota. This will allow smaller farmers to produce meat for their communities at an affordable price and lessen our reliance on industrial meat processors.

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

After learning more about planning this semester, food systems planning is one tiny piece of the planning puzzle. It is not normally thought of as planning and I feel like a bit of an odd duck at school, but hopefully that changes more in the future! 

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

Not a professional answer, but my mom! I didn’t realize it at the time, but my mom instilled and exposed me to so many things that shaped how I view the world. Currently I am learning so many new things that are easier to understand because of the context I can put them in. Also my professor Rob King who included Thinking in Systems by Donella H. Meadows in his course and it helped me think about systems problems in a whole new way.

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

Don’t limit yourself to learning about only certain parts of the food system. We know some parts of it are harmful to the environment and people, but it should still be understood so you can be a part of the solution. And its all connected!

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

GIS! The learning curve is steep. 

Faces of Food System Planning: Ellie Bomstein

Current Position: Project manager, Wallace Center at Winrock International

What’s your favorite food? How many kinds of cheese do you have in your fridge?

I have 14 kinds of cheese, probably. We’re members of 4PFoods, which aggregates from many producers in the mid-Atlantic region, including small scale cheese producers. This time of year, though, watermelon and tomatoes are my favorite. I’ve been known to eat a tomato like it’s an apple.

What do you enjoy about your work?

At the Wallace Center I help manage the Food Systems Leadership Network, building capacity and connection for people doing community-based food systems work. What that means in practice is that I get to talk to a lot of practitioners who are doing the most amazing, cutting-edge food systems work in the country. I love the chance to connect with people and learn, see the whole food system, and notice the trends that are popping up all over the place.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work?

Funnily enough, it’s the other side of the coin of the best part of my work. Because the Wallace Center is a national organization, I don’t have direct community connection or as much of a sense of place in our work as I did when I was working at a statewide organization. We help folks with their work at those levels, but don’t always have the sense of the impact of our capacity building work—we don’t get to see them applying what they’ve learned in practice and track that impact. As a result, the way we work, through a million light touches all the time, can be challenging. We hear feedback from network members that they really get a lot out of what we offer, but I don’t get to actually witness it all that often. More broadly, the food system is so vast and such a wicked problem that we’re learning the complexities of it every day, as well as how it is tied into other complex and entrenched systems (e.g., environmental degradation, racism, capitalism)—and that can make it hard to find concrete solutions.

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?

We look at the food system from the systems level, zooming in and out between the forest and the trees. We work across the entire food value chain: with food hubs, with community-based organizations, with USDA, with academics researching the food system. The center of gravity for the work is whatever makes the food system more resilient, more equitable, and brings people more food sovereignty and self-determination. But the specific part of the system we work in to help push those changes varies.

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

I wouldn’t say that I do. When I think of a food systems planner, I definitely think of someone more place-based having an impact on a particular regional food system. Because we [the Wallace Center] have a national vantage point, we see ourselves as connectors and intermediaries; we don’t have that same physical boundary that I think food systems planners have. Also in my work I do a lot of “sensing” rather than planning. We’re opportunistic, so we very much are constantly searching for the innovation and the need—we’re reactive and responsive to signals in the network, whereas I think of a planner as a more proactive role.

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

Something that the Wallace Center really had to grapple with and push ourselves on over the past 5-6 years was understanding how essential addressing race and racism is to any systems-level solution in the food system. We can’t get to the type of transformational change that the food system needs without addressing that. What is the role for a primarily white-led/staffed organization in this work? How can we position ourselves as a conduit, a platform, and an accomplice for the people who are dealing with the most harmful impacts of inequities in the food system? This has been a huge area of growth for me personally, but also for the organization. Trying to both embody that change and authentically tell the story of our process, while recognizing that there’s no end point to that work, it’s been a big area of growth for us, and will be for a long time!

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

When I went to grad school in 2011, I knew I wanted to do food systems work, but there weren’t many places to study how to do it. When I was in college, taking an introduction to planning class, I had a graduate student teaching assistant (Dierdre Stockmann) who was doing work on food systems then. When I decided to go to planning school, I reached out to her to ask where I could go to combine the study of food systems with planning. Since then, I think my understanding of the field and how vital it is to planning has grown a lot. I’ve honed my understanding of why the food system is so exciting to me—it’s both a Trojan horse that allows entry into every other social problem and a tangible way of solving some of our most entrenched social problems.

