Faces of Food Systems Planning: Mary Chicoine Praus

Mary Chicoine Praus head shotMary Chicoine Praus is a Land Use Planner at Franklin Regional Council of Governments in Greenfield, Massachusetts. The organization is the co-author of the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan and has undertaken various regional food system planning efforts.

This interview was conducted via email by Erica Campbell of the Vermont Farm to Plate Network, and member of the APA-FIG Leadership Team.

What is your current position (include your title and name of organization)? I am a Land Use Planner at the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, the regional planning agency for Franklin County. Our agency is located in Greenfield, Massachusetts.

How long have you held this position? Five and a half years

What do you enjoy about your work? I like being able to focus on several areas of interest, including farm and food system planning, green infrastructure and urban trees.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? I find it challenging to have many projects at one time and to have enough time to devote to them all, especially those as complex and intricate as our food system.

What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work? I’ve focused on several areas: statewide comprehensive food system planning, regional farm and food planning for Franklin County with a focus on land and food access, and community food assessments for individual towns. We’ve completed the Franklin County Farm and Food System Project, focused on increased food access and food production, and co-authored the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan.

In the work that you perform, where does addressing food systems issues fit in? How has this changed over time? Food system planning per se was not a stated focus of our agency five years ago. Now we are regularly working on food system related projects at several scales. Even if the primary goal of a planning project is not related to the food system, my colleagues and I are often thinking about the food system when we are working on open space plans, master plans, or transportation planning. I think there is more focus on social equity and food access, and more awareness of the need for access to affordable farmland, which permeates many areas of planning at the FRCOG.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Although my official title is Land Use Planner, I do also think of myself as a food system planner.

What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? I think funding is one of the biggest hurdles both for our organization and for many organizations and businesses in our region. After successfully obtaining funding for a couple of significant food system projects at the FRCOG, it has become more difficult to find funding. It has also become more competitive over time, especially for food system planning projects.

Do you have any advice for someone entering the food systems planning field? Ground your planning work in the real world – and do your homework to understand what work has already been done before hand. Be respectful of farmers and food processors – value their time and their real world experience. Don’t ask farmers and food processors to participate in your project unless there is real value to them for doing so.

What makes you successful in your work? What skills do you use the most in your food systems planning related work? I think being respectful of those already doing the work in the food system helps me to be more effective. The day-to-day skills I use the most are conducting research, analysis, and GIS mapping, creating graphics and infographics, and doing outreach to farmers and others in the food system community.

Massachusetts Completes Local Food Action Plan

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Just as the American Planning Association kicks off its November celebrations of food system planning, Massachusetts is celebrating the completion of its draft Local Food Action Plan – a plan that seeks to strengthen Massachusetts local food system – from farm to sea, and from producer to consumer.

The impetus for creating a comprehensive food system plan came from the Massachusetts Food Policy Council (FPC) that recognized the importance of developing a unified vision and coordinated strategy for strengthening the local food system. The FPC named a planning team[1] to lead the nearly two-year planning process. During the planning process nearly 1,500 food system professionals, advocates, and eaters helped identify ways to improve the local food system – including reforming regulations, improving worker conditions and wages, expanding programs that double food dollars for low income individuals, strengthening local food distribution to schools and hospitals, and building markets for lesser known seafood caught in Massachusetts.

Shaped through broadly representative input, the draft Local Food Action Plan now lays out overarching goals to increase the amount of food grown and seafood caught in the state, support jobs and business opportunities in the entire food supply chain, encourage stewardship and sustainable use of land, water and other natural resources important in food production, ensure local foods are available and affordable to Massachusetts resident and consumers, and decrease food waste and turn what food waste is produced into energy and compost to build soils. For each of these goals, the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan spells out in detail how they should be achieved – what actions need to be taken by legislators, state agencies, community organizations, businesses, and residents to reach these goals.

As the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan is finalized, the work will begin to make the vision for a stronger local food system a reality. Taking action to improve the local food system will involve ongoing and expanded collaboration among the committed network of food system advocates, and it will also include reaching across state boundaries, and engaging New England states also working toward food system change.

Sign up and become part of our network! And learn more about the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan by going to www.mafoodplan.org.

About the Author. Heidi Stucker is a Food System Planner for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council in Boston, Massachusetts.

[1] The planning team that facilitated the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan process included the Metropolitan Area Planning Council as lead, with partners Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, Franklin Regional Council of Governments, and the Massachusetts Workforce Alliance.