Call for Student Papers


The Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society (AFHVS) invites submissions from undergraduate and graduate students to the 2021 AFHVS Student Research Paper Awards. The papers can come from students in a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds and should be on some topic of relevance to the Society’s focus. See more details in the full Call for Papers.

Winners will be invited/expected to present their paper at the June 2021 virtual conference co-hosted by:

  • The Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS)
  • Agriculture Food & Human Values Society (AFHVS)
  • Canadian Association for Food Studies (CAFS)
  • Society for the Anthropology of Food & Nutrition (SAFN)

Each award also includes:

  • The opportunity to present at the 2021 virtual conference;
  • Free registration to the 2021 virtual conference (seeCall for Abstracts);
  • A two-year membership in the Society;
  • $300 cash prize (not available to students that are not U.S. citizens, due to IRS restrictions).

The committee may also choose to award honorable mentions, which do not include the monetary items.

See more details in the full Call for Papers.

Submission: Email to by 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time on Sunday, February 21, 2021.

About the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society

About Agriculture and Human Values, the Journal of the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society

Questions? Contact The current chair of the Student Paper Award Committee is Dr. Megan Horst, Portland State University, Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning.

Food Systems Division – Link to join the Division now live on APA

We’re thrilled to announce that the link to sign up for membership for the new APA Food Systems Division is now live! Join us and become a founding member of the Division today.

Visit to sign up.

Over the next few months, we’ll be transitioning to our new APA website and more information will be available.

Please join us for our first (virtual) member meeting on Thursday, August 27th 6:00 ET. We’ll hold a conversation about the Division’s goals and work plan and learn how you can get involved. We encourage you to register in advance: This will be the first of our membership meetings that will be held every other month, on the 4th Thursday.

First Membership Meeting
When: Thursday, August 27th 6-7pm ET/3-4pm PT
Where: Online

Register for the Membership Meeting & Happy Hour:

We hope to see you there!
-The APA Food Systems Division Executive Committee

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:, or facebook:, or e-mail:

JOB OPENING: City of Baltimore City Planner II

City Planner II list is currently opened ( 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.

JOB OPENING: City of Madison, WI Food Policy Coordinator

The City of Madison is hiring a Food Policy Coordinator. This position will direct food policy work for the City of Madison by providing leadership and strategic direction to policymakers and stakeholders including, but not limited to, policy development, coordination, implementation, and analysis.  This position will also oversee several food-related programs and provide administration and analysis of the programs. The position will have an intense focus on increasing equitable access to healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food to all communities and developing polices that positively impact the health and well-being of all residents of the City of Madison and beyond.

See full position description here.

Apply for this position by June 23, 2016.

Job Opening: Planner II (CITYlab Team), Lead the implementation of “fresh”: Edmonton’s Food & Urban Agriculture Strategy

The City of Edmonton is hiring a Planner II to lead the implementation of Edmonton’s Food and Urban Agriculture Strategy. See the link for more details.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Jaspal Marwah

IMG_3963 - Version 2Jaspal Marwah is a regional planner working for Metro Vancouver, a regional planning agency, in Burnaby, BC. He is responsible for developing an action plan to implement the Metro Vancouver Regional Food System Strategy.

Kimberley Hodgson, Chair of APA-FIG, conducted this interview via email in October 2015.

What is your first and last name? Jaspal Marwah

What is your current position? Regional Planner, Metro Vancouver, Burnaby, BC

How long have you held this position? 2 years

What do you enjoy about your work? I like the variety of assignments and projects that I’m able to participate in – from technical work like processing requests to change land use designations, or assisting municipal partners in aligning their planning processes with the regional growth strategy, or championing a new plan or strategy like the regional food system action plan. My area of focus tends to also be in social planning issues, which I find rewarding to participate in. And it’s also interesting to focus on the connections and opportunities for local governments to collectively advance initiatives that are region-wide.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? Working at a regional scale doesn’t have the same level of engaging technical, hands-on, on the ground type of planning work that happens at the municipal level. And political interests are always a challenge to navigate.