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

When I was in planning school at Cornell, in the introduction to planning class, Professor John Forester said, “pretty much everywhere you go in the world, places look the way they do because people decided they should look that way.” That, in some ways, is overwhelming to contemplate, but we all have a measure of power to influence those things. It helps me feel like there’s a way out. As a food systems planner, Tom Lyson, who had been at Cornell and died a few years before I arrived as a graduate student, wrote a book called Civic Agriculture that had a huge influence on me in terms of understanding how planning and food systems were interconnected.

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

Having some experience on the production and supply chain side of food systems is important, to understand the pressure and dynamism of that work and how exhausting and unpredictable it can be. Or, try and work in a small community-based organization. I spent time working in a food hub so I know, for example, how a late delivery of eggs can foul up an entire day—that experience keeps me grounded in the work that I do now. I recommend that anyone wanting to do food systems work spend some time on a farm, in a food hub, doing community organizing, generally being close to the ground, and do it with a lot of humility, before moving into any kind of service delivery or planning role. 

What makes you successful in your work? 

Asking lots of questions and then doing a good job listening is essential. As a person in a role with a big audience, it’s really important to be super conscious of whose voices we’re amplifying—who’s in the room, what are their interests and priorities? How are they reflected, or not reflected, in the services we deliver, and the stories we tell? The people who have the answers are most always the ones closest to the problems, so if you have a seat at the table and are able to open up access for those people, that’s a great role for a planner or someone in a higher capacity organization.

What skills do you use the most in your food systems planning-related work? 

Relationship building, trust building, and seeing people’s humanity are important. Those may not be considered traditional planning skills, but they make a huge difference to the work, especially in a community-based context.

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

I took one year off between undergrad and grad school. I didn’t really gain any professional experience to speak of in that year. I noticed that other students in my program who had so much to offer and were the most engaged in the classes were oftentimes the ones who had been in the workforce for a few years before coming to grad school. The stakes are so much higher for people who leave their lives to go back to school, and they put so much more into it and as a result get so much out of it, because they feel like they have more to learn and something is missing from their lives. A hallmark of their approach was taking advantage of things outside the classroom as well, such as volunteering and putting skin in the game in other ways. So, I think I would have taken more advantage of the opportunity if I had a little professional ability under my belt first.

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

That’s the big question right now, isn’t it? It feels like there’s a renewed attention and understanding of how resilient and redundant food systems and supply chains need to be – which, of course, food systems planners have known for a long time. It’s a great moment to capitalize on this opportunity. There are just so many new resources in the system now, especially from the federal government. The Wallace Center has been doing a lot of work to try and influence some decision making at USDA, helping people access the expanded funding opportunities and seeing how to amend programs to better serve the needs of people who use them. So, we’re hoping that USDA will make some smart decisions about what to do with that money now to catalyze long term change, and also update how they operate beyond this current money to keep throwing their weight around for resiliency in the local food system. The local food “movement” has the attention of some big players right now and hopefully that results in some new opportunities, short and long term. 

Sept. 23rd Membership Meeting – register today!

We’re excited to resume our 4th Thursday Membership Meetings on September 23rd 3pm/4pm/5pm/6pm start time from West-East. We have a new registration link, so please sign up here. We have lots to discuss, and lots of opportunities to get engaged and help grow our Division. 

See you on the 23rd!

APA FOOD Executive Committee

A Message of Solidarity from the Food Systems Planning Division of the American Planning Association

The APA Food Systems Planning Division stands in solidarity with the Black community and with those protesting racial bias and racialized violence. Racism is a primary cause of structural food system inequities and disparities that our profession strives to undo. Our work necessitates that we dismantle white supremacy and endemic racism to create a just food system. 

 We commit to centering and amplifying Black voices in the struggle for racial justice and food justice.

We commit to listening for understanding, to hear with our open hearts and minds, to follow the lead of Black leaders in the food justice movement and in planning. We commit to applying our individual and collective skills and privileges to uproot racism.

We commit to employing the platform of this Division in service to Black communities, and to identifying and disassembling the policies, laws, practices, attitudes, and assumptions that perpetuate violence against Black bodies. In this, we include both physical violence and subtler forms of violence that have led to vast inequities in economic, health, and environmental realities that intentionally and disproportionately obscure, devalue, and cut down Black lives.

We commit to continuing the work of fighting systemic racism and lifting up the work of so many across our networks and regions who are doing the same. We condemn ongoing racist and white supremacist acts across our country and in our own regions.

