Faces of Food Systems Planning: Martin Bailkey

Martin Bailkey - Food for Thought Festival - CRC/GP boothMartin Bailkey is a food system consultant and former staff project manager for Growing Power, Inc. and co-director of theCommunity & Regional Food Systems Project. Martin is also an active member of the Madison Food Policy Council. He has worked in the food systems planning field over 17 years.

Marcia Caton Campbell, APA-FIG Leadership Committee Member, conducted this interview on November 17, 2015.

What is your first and last name? Martin Bailkey

What is your current position? I’m now completing my tenure as Co-Director of the Community & Regional Food Systems Project, a USDA-funded effort to document and implement food system innovations across the US. The project is run out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I’m returning now to food system consulting after working as a staff project manager for Growing Power, Inc., which is also a major partner in the CRFS project. I’m also a member of the Madison Food Policy Council.

How long have you held this position? The CRFS project began in 2011. I was with Growing Power for nine years in one capacity or another.

What do you enjoy about your work? After 17 years in the food systems field it still feels like cutting edge work in many ways, particularly in those contexts outside of our world of daily practice where alternative food practices are still considered novel (although that’s decreasing steadily).

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? It’s becoming increasingly challenging to keep up with what everyone is doing nationwide and globally. It’s also a good challenge to have!

What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work? Urban agriculture is what brought me into the field, and it still is at the core of much of the work I’m involved in.

In the work that you perform, where does addressing food systems issues fit in? How has this changed over time? When I started in food systems, I worked on the “big picture,” looking at things at a systems level. But my time at Growing Power took me to the level of the individual project and/or activity. I often reminded myself to assess how what was just completed altered the larger system that provided its context. I’m also much more aware of the pervasive role of systemic racism in the availability and accessing of nutritious food.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? Yes and no. At the risk of appearing overly concerned with formal designations, I’ve never had “food systems planner” as a professional title as more and more folks now do. But I’ve always held the belief that anyone who acts deliberately to fulfill a vision of a better future is, in essence, a “planner.” So, yes, in that sense I’m a food systems planner.

What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/ organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? It’s been a challenge for the city of Madison to move a public market district forward. I’m not directly involved in the effort, but city staff and members of the Madison Food Policy Council have diligently employed planning practices in addressing the public’s questions about siting, need/use and funding. Madison, however, is one of those places where large public projects move pretty slowly anyway.

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? A number of years ago Marcia Caton Campbell and I wrote a paper that essentially posited that while food system planning may have looked like a new area of professional practice it actually drew on and reflected established aspects of planning theory and practice. I still stand by that view.

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? I had the good fortune to have had Jerry Kaufman as my major advisor in planning school. But though Jerry is considered a father of food systems planning, he had a greater influence by introducing me to the areas he was engaged in before food systems – planning theory, planning ethics (another area he pioneered), and central-city planning. Within food systems planning, no single individual(s) stands out. But I’ll give a collective shout-out to those university extension personnel dedicated to food systems with whom I’ve worked over the years.

Do you have any advice for someone entering the food systems planning field? What skills do you use the most in your food systems planning related work? My best advice would be to engage, either professionally or personally, in some sort of on-the-ground food system activity that gets your hands dirty; something connected directly to food production (e.g, for-market farming) or distribution (working at a farmers’ market). To me, the core of community food systems work is direct engagement with food, and the more one does that the better. Other than that, you can’t deny the importance of critical and strategic thinking, and being able to communicate – particularly through writing – for a variety of audiences, whether school kids, grant proposal reviewers or the general public. I draw on those skills constantly.

What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? From the outside, urban planning always seemed rather dry compared to architecture and landscape architecture, my previous fields. Until I went to planning school, I wasn’t aware of how effective planning practice is driven by a vibrant theoretical base.

Interviewer’s note: In addition to the work described above, Martin is co-author, with Kimberley Hodgson and Marcia Caton Campbell, of the 2011 monograph, Urban Agriculture: Growing Healthy Sustainable Places. Planning Advisory Service Report Number 563. Chicago, IL: American Planning Association. Martin has also published many articles on urban agriculture.

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.