What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work? I’m working on an action plan to implement our regional food system strategy. My focus is on convening all of the local governments in Metro Vancouver to assess the current state of activity related to the region’s food system, to map out what’s happening on the ground in the next 5 years, and to address areas that need more effort. This initiative focuses specifically on the dimensions of the food system that local government have immediate control over and can directly engage with.

In the work that you perform, where does addressing food systems issues fit in? How has this changed over time? My involvement with food systems planning started out working with colleagues to plan and deliver a consultation series on different aspects of the regional food system, including some analysis of the feedback and outcomes. Following that, the food system portfolio migrated from a different department into the planning department, where I was able to take the lead on moving things forward in developing a regional food system action plan. Currently, food systems planning remains one of my lead projects.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? I consider myself a planner who is fortunate enough to be involved in food policy and food system issues. Although I enjoy being engaged in the regional food system, it is only one dimension to my overall planning work.

What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? One of the biggest challenges is in securing and sustaining political and organizational support for bringing food system issues into the local government sphere of activity. Some don’t always see the important role that local governments have in supporting the food system. Building connections among local governments helps create a network of peers and practitioners to learn from, and to develop common approaches and language around integrating food system issues into local government processes. Similarly, building relationships between local government and civil society groups seems to be a very effective approach to enabling a lot of on the ground activity.

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? I started off in the green development/ sustainability policy field, and wasn’t aware of food systems and the connection with planning at that time. Since then, I’ve seen the steady growth of food systems issues in general within my community, and increasingly in the realm of local government interests. It is now a burgeoning field with opportunities for practitioners and supporters in the public, private and non-profit sectors.

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? The colleagues and partners I worked with when I first started out in the consulting field helped provide perspective and experience to learn from and to understand the field more holistically. For food systems planning, my peers Janine de la Salle and Mark Holland have always been passionate voices and innovators in the field, and have helped bring food systems planning to the forefront of planning practice in Vancouver.

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? Don’t feel constrained by job titles or even distinctions between public/private/non-profit sectors – there are many paths that lead to food systems planning. Look for opportunities to be involved in food systems issues in your community – there are non-profits that are always looking for assistance, and who are doing a lot of the ‘on the ground’ work; municipal advisory committees with opportunities to be involved as a citizen; attend council meetings for food systems issues to get a sense of the discussion, debate, areas of concern from a local government perspective; and, if one is working in a planning company that doesn’t have any food systems experience, there’s an opportunity to bring the issue to the table as part of other projects. Like any planning work, the skills involved are varied and depend on the nature of your work, but some skills are always helpful, such as: systems thinking (to consider how all parts of the food system interact), facilitation (sooner or later you’ll be involved in some form of consultation and group work) and relationship-building (positive and productive relationships with other agencies is key to advancing food systems issues).

What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? Planning is a broad, generalized field and has as many dimensions as it has practitioners. The education helps give one a sense of the field, but the real learning really only happens after planning school once you’re practicing!

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.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Helen Schnoes

IMG_20150412_170915Helen Schnoes is the Food Systems Coordinator for Douglas County, Kansas. As a recent graduate of planning school, and a recent hire occupying a newly created position, Helen provides a unique perspective on defining her food systems planning work. Her work focuses on a variety of local food system development initiatives, including food hubs, farmers markets, farm to school, food policy council support, and food system assessment. She is also an active member of APA-FIG’s Policy Working Group.

To learn more about the innovative food systems planning and policy work of Lawrence and Douglas County, click here.

Kimberley Hodgson, Chair of APA-FIG, conducted this interview via email in October 2015.

