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

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

JOB OPENING: City of Baltimore City Planner II

City Planner II list is currently opened (http://agency.governmentjobs.com/baltimorecity/default.cfm) until June 30, 2016. If you know anyone who has an interest and qualifies, please share this information.

When there are food access planner position openings anytime throughout this year, the city must refer to the city planner II list that is generated from this posting. Therefore, if you have any interest in working for department planning as a food access planner now or within the year, than apply now to be on the list- application due by June 30th. This is the list we will use throughout the year for any food access planner job openings.

No calls or emails please.

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.

FUNDING OPPORTUNITY | Invest Health: Strategies for Healthier Cities

Invest Health is a new initiative that brings together diverse leaders from mid-sized U.S. cities across the nation to develop new strategies for increasing and leveraging private and public investments to accelerate improvements in neighborhoods facing the biggest barriers to better health. The program is a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Reinvestment Fund.

This initiative was developed to provide an opportunity for mid-sized cities to transform the way local leaders work together to create solution-driven and diverse partnerships. These partnerships will emphasize making changes in low-income neighborhoods to improve resident health and well-being. These changes can focus on increasing access to quality jobs, affordable housing, and nutritious food, and reducing crime rates and environmental hazards.

For more information on this funding opportunity, visit http://www.investhealth.org/#applyLetters of Intent are due by January 29, 2016 at 5pm EST.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Wendy Peters Moschetti

Wendy Moschetti.jpgWendy Peters Moschetti is the Director of Food Systems for LiveWell Colorado, where she leads the development and implementation of LiveWell Colorado’s strategies related to food systems, food access and food promotion. Prior to working for LiveWell Colorado, Wendy had her own consulting firm, WPM Consulting, and collaborated with many organizations—including LiveWell Colorado, LiveWell communities across the state, Colorado State University, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, Hunger Free Colorado, and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment—to work on a variety of projects aimed at leveraging our food systems to improve equitable access to healthy foods.

This interview was conducted by Laine Cidlowski on October 14, 2015 via telephone and edited by Kimberley Hodgson.

What is your first and last name? Wendy Peters Moschetti

What is your current position? Director of Food Systems, LiveWell Colorado, since July 2005 and former food policy consultant for over six years

What do you enjoy about your work? I really love the community partners I get to work with. They are working on food access issues all over the state. I also love that we are increasingly gettin to work on influencing state and federal policies. I love that we’re looking to lead state legislation, and we’re advocating child nutrition authorization. We’re trying to have more of a voice in state and federal policy.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? One is very internal. I feel like we have a potentially great team. We have marketing, communication, policy, and community partnership staff in our organization, but there is little time for learning. I’m constantly really busy. It is challenging when there is not enough time to connect with the staff from the various teams within your own organization and learn from each other. Another challenge is having more ideas than funding to work on these ideas, which is probably everybody’s challenge.

What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work? Healthy food access. One of the five goals of our organizations is that Coloradans have access to affordable nutritious food and beverages. My work focuses on achieving this goal. We have a general sort of health equity lens overlying all that we do. My work focuses on improving access to the best quality, healthiest, food for the most underserved communities where food access really doesn’t exist. To accomplish this goal, we focus on different parts of the food system. That might mean working on community grown urban agriculture projects, or working with conventional food retailers. We try to take systems view but we’re definitely not agriculture focused, very definitely more public health focused. We shouldn’t be segregated but it’s hard to do it all.

