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

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Vincenzo Ferriola

Name: Vincenzo Ferriola

Current Position: APA Food System’s Division’s Student Representative

Vincenzo Ferriola

Vincenzo Ferriola is a Master’s Student in City and Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania. Vincenzo has received their Bachelor’s degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Rowan University. Vincenzo is currently interning with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation to support Growing from the Root: Philadelphia’s Urban Agriculture Plan. Vincenzo has previously worked with Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative to co-manage a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in West Philadelphia and curate workshops in agroecological growing practices for high school students. Vincenzo is committed to improving food sovereignty and increasing local food production with underserved populations.

What do you enjoy about your work? Being that this is my first position with a city agency and one of my first professional positions, I am finding that the work that I am doing can impact an entire population of around 1.5 million people. My previous positions have been at much smaller scales and I am now understanding the power dynamics between the government and the residents of Philadelphia.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? This position has challenged me to think critically, keeping an open mind. For example, while I might advocate for a fruit tree to be planted in the public right of way (such as a sidewalk or traffic median), there are many people who don’t have the same desire. Instead of making decisions too quickly, which might retrace some of the problematic and racist planning practices of history, we should be intentional and deliberate, hearing and uplifting voices that need to be heard. That is what I envision a more successful planning process might look like.

What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work, and where does that fit in with the rest of the work that you do? I am quite new to the food systems planning world, although agriculture has been a part of my upbringing and continues to motivate me. The Master’s program requires students to choose a concentration that best fits one’s professional goals. I resonated the most with the community economic development concentration as my personal and professional motivations are grounded in community visualized and realized processes.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? While I am still new to this profession, I am constantly learning and unlearning, growing and pruning old branches. I do consider myself a budding food systems planner. Food is something we all need. Fresh, locally grown, culturally significant food is something we need even more. I’d like to be able to provide (at least some of) the resources to make this possible for the many communities that make up Philadelphia. This requires a holistic approach to understand and appreciate not only a place, but also the people and the unique cultures that make it so enriching.

What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? Even though I am new to Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, I am aware that there is a complicated and lengthy process to attain land rights for urban farming. Agriculture is not legally seen as a land use in Philadelphia, which makes land sovereignty and ultimately self-sufficiency unattainable. When land is seemingly bought so quickly by developers, it is unjust that agriculture does not receive the same support. This is a racial inequity, currently and historically, as black and brown growers are more adversely impacted by discriminatory land use laws. This makes me eager to learn more about land use laws, land tenure, and zoning, to learn how I can best advocate for people who need the most support.

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? Quite honestly, I did not know what food systems planning was a year ago. I’ve worked on an urban farm in West Philly, but it wasn’t until taking a graduate course in Metropolitan Food Systems Planning with Domenic Vitiello that I fully (or at least more fully) understood the workings and dynamics of this field. Food systems planning is not uni-dimensional. There is no one position that precisely fits the description of a food systems planner.

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? I owe an incalculable amount of respect to Philadelphia’s Director of Urban Agriculture, Ash Richards. They have been my role model since their appointment to this position. Ash’s practice embodies intentionality and consensus building, which is what I strive to incorporate as a new professional in the planning field. They aim to uplift voices who have traditionally been left out and concretely emphasize racial justice. I cannot thank them enough for giving me the opportunity to learn under them.

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? Planning should be a reflective practice. Haste might produce more, but does not mean it’s a superior outcome. I believe it’s imperative to be thoughtful and deliberate, to fully ground decisions in what is needed for the people who need it. To understand the outcomes and potential consequences of decisions. To practice empathy, sympathy at the least.

What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school?  I made the decision to attend planning school immediately after graduating from undergrad, which put me at a different place professionally from the majority of my peers. Rather than seeing this as a deficit, I turned it into an opportunity to learn not only from my professors, but also from my cohort. There is less of a formula in planning than there is in civil engineering, both in learning (and unlearning) and in practicing. I found myself initially seeking the one path that led to the final product. But, planning is not just about a product, in my opinion, it’s about the process.

How do you think COVID 19 will shape/change your job/food systems? Being that I started my current position during COVID-19, I have acclimated myself to a work-from-home mode. This has been a bit of a challenge to connect with coworkers on a more personal level, although I’m hoping for in-person, socially distanced meetings in the future.

COVID-19 really started to impact Philadelphia mid-March into April. Grocery stores with 45+ minute waits and empty shelves were alarming and anxiety inducing. I looked to farm shares and found the majority to have wait lists. As the supply and demand leveled out over the past few months, grocery stores have been able to restock most of their products, especially the products in high demand. I hope this pandemic strengthens the case for localized food production with an increased need for urban agriculture.

New Senate Bill Aims to Boost Urban Agriculture

October 5, 2016

By Jason Jordan, Director of Policy, American Planning Association

The federal farm bill isn’t due to expire until 2018, but efforts to shape that legislation are already heating up on Capitol Hill.