  1. What is your first and last name? Helen Schnoes
  2. What is your current position? Food Systems Coordinator, Douglas County, KS
  3. How long have you held this position? Since April, 2015
  4. What do you enjoy about your work? I enjoy working with a wide range of people throughout the community, and the chance to balance an appreciation for the local context with bringing new ideas to the table and learning from the work happening elsewhere. I get to staff our food policy council, a group of 23 stakeholders who advise our county and city commissions on food systems issues. It has also been rewarding to provide a supporting role to increase public input into policy change–and learn on the ground about the technical details of these processes/policies at the same time.
  5. Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? Defining what it is! With just under 6 months at this job, I’ve learned a lot, but am still figuring out how to define the “scope” of what I’m doing. As a new role in county government, I talk a lot with my boss about what our place in the community is to support local food development and community health–and what “food systems” issues we can actually meaningfully address at the local scale. Recently, figuring out how to frame issues, especially how food “connects” issues beyond its materiality, has been on my mind. There’s a lot of powerful writing and thinking nationally about food issues and planning–but translating that into practical, on the ground action is an intellectual and professional challenge–though quite an exciting one to have the chance to tackle! On a practical level, too, I’m in a grant-funded position, so its tenure is limited in its initial composition, and dependent upon Congress. (But we are thinking about future options.)
  6. What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work? It’s a mix: Local food system development, including food hub creation and fostering wholesale opportunities for small-scale farmers; supporting farmers markets; farm to school purchasing processes; food policy council support/facilitation; communications and public messaging, including a focus on health; local food system assessment (across sectors) and planning.
  7. In the work that you perform, where does addressing food systems issues fit in? How has this changed over time? It’s everywhere! My role is funded by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) grant our health department received, so some of my key priorities are guided by that (wholesale local food purchasing, including farm to school and public promotion for local, healthy foods). But that work is also closely tied to other opportunities that arise in the community–including the food plan that the steering committee leading our comprehensive plan update tasked the food policy council to create for the next year, and the revision to our local urban agriculture policies, which the city commission tasked Planning with this summer. I’ve helped with public outreach and draft review.
  8. Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? With just over a year since completing my planning master’s degree, I do find that the planning lens really influences how I think about the work and how I see myself relating to the various stakeholders and community members I engage with. Attending the national APA conference in Seattle and participating with APA-FIG further help me maintain this identification with food systems planning even though some of my days are not as closely related to “planning,” per se. The chance over the coming months to help create a local food plan and update our food system assessment, however, present an exciting opportunity to really delve into food systems planning and, hopefully, anchor it locally in our long-range planning and policy priorities.
  9. What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? When our first food system assessment was conducted over five years ago, after our food policy council formed, the report pointed to local food infrastructure and food security as key areas needing attention. This has guided a lot of work since then, including creating a community garden program on city land, receiving a USDA grant to conduct an in-depth feasibility study and farmer/buyer outreach about building a regional food hub, and creating a matching program for SNAP at Farmers Markets–launched by and still partially-funded by local government. Since arriving this past April, I’m working with the core group of farmers leading the formation of the food hub and we worked with them to apply for additional USDA funds to help launch their aggregation business. Our Chamber is working with them to disburse other start-up funds our food policy council received to support the effort. Now that we’re launching an update of that first food system assessment, we’re talking about how we can integrate labor concerns, river environmental health, and even housing affordability to continue pushing how we (and our leaders) understand and address food security. Both local food aggregation (and growing the production/viability of small-scale farmers), especially in Kansas, and food security are long-term issues with many non-local influences. However, I’ve been impressed by the continued energy in this community to maintain commitment to these efforts.
  10. How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? Not a lot of people know what food systems planning is! (Although I do think my mom gets it now.) I’m still working on how to simply talk about the type of work I’m doing. However, as a young professional, I’m very excited to be entering the planning field at this time that food systems issues really are further establishing themselves within the profession. The question of scale is also very clear in my mind since taking a job in local government, and how influential state and regional dynamics can be–yet at times beyond our immediate sphere of action for the majority of our work. But, this intrigues me to continue thinking about alternative approaches, opportunities for coordination and collaboration, etc. Also: There’s often an urban (big city urban) bias to a lot of “national” conversations about food planning.
  11. Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? I like to tell people that I chose to attend Cornell for my planning degree as much for its location in Ithaca, NY, given its strong local food scene, and its standing as a land grant university with cooperative extension, as any of its “prestige.” There were so many people there that contributed to how I think about food systems and planning: Mildred Warner was an amazing (and demanding) advisor, and John Forester imbued an important level of self-awareness about the process and place of planners. I had the great fortune to overlap in my two years there with Becca Jablonski, and meet others she works with, including Ken Meter. I have a handful of peers who also pursued their own food systems planning focus and we bonded over our shared commitment to this area that many of our classmates rarely even knew existed (at first). My program also encouraged us to take courses outside of planning, so leveraging law, business, development sociology, agricultural economics, and natural resource courses provided a breadth of perspectives about issues central to food systems work. Volunteering with a community local food networking group and interning with Martha Armstrong at Tompkins County Area Development in Ithaca were very formative and helped get a bit of reality to balance my coursework “up on the hill.” From my volunteering I met Jeanne Lecesse, who now with Growing Food Connections, has provided helpful guidance about being a young planner on the job market interested in food systems. My food systems work is also very much shaped by two summers in Sitka, Alaska, and subsequent work with Nic Mink to research wild salmon and help launch Sitka Salmon Shares, a sustainable wild seafood business built upon the community supported fishery model, adapted for Midwestern consumers. Since graduate school, I’ve had the opportunity to intern with the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota and work with the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture–two pioneering groups in my home state who have worked for decades to build capacity and connections that have significantly impacted small- and medium-scale agriculture and the state’s local food system. I draw from all of these experiences for my current work.
  12. 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? I feel I could still gain much from what others answer when asked these questions! That said, I am a strong believer in always following your passions, putting yourself out there for different opportunities (some will be dead ends, others will work out), and having a driving curiosity mixed with entrepreneurial spirit. Find people who inspire you and from whom you can learn, and ask questions. (I’m currently reading Food for City Building by Wayne Roberts and think that’s a pretty accessible and over-arching primer for thinking about this type of work, though of course context-specific to Toronto.) The ability to think critically/creatively and make connections (with people, across issues) is really important in the rather nebulous realm of food systems planning. Take an optimistic perspective, most of the time. A lot of this work comes down to communication with others, building relationships, and thinking strategically of both the short and long term. Synthesizing information and tailoring arguments for different audiences is important. Be humble and listen. I’m hoping to build my more technical skills regarding specific policy interventions, financing options, public facilitation processes, etc. Though I don’t use it, I appreciate that I persevered through a GIS course to understand data analysis and presentation better, and how to utilize it as needed. Being able to conduct meaningful evaluation is also important. I’ve done quite a bit with Survey Monkey, for example, and benefited from exposure to survey design while in school, as well as use of Excel for basic analysis and presentation. Related–knowing where to go for other examples of food systems work, data sets, etc. is helpful and something to continually develop. (And, luckily, FIG and GFC are working on this!) I personally think there’s an under-appreciated importance for food as culture and the power of stories. I reflect on this quite a bit, even though I don’t often utilize it in my day-to-day work so far. Gravy, a podcast by the Southern Foodways Alliance, is excellent on this front and one of my favorite things right now.
  13. What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? Knowing more about local government, its processes and financial aspects, though varied across place, could have provided a richer foundation for a lot of our planning discussions. Despite getting pretty advanced with math in high school and college, I hadn’t had a statistics course until grad school, and it was a WHIRLWIND from which I learned a lot, but would have probably gotten more out of, and better leverage now, with additional coursework. When I wrote my application for planning school, I actually said that I wanted to enter the program not to be a planner, but to gain the tools of the planner to influence food systems change. However, I now have deepened my appreciation for the larger field of planning, and value that professional identity much more than I anticipated I would three years ago. So, I’m probably the opposite of a lot of planners–where I’m the food systems girl who’s enjoyed expanding my perspective through planning, instead of the planner who’s beginning to integrate a food systems perspective.

