Faces of Food Systems Planning: Kimberley Hodgson

KHodgson_2013Apr.jpgKimberley Hodgson, MURP, MS, AICP, RD is the principal and founder of Cultivating Healthy Places, an international consulting business based in Vancouver, BC that specializes in community health, social equity, and resilient food systems planning. Before launching her business in 2012, she worked for the American Planning Association in Washington, DC as a senior research associate and manager of the Planning and Community Health Center. As a certified planner and health professional, her work focuses on conducting policy-relevant research and providing technical assistance on the design and development of healthy, sustainable places. She is a co-investigator of Growing Food Connections, a national project to build local government capacity to strengthen community food systems. She chairs the American Planning Association’s Food Systems Planning Interest Group and serves on the Vancouver Food Policy Council. She is the author of Planning for Food Access and Community-Based Food Systems, co-author of Urban Agriculture: Growing Healthy Sustainable Places and co-author of the Principles of a Healthy, Sustainable Food System.

This interview was conducted via email in March 2017 by Marcia Caton Campbell of the Center for Resilient Cities, and member of the APA-FIG Leadership Committee.

What do you enjoy about your work? I love the variety of work I get to do. As a consultant, I work with a diversity of clients (from developers and municipal governments to large non-profits like universities) on a range of projects (policy identification and analysis, policy-relevant research and evaluation, etc.). My work spans the health, food systems, and planning fields. I never get bored.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? As a trained and certified urban planner and health professional, I sometimes feel that I don’t fit anywhere. I occupy a space in between fields. However, this dual background provides a unique perspective. I am able to navigate between the public health and planning fields.

What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work? My work focuses on the entire food system – from production to waste management, more specifically how urban and regional planners can plan for healthy, sustainable food systems and the role of plans and policies in strengthening local food systems.

In the work that you perform, where does addressing food systems issues fit in? How has this changed over time? Before becoming a planner, my work focused on nutrition and food access. While a dietetic intern in New York City, I was exposed to health and food access inequities faced by low-income residents. Many of my clients did not have a grocery store in their neighborhood or had to travel long distances to access healthy, affordable foods. This experience sparked my interest in urban planning. While nutrition education is important, I realized I was more interested in how the built and natural environments impact a person’s health behavior. Although my path was not linear, I ended up pursuing a second master’s degree in urban and regional planning. This degree allowed me to think about specific health inequities in different ways, about how an individual’s neighborhood can support or inhibit health and well-being.

My career in food systems planning initially focused on food access and equity, but the more work I did in the field, the more I realized that food access is a systems problem. A problem that is greatly impacted by how and what type of food is produced, how it is aggregated, distributed and processed, etc. Urban planners are trained to think in systems – how everything is connected to everything else. My work with the American Planning Association taught me that the food system is connected to other urban food systems – land use, transportation, solid waste, housing, air and water, and more. It is not an isolated system and shouldn’t be treated in isolation.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? I consider myself an urban planner with a specialization in community health planning and food systems planning.

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? For the past decade, my perception of food systems planning has evolved. I have been very fortunate to lead national research studies that have identified and explored how local governments and planners are planning for healthy, sustainable food systems. These studies have shaped my perception of the field and expanded how I view food systems planning.

Additionally, I have served as a member of the Vancouver Food Policy Council (VFPC) since 2012. This all volunteer civic advisory committee has helped me to experience the challenges residents and community groups face in affecting policy changes.

Who (or what) has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? I have been very fortunate to work with brilliant people throughout my career as a planner. Several people have had a huge impact on my work: Joseph Schilling, Jerry Kaufman, Samina Raja, Marcia Caton Campbell, Kami Pothukuchi, Nisha Botchwey, Bill Klein. Each of these people have mentored me at one point in time and taught me about the importance of community engagement, equity and sustainability within food systems planning.

My life experiences have also had a tremendous influence on me as a planner. I am passionate about food systems equity and justice work, in part because I grew up in a low-income family and was a recipient of free and reduced priced lunches and food stamps. I have first-hand knowledge of food insecurity.

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? A degree in urban planning is essential. While my background in food policy and nutrition has helped me in my career, my urban planning degree has allowed be to think about the bigger picture: how land use, transportation, solid waste, housing, development, and other decisions made by municipalities and counties influence the food system. How everything is connected. My urban planning degree has also provided me with a robust understanding of local government policy. That said, many universities offer a food system course. These courses, whether or not they are housed in planning, offer a chance to explore food system issues.

Traveling and living in a number of different places has exposed me to a number of urban planning and food systems issues. I grew up in a suburb of Dallas, TX, lived and worked in New York City; Paris, France; Boston, MA; Blacksburg/Roanoke, VA; Alexandria, VA; Washington, DC; and Vancouver, BC.

In terms of consulting, skills in time, budget, and project management are essential. I was fortunate to learn them in a previous job. Without them consulting would be daunting.

What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? One thing planning school doesn’t teach you is to think “outside the box” in terms of jobs and career possibilities. Being a public sector planner or working for a private firm are not the only job positions available to planners. I have met so many “undercover” planners working in various non-planning jobs and doing amazing food systems work.

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. 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.