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

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Vincenzo Ferriola

Name: Vincenzo Ferriola

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

Vincenzo Ferriola

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have any advice for someone entering the food systems planning field? What makes you successful in your work? What skills do you use the most in your food systems planning-related work? Planning should be a reflective practice. Haste might produce more, but does not mean it’s a superior outcome. I believe it’s imperative to be thoughtful and deliberate, to fully ground decisions in what is needed for the people who need it. To understand the outcomes and potential consequences of decisions. To practice empathy, sympathy at the least.

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

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

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

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Dean Severson

Severson.jpg.JPGDean Severson is Principal Agricultural and Rural Planning Analyst for Lancaster County Planning Commission in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

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? Dean Severson

What is your current position? Principal, Agricultural and Rural planning analyst, Lancaster County Planning Commission in Pennsylvania

How long have you held this position? 17 years.

What do you enjoy about your work? I like working one-on-one with municipalities.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? Because Pennsylvania is a home-rule state, the county does not implement many plans. It can be frustrating because the planning commission can only advise and recommend, but municipalities, and specifically local officials are responsible for implementation. My priorities or interests aren’t necessarily local officials priorities and interests.

What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work, and where does that fit in with the rest of the work that you do? I focus mainly on traditional land use planning, rural areas, agriculture, and tangentially food systems planning. My primary focus is on agriculture as land use, and then secondly as an economic development issue. I work with municipalities to coordinate their land use planning decisions, help limit amount of development, and direct it to appropriate places, so that agriculture can thrive with little or no interference.

It’s interesting that in my experience, a lot of local planning boards in rural areas are made up of farmers or other people who have some relationship to agriculture or working in the food industry (such as dairy).

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? No, because that’s too narrow. As a land use/community planner, I look at a variety of issues. I don’t really specialize on food system planning, but food systems are definitely a component of land use planning.

What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? Making sure there are connections between agricultural areas and market areas in urban areas and other smaller communities in Lancaster County. Most of Lancaster’s food production is exported out of the county for further value-added processing. But lately I have noticed growth in smaller-scale more direct-to-consumer production. The challenge is making sure there’s an atmosphere where small producers can thrive when competing with large farms for land, provide marketing opportunities for them to get product into local hands. Zoning regulations and farmland programs are more designed for larger farms; we haven’t made the transition to better accommodate or serve smaller farms yet.

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? It’s broadened, seeing all different components of it. First food system planning seemed to be narrowly focused or defined (a food desert). But now I see the big picture – that it encompasses everything in from production to consumer. What’s the planner’s role in that? Making sure there are opportunities for small producers to enter into the market; transportation/infrastructure connections to make sure product can make its way to consumers. We need to look at the importance of agriculture in economic development efforts. And we need to also consider niche agriculture (smaller scale), because those producers have specific needs.

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? Not any one person, but municipal officials who helped put things in perspective. Planners can think that planning issues are most important, but we are probably further down on the list – there are lots of other things that occupy municipal officials’ time and energy. Also – Farmers.

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? Look at the entire spectrum from production to consumption- a failure of a lot of planners is to focus on just the consumption end of food systems. True, we must be aware of the needs of consumers. But we also must determine what limits or prevents producers from expanding their businesses and bringing their products to the market.

I use the same skills for food system planning as I do for land use planning in general: listening with an open mind to hear new ideas.

What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? Planning school doesn’t always prepare you for the day-to-day things. It often promotes this idea that you’ll be creating a grand master plan and that everyone will immediately get on board with it, but the reality is a lot of progress is made incrementally and much rests on developing a working relationship with your planning clients or local officials, and then eventually being able to accomplish things jointly with them over time.

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.

Produce Incentives Expand from Farmers’ Markets to Grocery Stores


Kansas City supermarkets are testing a program that doubles low-income shoppers spending on local produce. Photo by Patty Cantrell.

A popular incentive for low-income shoppers at farmers markets is moving into grocery stores. The expansion promises nourishment for both rural and urban areas.