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.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Wendy Mendes

WMendes_webWendy Mendes, PhD is one of the first local government food systems planners in North America. In 2003, the Vancouver City Council approved an innovative directive to support the development of a just and sustainable food system for the City of Vancouver, British Columbia. This directive not only resulted in the establishment of the Vancouver Food Policy Council, one of the oldest food policy councils in North America, but also established two full-time city staff positions to facilitate food system goals: a food policy coordinator and a food systems planner. In the role of food systems planner, Mendes led the development of a number of important and innovative food system plans, programs and policies for over a decade. She witnessed first-hand the field grow and change over time and reach a level where food systems issues are now commonly incorporated when planning for other urban issues. In addition to her practitioner-oriented work, Mendes is currently Adjunct Professor at the School of Community and Regional Planning at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Manager of Community-Engaged Learning at UBC’s Centre for Community Engaged Learning, Research Associate with Ryerson University’s Centre for Studies in Food Security, and Instructor for the Food Security Certificate at Ryerson University. Her work has equally inspired practicing planners, local governments, and academics across the globe. For more information about the City of Vancouver’s sustainable food systems work, visit or view the short video found at:

Kimberley Hodgson, Chair of APA-FIG, conducted this interview in person with Mendes in Vancouver, BC on Thursday, September 24. The following responses have been edited.