The top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), has introduced a new bill to significantly boost urban farming. While the legislation will not become law in the few work weeks remaining in this session of Congress, Stabenow intends for the bill to get conversations started among lawmakers about raising the profile of urban agriculture in the next farm bill.

The legislation — the Urban Agriculture Act (S. 3420) — would both increase resources for urban farmers and add new flexibility to a range of existing U.S. Department of Agriculture programs to better address the needs of urban agriculture…

(For more information and the full blog post, click here.)

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: 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.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Robert Brown

Bob Head Shot July 31 B - 2015 CROPRobert (Bob) Brown is the former director of city planning for the City of Cleveland and the newly appointed interim executive director of MidTown Cleveland, Inc. As Cleveland’s planning director, Bob was instrumental in developing some of the most innovative and progressive urban agriculture zoning regulations in the U.S. These regulations paved the way for allowing urban agriculture – both commercial and non-commercial – to flourish throughout the city.

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

  1. What is your first and last name? Robert N. Brown, FAICP
  2. What is your current (or most recent) position? Director of City Planning for the City of Cleveland (retired May 2014); Interim Executive Director of MidTown Cleveland, Inc. (current)
  3. How long did you hold this position? I was at the Cleveland City Planning Commission for nearly 30 years and was Director for nearly 10 years. I have been at MidTown Cleveland for just 2 months.
  4. What did you enjoy about your work? I love cities and I love city planning, so my work is a perfect fit.  I enjoy coming up with creative solutions to problems in a way that betters the community.
  5. Similarly, what did you find challenging about your work? The most challenging aspects of my work as a city planner include the slow pace of change, the persistence of key problems (like poverty and housing deterioration), and the lack of funds to address key issues.
  6. What areas of the food system did you focus on in your work? Updating zoning regulations to permit expanded urban agriculture and making City-owned land available for urban agriculture.
  7. In the work that you performed, where did addressing food systems issues fit in? How did that change over time? Food systems planning was not a part of my work until late in my career – the past several years.  It had become a significant part of my work in the past several years.
  8. Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? Food systems planning was a small (but important) part of my job as a generalist city planner.
  9. What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? From my limited role, the biggest hurdles we faced were removing obstacles from the zoning code that prevented the use of vacant land for exclusive use as farming and prevented the use of most land for raising chickens and keeping bees, as well as selling produce from residentially zoned property. We successfully overcame these obstacles.
  10. How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? I have realized the importance of urban farming for several reasons including:  productive use of otherwise “vacated” land, improved nutrition for some city residents, and as a community-building activity that brings neighbors together both for the farming activities and for the farmers’ markets.
  11. Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? As a planner, I was influenced most by Jane Jacobs and by local Cleveland City Planning Directors, Norm Krumholz and Hunter Morrison.  In my limited role as a food systems planner, I was most influenced by Morgan Taggart through her former work at Ohio Extension.
  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 would advise a person entering the field to learn about the realities and the challenges of urban food systems planning, including the financial issues associated with small-scale farming operations and the issues regarding environmental contamination.
  13. What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? My planning career could have benefited by more knowledge of real estate and development financing.

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.

Atlanta Seeks Urban Ag Director


Anyone interested in an exciting new job? The City of Atlanta, Georgia, recently announced their search for a Director of Urban Agriculture. Applications are due September 15. Among a number of duties, this position will: “Coordinate with various City of Atlanta Departments to streamline procedures for the creation and support of urban agriculture in the city, including improving access for growers to public and private lands, facilitating the permitting process, obtaining necessary zoning permits, code compliance, brownfields conversion and other issues related to advancing urban agriculture in Atlanta.” To find out more and learn how to apply, click here.

Food Systems Planning Events, Sessions & Workshops at the APA 2015 National Planning Conference


The APA-FIG Communications & Outreach Working Group compiled a list of all food systems planning related events, sessions & workshops at the upcoming APA National Planning Conference in Seattle, WA this April 18-21, 2015 at the Washington State Convention Center. This list includes 2 APA-FIG events: the annual business meeting and the annual social networking event.


APA-Food Systems Planning Interest Group Social Networking Event
7 p.m. – 9 p.m. – Sunday, April 19, 2015
Do you study or work on food systems issues? Please join others who care about food systems planning for a fun, informal networking event at Local 360, Chef’s Dining Room | 2234 1st Ave, Seattle, WA.  Local 360 is located in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood, just a short walking distance from the conference center. The restaurant emphasizes local sourcing, with the majority of their ingredients falling within a 360 mile radius of Seattle. Space is limited, so reserve your ticket in advance ($10). Appetizers provided, cash bar. This event is sponsored by Growing Food Connections, the School of Architecture and Planning at the University at Buffalo, and the APA-FIG Leadership Committee. (Note: You do NOT have to be registered for the APA National Planning Conference to attend the FIG social networking event. We welcome planners and allied professionals in the region to join us (there will be the option to pay at the door).)

