Faces of Food Systems Planning: Amanda Wagner

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

Laura An, a planning intern at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and a graduate student of planning at the University of Pennsylvania, conducted this interview in October 2015.

What is your first and last name? Amanda Wagner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have any advice for someone entering the food systems planning field? What makes you successful in your work? What skills do you use the most in your food systems planning-related work? Knowing GIS and spatial analysis is helpful everywhere, also use skills in projection, stakeholder convening, good PPT design, bridging spatial and other factors together.

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

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