What is your first and last name? Wendy Mendes

What is your current position? From 2001 to 2006, and from 2009 to 2015, I was a social planner in the Department of Social Policy at the City of Vancouver. For the majority of that time, I had the rare privilege of focusing 100% on food policy. Until 2010, I was the only planner whose portfolio was entirely focused on advancing the city’s food systems portfolio, although I did this in close collaboration with many other departments. My work included all aspects of the food system: food production, processing, access, distribution and waste. At the height of the city’s food systems work in the early 2010s, we had 5-6 staff working on food policy, including another full-time social planner, a part-time social planner, a junior social planner, and several interns and contractors. This doesn’t include the numerous staff in other city departments with whom we regularly collaborated on food systems work – and still do. Although the mandate is based in the social policy department, it has always been decentralized in a very healthy way across the organization, which means responsibility and ownership are shared.

I am also adjunct professor for the School of Community and Regional Planning at the University of British Columbia, where I have taught a graduate seminar on urban food systems policy and planning since 2008.


Vancouver Food Policy Highlights Graphic by Kimberley Hodgson

What do you enjoy about your work? As a planner, the most enjoyable part of working on the food policy and food systems planning portfolio has been the creativity of developing something brand new and working with colleagues in other city departments to help them understand how food policy and food systems work can add value to the work other departments are already doing. In the early days of the mandate, these conversations typically started with “we don’t do that”, or “we can’t do that”, or “it’s not in our mandate or job description.” This provided me the opportunity to be what Wayne Roberts calls a “policy entrepreneur”; to discuss how food systems fits into work that city colleagues are already doing and how it can add value to their work. For instance, the way that urban greening goals can be advanced by building community gardens. Or the way that policy objectives around community economic development and neighborhood revitalization are supported by local farmers markets. Or the way that landfills can be reduced by building organic waste separation stations in new multi-family buildings. These conversations were always exciting. I have always maintained that food is not a new city planning concern. It’s actually one of the most ancient of urban issues. I loved witnessing the light bulb go off, and my colleagues’ recognition that food systems issues are actually not new within the urban context, and are powerful catalysts for broader system change. I have found there is a very personal component to food policy work, because food touches everyone – within and outside local government. I also really enjoy working with the community, and helping them succeed. I have always recognized that the bulk of the heavy lifting goes on outside of local government. That’s really important to remember.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? Within local government, keeping my spirits up when I run into challenges can be sometimes hard. However, I have really had many more positive than negative experiences. Yes, working for a bureaucracy can be challenging at times. A local government bureaucracy can be tough to navigate. It can also be difficult to respond to shifting mandates and political administrations. As a planner of any variety, we need to be able to pivot, adjust, and be prepared for a portfolio to lose support. However, this didn’t really happen to me. That said, there were definitely challenges over the course of 3 different administrations that held office while I was with the city; but I was able to weather those changes and respond as best I could to continue the food policy work. By the time the current administration came into power, they introduced a heavy hitting policy directive – the Greenest City Action Plan – that strongly supported the food systems agenda. This really changed the game of what we could achieve in a small period of time.

Another relatively new challenge in Vancouver is tension between different groups within the food movement. Initially, there was a sense of unification between non-governmental groups advocating for policy change. However, after notable successes were achieved in a relatively short period of time, disagreements began to manifest. It has been challenging to continue engaging stakeholders in a productive way, while acknowledging their differences. I see this as a natural part of the evolution of any movement, and the evolution of public policy, but it does require a new kind of sensitivity to differences in aspirations and objectives.