Food Systems Planning Interest Group Business Meeting
4 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. – Monday, April 20, 2015
Help shape the future of food and agriculture. Join colleagues for an informal meeting of planners interested in food systems planning. The meeting will kick-off the 2015​ ​APA-FIG Action Plan and offer an update of past work and an​ ​opportunity to discuss ideas about the direction and future of the food systems​ ​planning field.


The Now and Future of Agriculture
1:00 p.m. – 2:15 p.m. – Saturday, April 18
CM | 1.25, Activity Code: S431
A growing number of regions and communities are finding ways to reap the benefits of farmland. This session will focus on market-based and land-use programs and tools that planners, local governments and nonprofits have used to protect agricultural land in the Puget Sound region.
Speakers: Christy Carr

Urban Agriculture and the Law
1:00 p.m. – 2:15 p.m. – Sunday, April 19
CM | 1.25, Activity Code: S483
Bettman Symposium Sessions Planning and Law Division Location: WSCC – 6E
Urban agriculture has been sprouting up in municipalities across the country. Join a discussion of policy and planning tools for effectively permitting urban agriculture. The session will cover common legal obstacles and analyze lessons from Seattle, Portland, Chicago, and Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Speakers: Sorell Negro | David Silverman | Nicole Civita | Carrie Richter

Food System Planning in Cascadia
5:30 p.m. – 6:45 p.m. – Sunday, April 19
CM | 1.25, Activity Code: S518
Municipal food-system planners from the Cascadian cities of Seattle, Vancouver (British Columbia), and Portland discuss the role city government plays in local food systems. Explore policy making, planning, and programming, as well as lessons from the field.
Speakers: Kara Martin, AICP | Sharon Lerman | Wendy Mendes | Steve Cohen

Improving Food Access and Revitalizing Communities
11:00 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. – Tuesday, April 21
CM | 1.25, Activity Code: S613
There is a growing movement to improve access, awareness, availability, and affordability of quality, healthy food for residents, particularly in underserved areas. See how sustainable community food systems are making an impact in revitalizing communities.
Speakers: Brian Hurd | Aaron Young


Advancing Food Systems Planning and Policy
8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. – Saturday, April 18
CM | 8.0, Activity Code: W400
This interactive day-long workshop will present planning and policy techniques needed to build a community and regional food system. During the morning, attendees will focus on the tools and mechanisms for implementing a food systems plan. The afternoon mobile workshop will explore how food systems concepts have been applied in a series of settings in the Seattle area. Lunch included.


Farm-to-Kitchen Sustainable Agricultural Policies
10:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. – Sunday, April 19
CM | 3.75, Activity Code: W006
King and Snohomish counties have implemented innovative regulatory and nonregulatory practices to protect and incentivize farming. Learn firsthand from policy experts and local farmers about the impacts of government policies and programs that support economic development, farmland preservation, and environmental restoration. This tour is part of the work plan of the Sustainable Agriculture & Healthy Food Systems Working Group, part of the APA Washington Chapter’s Ten Big Ideas Initiative designed to bring about far-reaching and fundamental change on a variety of issues. Transportation: Motorcoach, walking. Includes lunch.
Speakers: Andrea Petzel, AICP | Kara Martin, AICP | Megan Horst, AICP

Local Farmland Producing Local Food
CM | 3.5, Activity Code: W018
8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. – Monday, April 20
Tour three agricultural districts close to Seattle: one surrounded by urban development, one in a river valley, and one on a plateau with views toward Mount Rainier. Meet entrepreneurial farmers who supply local farmers markets and stores with their products. Visit with the owners of Canterbury Farms. Take a detour to the Seattle Tilth operation, where would-be farmers learn how grow and market their produce. And stop at Rockridge Orchards, which supplies several local farmers markets with a variety of products. Transportation: Motorcoach, walking.
Speakers: Karen Wolf, AICP

Impact of Seattle’s Local Food Policies
8:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. – Monday, April 20
CM | 2.0, Activity Code: W019
Seattle’s approach to food policy focuses on expanding access to healthy food, creating opportunities for urban agriculture, and fostering the connection between farmers and the people they feed. This workshop focuses on Seattle’s efforts to expand in-city food production and how this work has increased access to healthy food. The full-day tour includes visits Marra Farm, Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands, Beacon Hill Food Forest, and the rooftop farm of the Bastille restaurant. Transportation: Motorcoach, walking. 

Cultivating a Thriving Agriculture Economy
7:45 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. – Tuesday, April 21
CM | 6.0, Activity Code: W039
Enjoy the beauty of the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival while meeting the people, organizations, and governments that work to sustain a flourishing agricultural economy. Find out what regulatory, taxing, and community programs are cultivating the area’s prosperity. April is one of the most stunning times to see the Skagit Valley, with its blooming daffodils and world-renowned tulip fields. Leave with a deep understanding that it takes all sectors of a community to create and appreciate the value of place.
Speakers: Lucy Norris | Allen Rozema | Patsy Martin | Kara Symonds | Kathryn Gardow | Tim Rosenhan | Kris Knight | Kirk Johnson, AICP | Stephen Antupit

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.