Around 5,000 low-income shoppers used the program from June through August in a trial run at four Price Chopper supermarkets in metro Kansas City. They spent nearly $30,000 on produce, mostly from smaller scale farmers in the region.

“This is economic development,” said Mark Holland, mayor of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County, Kansas. “It benefits the farmers selling local produce. It helps people who need it most to stretch their food dollars. It also benefits grocery stores; it brings people into the store.”

The Double Up Food Bucks retail expansion in Kansas City provides shoppers who use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamp) benefits with a dollar-for-dollar match on their Price Chopper loyalty cards when they buy up to $25 a day of locally produced fruits and vegetables. They can then use the extra money to buy more of any produce, doubling the amount of healthy food they take home.

“It fit right in with our loyalty card program,” said Mike Beal, chief operating officer for Balls Food Stores, a regional family-owned chain with 15 Price Chopper and 11 Hen House supermarkets in the Kansas City area.

Farmers are also feeling the love.

Balls buys from more than 150 farmers through Good Natured Family Farms. The regional marketing cooperative, or food hub, supplies local products for every department, from produce, dairy and meats to honey and other items like jams and pickles.

Diana Endicott, president of Good Natured Family Farms, said the group’s produce sales are up 20 to 30 percent at the four Double Up Food Bucks test stores.

By Patty Cantrell, Regional Food Solutions

Originally Published 9/18/15 – full article at WallaceCenter.org

Food Systems Planning Events, Sessions & Workshops at the APA 2015 National Planning Conference


The APA-FIG Communications & Outreach Working Group compiled a list of all food systems planning related events, sessions & workshops at the upcoming APA National Planning Conference in Seattle, WA this April 18-21, 2015 at the Washington State Convention Center. This list includes 2 APA-FIG events: the annual business meeting and the annual social networking event.


APA-Food Systems Planning Interest Group Social Networking Event
7 p.m. – 9 p.m. – Sunday, April 19, 2015
Do you study or work on food systems issues? Please join others who care about food systems planning for a fun, informal networking event at Local 360, Chef’s Dining Room | 2234 1st Ave, Seattle, WA.  Local 360 is located in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood, just a short walking distance from the conference center. The restaurant emphasizes local sourcing, with the majority of their ingredients falling within a 360 mile radius of Seattle. Space is limited, so reserve your ticket in advance ($10). Appetizers provided, cash bar. This event is sponsored by Growing Food Connections, the School of Architecture and Planning at the University at Buffalo, and the APA-FIG Leadership Committee. (Note: You do NOT have to be registered for the APA National Planning Conference to attend the FIG social networking event. We welcome planners and allied professionals in the region to join us (there will be the option to pay at the door).)

Food Systems Planning Interest Group Business Meeting
4 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. – Monday, April 20, 2015
Help shape the future of food and agriculture. Join colleagues for an informal meeting of planners interested in food systems planning. The meeting will kick-off the 2015​ ​APA-FIG Action Plan and offer an update of past work and an​ ​opportunity to discuss ideas about the direction and future of the food systems​ ​planning field.


The Now and Future of Agriculture
1:00 p.m. – 2:15 p.m. – Saturday, April 18
CM | 1.25, Activity Code: S431
A growing number of regions and communities are finding ways to reap the benefits of farmland. This session will focus on market-based and land-use programs and tools that planners, local governments and nonprofits have used to protect agricultural land in the Puget Sound region.
Speakers: Christy Carr

Urban Agriculture and the Law
1:00 p.m. – 2:15 p.m. – Sunday, April 19
CM | 1.25, Activity Code: S483
Bettman Symposium Sessions Planning and Law Division Location: WSCC – 6E
Urban agriculture has been sprouting up in municipalities across the country. Join a discussion of policy and planning tools for effectively permitting urban agriculture. The session will cover common legal obstacles and analyze lessons from Seattle, Portland, Chicago, and Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Speakers: Sorell Negro | David Silverman | Nicole Civita | Carrie Richter