In the work that you perform, where does addressing food systems issues fit in? How has this changed over time? We are getting a lot better at knowing how to use data, like what data do you really want and need to use that will tell the food system story and why the food system is important; and how do you use data to support actions. I think that at least in Colorado, we’re better now at defining what we do with diverse partners. I think when the terms food systems, local food systems, food policy councils and community food assessments where first used in the state, we were not very good at articulating our niche. Because there were a lot more conventional agriculture partners that felt threatened or didn’t value what we were doing or thought we were all about local local local or sustainable or organic or all these trigger words. I think we’ve just gotten better at articulating why we’re doing what we’re doing and I think we’re better at articulating why access to healthy food is an issue. I think we’re way better of using the data to show that there are real inequities in access to healthy food and healthy eating and in a lot of different ways: nutritional inequities, cultural inequities, economic inequities.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? You know, I don’t, because I have worked so much with public health and policy folks. Although I do have a degree in planning, I consider myself to be more of a food policy advocate. When I was a consultant, I always described myself as a food policy consultant.

What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community or organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? We are not alone on this one. The biggest food system hurdle is really figuring out distribution of fruits and vegetables. I could add actual production of fruits and vegetables, but I think farmers are pretty smart and adaptive; although we have some issues around getting farmers affordable land. But, in any corner of the state we still have significant challenges about consistent distribution of fresh healthy food products. The biggest challenge in the food system, in our perspective, of moving fresh, healthy foods where they don’t is exist is whether the location needing the product is rural and has one very small retailer, or very urban, like Denver, with many corner stores that all face the challenge of having a very consistent supply of fresh, quality products. The small rural food retailer and the urban corner stores are not on the bigger trucking routs. We really struggle with finding smaller, more nimble distribution models that are sustainable.

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? A lot. I went to grad school in 2001, so a long time ago. And food systems planning didn’t really exist. Now the field is recognized as a professional field. In my grad school days at Berkeley, I was the only planner taking classes in public health. For many people it seemed very weird. Public health professors thought I was this cool planner, but didn’t get the connection. Fast-forward a couple of years and Berkeley now as a dual degree in planning and public health. So academically, students can now get recognition for focusing on food systems planning. Professionally, APA started offering food systems sessions at conferences, which didn’t exist early in my career; and APA developed a food systems planning interest group (APA-FIG). Now there is academic, education, training and professional recognition for a field that didn’t exist before. I think that is a huge! So now, justifying the use of city staff time to devote to this topic isn’t the stretch it used to be. And now, they also have more resources to be able to do it well. I think this is great.

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? When I was an undergraduate student the Community Food Security Coalition was just starting. It doesn’t exist anymore, but their founder and executive direction, Andy Fisher, had just finished his master’s degree in city planning with Robert Gottleib in Los Angles. At the time, I was 20, finishing my bachelors degree in social work, and heard about Andy’s background and the organization. It was exciting to see people as front-runners that were doing planning, and really looking systemically at how to create communities that support healthy living and support everyone in achieving a healthy life.

What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? I wish I had been more assertive about what I wanted to do. I went to planning school because I wanted to. I was a social worker for a couple of years and really loved it, but I really wanted to work on healthy food systems. That was the original motivator for me. I wanted to work on healthy community work, but then when I got to Berkeley there was just no infrastructure for it. There was no faculty working on this.

A lesson I’m still learning is really being able to articulate the importance of working through many different approaches. Whether you grow food, you’re a farmer, you’re growing food. Whether your life passion is to grow food, to grow fruits and vegetables to feed a healthy population; or whether your life mission is to just make sure policy is conducive to healthy food systems; and so on. I think that understanding all of those pieces and articulating why you do what you do and really honor the role that others play, is something we’re not always good at.

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

Should We Still Be Talking About Food Deserts?

By now, you’ve probably heard about food deserts.  Maybe as part of the First Lady’s Let’s Move! Campaign to end childhood obesity.  Maybe your state has established a task force to investigate food accessibility.  Perhaps you’ve even mapped a food desert in your own town or city, using tools like the USDA’s Food Environment Atlas.  Though the term “food desert” can mean a variety of things, generally speaking, it refers to places with limited proximity to supermarkets and low rates of vehicle ownership, thus making a simple shopping trip more difficult than in better-served areas.  In many cities, the term also describes distinct racial and income disparities in terms supermarket access.  