What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work? I work on issues from across the food system: food production, processing, access, distribution, waste, and what we call ‘system-wide’ issues. In some ways this has been unique, or at least it was in the early days when the default in food systems planning was usually urban agriculture or food access, not food systems as a whole. When the 2003 city council motion calling for a just and sustainable food system was passed, I guarantee that no one within the organization fully understood what that meant. The community provided them with that language. Despite a clear directive, there was still a tendency to isolate urban agriculture or food access issues. So advocating for a systems approach was challenging. In the early days of my food policy work, I spent a lot of time educating colleagues about food as a system, and about how the food system is connected to other urban systems. I think there’s now a much better understanding that we can’t plan a city’s various systems in isolation; we need to consider connections between transportation, housing, economic development, public space, etc. when planning in general, and definitely where food systems are concerned. By connecting food systems to housing development, community centers, daycare, green spaces and more, we create economies of scale that increase infrastructure and human capital.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? Yes and no. On the yes side, it has been a privilege to focus on food systems planning and policy for the past decade; however, I am a strong advocate for situating food systems within broader urban priorities. So, I would also say no. I am a planner with a specialization in urban food systems. This serves a dual purpose. In both my academic and practitioner related work, I have realized that the food system offers an incredible portal into other conversations and possibilities within cities that I would argue no other issue affords us. The food system is a conversation starter, an educator, and a topic that convenes people who wouldn’t normally talk to each other about building healthy and inclusive cities. I see food as part of a broader conversation. If you are a systems planner that wants to connect the dots and work within and across systems – you aren’t going to be one particular type of planner. Personally, I think we need planners who can think using a systems approach, and connect systems, including the food system.

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? When I entered planning back in 2001, I didn’t know much about food systems planning, just urban agriculture – which is common. My perception is that although there is still a lot of work to do, the general move towards systems thinking in food policy, planning, and community organizing is definitely becoming more of the norm, which is really exciting. One thing that hasn’t changed much (or as much as I had hoped) is the friction between a sustainable food system model and a charitable food system model. This tension is philosophical and ideological – and complex to navigate. For planners working in the local government context, if we aren’t sensitive to these tensions, they can lead to decisions that compromise a shift away from charitable food system. It’s important as a planner to understand your sphere of influence and focus on what you can control, but then also to push hard on things that may not be within your direct purview, like poverty, living wage, social inequality and other structural root causes of food system challenges.

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? It is very important to be a well-rounded planner; and that comes from both my beliefs of where food systems fit within planning and local government work, but also a pragmatic caution. The position I had at the City of Vancouver focused 100% on urban food systems planning and policy. This type of position is exceedingly rare. If you are an aspiring food systems planner, make sure that you have many skills in your toolbox. Find out what excites you; be a systems thinker, identify where you think there is the most social value or public benefit, and gain knowledge and skills in those areas. This way you won’t be a single function planner, and you can use food systems expertise to multiply beneficial outcomes in related areas.

In terms of specific skills, persuasion and entrepreneurialism are essential. Where emerging issues like food systems planning are concerned, remember that you are selling an idea both within, and sometimes outside of local government. Also remember that as municipal planners, we need to uphold a certain level of neutrality on issues so the relationship to advocacy is a tricky one. Not every food system idea is necessarily a good one, or one that should prevail over other ideas or interests. If food systems planning is what you are working towards, you should enjoy putting yourself in a position where you are communicating an unfamiliar issue, at best, or contentious issue, at worst. Also, a genuine curiosity is important, as is the ability to be a good listener. Even when I am sitting across from my harshest food system critic, there is always some element of wisdom in the criticism and something to learn. We are doing new things, breaking new ground, experimenting, and taking calculated risks. If I want to create a farm on the roof of the building, I want to know why the engineers might be worried that the roof could collapse. It’s important to not be defensive in this work.

What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? I didn’t go to planning school. My PhD is in urban geography. I was in the middle of my doctoral work when I started working for the City of Vancouver as a social planner. I was able to learn on the job, but also be more purposeful about who to connect with and what I needed to fill in terms of gaps in planning knowledge. As adjunct faculty in a post-secondary planning school, I have been exposed to planning theories similar to the theoretical approaches I learned as a urban geographer. I think a lot of practical and technical skills can be learned on the job; however planning theories and approaches are important to learn in school, especially those that relate to equity, power imbalances, and critical approaches to inclusive participation and engagement.

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.