Food System Planning in Cascadia
5:30 p.m. – 6:45 p.m. – Sunday, April 19
CM | 1.25, Activity Code: S518
Municipal food-system planners from the Cascadian cities of Seattle, Vancouver (British Columbia), and Portland discuss the role city government plays in local food systems. Explore policy making, planning, and programming, as well as lessons from the field.
Speakers: Kara Martin, AICP | Sharon Lerman | Wendy Mendes | Steve Cohen

Improving Food Access and Revitalizing Communities
11:00 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. – Tuesday, April 21
CM | 1.25, Activity Code: S613
There is a growing movement to improve access, awareness, availability, and affordability of quality, healthy food for residents, particularly in underserved areas. See how sustainable community food systems are making an impact in revitalizing communities.
Speakers: Brian Hurd | Aaron Young


Advancing Food Systems Planning and Policy
8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. – Saturday, April 18
CM | 8.0, Activity Code: W400
This interactive day-long workshop will present planning and policy techniques needed to build a community and regional food system. During the morning, attendees will focus on the tools and mechanisms for implementing a food systems plan. The afternoon mobile workshop will explore how food systems concepts have been applied in a series of settings in the Seattle area. Lunch included.


Farm-to-Kitchen Sustainable Agricultural Policies
10:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. – Sunday, April 19
CM | 3.75, Activity Code: W006
King and Snohomish counties have implemented innovative regulatory and nonregulatory practices to protect and incentivize farming. Learn firsthand from policy experts and local farmers about the impacts of government policies and programs that support economic development, farmland preservation, and environmental restoration. This tour is part of the work plan of the Sustainable Agriculture & Healthy Food Systems Working Group, part of the APA Washington Chapter’s Ten Big Ideas Initiative designed to bring about far-reaching and fundamental change on a variety of issues. Transportation: Motorcoach, walking. Includes lunch.
Speakers: Andrea Petzel, AICP | Kara Martin, AICP | Megan Horst, AICP

Local Farmland Producing Local Food
CM | 3.5, Activity Code: W018
8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. – Monday, April 20
Tour three agricultural districts close to Seattle: one surrounded by urban development, one in a river valley, and one on a plateau with views toward Mount Rainier. Meet entrepreneurial farmers who supply local farmers markets and stores with their products. Visit with the owners of Canterbury Farms. Take a detour to the Seattle Tilth operation, where would-be farmers learn how grow and market their produce. And stop at Rockridge Orchards, which supplies several local farmers markets with a variety of products. Transportation: Motorcoach, walking.
Speakers: Karen Wolf, AICP

Impact of Seattle’s Local Food Policies
8:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. – Monday, April 20
CM | 2.0, Activity Code: W019
Seattle’s approach to food policy focuses on expanding access to healthy food, creating opportunities for urban agriculture, and fostering the connection between farmers and the people they feed. This workshop focuses on Seattle’s efforts to expand in-city food production and how this work has increased access to healthy food. The full-day tour includes visits Marra Farm, Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands, Beacon Hill Food Forest, and the rooftop farm of the Bastille restaurant. Transportation: Motorcoach, walking. 

Cultivating a Thriving Agriculture Economy
7:45 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. – Tuesday, April 21
CM | 6.0, Activity Code: W039
Enjoy the beauty of the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival while meeting the people, organizations, and governments that work to sustain a flourishing agricultural economy. Find out what regulatory, taxing, and community programs are cultivating the area’s prosperity. April is one of the most stunning times to see the Skagit Valley, with its blooming daffodils and world-renowned tulip fields. Leave with a deep understanding that it takes all sectors of a community to create and appreciate the value of place.
Speakers: Lucy Norris | Allen Rozema | Patsy Martin | Kara Symonds | Kathryn Gardow | Tim Rosenhan | Kris Knight | Kirk Johnson, AICP | Stephen Antupit

Perspectives on Planning for Agriculture and Food Security in the Commonwealth

CAPFoodSecurity&PlanningIn recognition of growing global concerns about long-term food security, the Commonwealth Association Planners (CAP) has developed a report listing Strategic Directions that Commonwealth planners could use in food security planning. The report also contains a series of specific tools and strategies that planners can use to plan for agriculture and food security.

The full report is available to download from the CAP website.