The term “food desert” isn’t without its own problems.  First, and perhaps most importantly, this neighborhood-based concept doesn’t reflect how people actually live: many shoppers travel beyond the store closest to home, and this includes low-income and limited-mobility households.  By drawing lines around an area (typically using administrative boundaries, like Census tracts), we’re dramatically abstracting the notion of access.

Another issue is that the desert metaphor adopts a deficit orientation.  It’s possible that a neighborhood has a thriving urban garden system, or a robust network of curbside produce vendors, but no supermarket.  By naming a place a food desert, we might overlook or obscure important community food assets.  

Finally, the food desert concept assumes a specific problem and solution: supermarkets are lacking, and should be developed.  Among the many ways to bring healthy, fresh foods to areas without retailers, supermarket development is a large, expensive, and complicated endeavor. To this end, local, state, and federal actors have designed incentive packages to make these projects happen (check out the Heathy Food Access Portal for a variety of examples).

Nevertheless, as a planning researcher, I find some utility in the term.  Many low-income households want to shop at supermarkets, just as higher-income people.  Alternative models, such as farmers’ markets, cooperative groceries, and urban agriculture may all play a role (or, more likely, many roles) in terms of food access, mental and physical wellness, and community development.  Yet, they are hardly a replacement for the supermarket model that most American households use without issue.  The food desert concept can focus attention, and more importantly political, social, and economic capital, to one type of community development.

Indeed, supermarkets are major vehicle of the industrial food system; in many cases, they are also what low-income communities ask for.  This is worth much further exploration, but I offer it here to suggest that these dynamics aren’t straightforward or simple.

Now that I’ve punted on this major philosophical issue, let me offer a couple immediate research questions.  Many supermarket projects already completed, and more in the pipeline, so it makes sense for planning researchers to take stock of these developments and describe their effects.

  • When a new supermarket opens, do smaller stores close?  This is often the fear, and sometimes the case.  If so, what is the impact of these closures, both in terms of economic and social outcomes?
  • This isn’t the first time planners have advocated for supermarkets as elements of downtown revitalization.  What lessons have we learned (or should we learn) from history?
  • What are some of the “false positives” that result from the food desert definition?  For instance, where are places we call food deserts, but, in fact, are not?  Is this because a network of smaller stores effectively fills in?  Do few people actually live there?
  • Alternatively, what about “false negatives?”  Are there areas with supermarkets that are still poorly served?  Is the quality of a neighborhood supermarket so bad that nobody considers it a viable option?  Or, more provocative: how much does access matter when shoppers are poor (i.e. isn’t this just a poverty issue)?


Ben Chrisinger, PhD MUEP, is a postdoctoral research fellow at Stanford University’s Prevention Research Center and a member of APA-FIG’s Research Working Group.  You can follow him on Twitter, @benchrisinger.


Healthy Food Access Mapping Tool



Healthy Food Access Portal released a new mapping tool that can help individuals and organizations better understand the communities in which they are working to improve access to healthy food. The tool, called Research Your Community, is powered by PolicyMap and allows users to access 60 data indicators. Topics include:

  • Demographics, including income and SNAP participation;
  • The food environment, including locations of supermarkets and farmers markets;
  • Health indicators, such as fruit and vegetable consumption; and
  • Eligibility data for federal funding programs, such as the New Markets Tax Credit program.

For more information, click here.

What Feeds Us: How Food Fuels Vancouver


A sustainable food system is essential to nourishing a healthy city. The City of Vancouver, Canada launched its Food Strategy in January 2013, the culmination of 10+ years of policy, planning and community work to build a healthy, just and sustainable food system. Check out the video showcasing its big impact in Vancouver so far! To learn more, visit http://vancouver.ca/foodpolicy.

The City of Vancouver extends a huge thanks to their partners: none of this would be possible without the creativity and dedication of countless individuals, community groups, and local businesses, including Sole Food Street FarmsGordon Neighbourhood House, and Inner City Farms.