In solidarity,

Andrea Petzel
Ben Kerrick
Kara Martin
Laine Cidlowski
Marcia Caton Campbell
Megan Bucknum
Molly Riordan

Resources for Racial Equity in Food Systems:

 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge

Dismantling Racism in the Food System

Dismantling Racism in Community Food Work

Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land (article about book here)

Uprooting Racism Training from Soul Fire Farm

The Groundswell Center has an excellent resource page on racism and equity across the food system.

Virtual Happy Hour This Friday May 8th

Join Us for a Virtual Happy Hour This Friday, May 8th from 5-6pm CST

While we’re sad to not be together in person at NPC20 in Houston this year, the APA Divisions Council is still expecting to take a final vote on our Division status in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, though, please join for a virtual Happy Hour this Friday, May 8th, we’d love to get the chance to say hello and hear about your ideas for our new Food Division. We’re looking for folks to join us as we start up this new Division, so do let us know if you’re interested in volunteering or joining a Committee.


Join us for a virtual happy hour with APA’s 21 Divisions and 8 Interest Groups! Come to network and catch up with members of groups you belong to, or check out groups you’re interested in joining. When you register, please indicate which happy hour you’d like to join (we’ll be in the Food Systems Planning breakout). If you’d like to join more than one, you can communicate with the host during the meeting and they will put you in any room of your choice.

When: Friday, May 8th 5-6pm CST

Where: Online

Link to Register: Zoom Call Link


Hope to see you there!
-The APA-Food Leadership Committee


FIG is seeking local partners for Houston 2020!


FIG is coming to Houston for the National Planning Conference, April 25-28. We will have a special announcement to celebrate, and are hoping to find a few local partners that can help us plan our annual reception.

We are seeking:

  • A great venue: Memorable, perhaps unconventional, and a bonus if it features the food system in some way (e.g. a community garden or urban farm); walkable or easily accessible via public transit from the George R. Brown Convention Center
  • Amazing food: delicious, healthy, locally-sourced, creative.
  • Local partners: a few individuals and/or organizations that can be our “boots on the ground” in the lead up to the conference.

Please send venue/food suggestions and indicate any interest in partnering to: Ben Kerrick, ben@kkandp.com.

APA-FIG is becoming an official APA division!

Hooray! Thanks to your support, we’ve reached the required 300 signatures and are on to the next step in our quest to become an official division of the APA. Next, the Executive Committee of the Divisions Council is reviewing our proposed organizational structure, budget, and bylaws and will make a recommendation to the full Divisions Council. We anticipate that will be in January 2020.

Next, the Divisions Council will make a formal recommendation to the APA Board, who, in turn, will vote to approve APA Food Systems Division – the first new Division in four years. If all goes well, we hope to have official approval and celebrate at the APA National Conference in Houston in April 2020.

Look for updates along the way and thanks again for your support!

APA FOOD Leadership Committee

Help FIG get the final 20 signatures to become an official APA Division!

We need less than 20 signatures to complete our application to become an APA division! Please add your name to this petition and share with others. It just takes 1 minute to be part of making food systems planning recognized as a core area of the planning profession!

Thanks for your support!

APA-FIG Leadership Committee

Careers in Food Systems Planning Webinar

Curious about food systems planning? Join members of APA’s Food Systems Interest Group (APA FIG) and other practicing planners to learn more about working in food systems planning and policy development. The September 18 (11-12pm PDT) free webinar highlights how planners in the private, public and nonprofit sectors are actively working on food policy topics, including urban agriculture, economic development, health equity, food access, and/or waste issues as part of their day-to-day jobs. After participating in the webinar participants will be able to:

• Identify different career options in food systems planning.

• Understand the qualifications necessary for the job.

• Learn about day-to-day work activities.

To register, click here.

For a preview of what will be discussed check out APA’s latest blog post – “Food Systems Planning, With or Without a Planner Title.”

Help FIG get the final 50 signatures to become an APA Division!

Thanks for joining us in San Francisco for APA’s national planning conference. It was great to catch up with old friends and meet new faces working to advance food systems planning.

We’re thrilled we were able to collect over 100 signatures for our petition to become an official division of the American Planning Association. Food is a sustaining and enduring necessity. Yet among the basic essentials for life — air, water, shelter, and food — only food has been absent as a focus of serious professional planning.

We need only 50 more signatures to complete our application, so please add your name here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/APAFoodSystems and help make food systems planning recognized as a core area of the planning profession!

And please pass the link on to your friends and colleagues and help us gather the last 50 signatures.

Thanks for your support!

APA-FIG Leadership Committee