Faces of Food Systems Planning: Wendy Peters Moschetti

Wendy Moschetti.jpgWendy Peters Moschetti is the Director of Food Systems for LiveWell Colorado, where she leads the development and implementation of LiveWell Colorado’s strategies related to food systems, food access and food promotion. Prior to working for LiveWell Colorado, Wendy had her own consulting firm, WPM Consulting, and collaborated with many organizations—including LiveWell Colorado, LiveWell communities across the state, Colorado State University, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, Hunger Free Colorado, and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment—to work on a variety of projects aimed at leveraging our food systems to improve equitable access to healthy foods.

This interview was conducted by Laine Cidlowski on October 14, 2015 via telephone and edited by Kimberley Hodgson.

What is your first and last name? Wendy Peters Moschetti

What is your current position? Director of Food Systems, LiveWell Colorado, since July 2005 and former food policy consultant for over six years

What do you enjoy about your work? I really love the community partners I get to work with. They are working on food access issues all over the state. I also love that we are increasingly gettin to work on influencing state and federal policies. I love that we’re looking to lead state legislation, and we’re advocating child nutrition authorization. We’re trying to have more of a voice in state and federal policy.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? One is very internal. I feel like we have a potentially great team. We have marketing, communication, policy, and community partnership staff in our organization, but there is little time for learning. I’m constantly really busy. It is challenging when there is not enough time to connect with the staff from the various teams within your own organization and learn from each other. Another challenge is having more ideas than funding to work on these ideas, which is probably everybody’s challenge.

What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work? Healthy food access. One of the five goals of our organizations is that Coloradans have access to affordable nutritious food and beverages. My work focuses on achieving this goal. We have a general sort of health equity lens overlying all that we do. My work focuses on improving access to the best quality, healthiest, food for the most underserved communities where food access really doesn’t exist. To accomplish this goal, we focus on different parts of the food system. That might mean working on community grown urban agriculture projects, or working with conventional food retailers. We try to take systems view but we’re definitely not agriculture focused, very definitely more public health focused. We shouldn’t be segregated but it’s hard to do it all.

In the work that you perform, where does addressing food systems issues fit in? How has this changed over time? We are getting a lot better at knowing how to use data, like what data do you really want and need to use that will tell the food system story and why the food system is important; and how do you use data to support actions. I think that at least in Colorado, we’re better now at defining what we do with diverse partners. I think when the terms food systems, local food systems, food policy councils and community food assessments where first used in the state, we were not very good at articulating our niche. Because there were a lot more conventional agriculture partners that felt threatened or didn’t value what we were doing or thought we were all about local local local or sustainable or organic or all these trigger words. I think we’ve just gotten better at articulating why we’re doing what we’re doing and I think we’re better at articulating why access to healthy food is an issue. I think we’re way better of using the data to show that there are real inequities in access to healthy food and healthy eating and in a lot of different ways: nutritional inequities, cultural inequities, economic inequities.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? You know, I don’t, because I have worked so much with public health and policy folks. Although I do have a degree in planning, I consider myself to be more of a food policy advocate. When I was a consultant, I always described myself as a food policy consultant.

What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community or organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? We are not alone on this one. The biggest food system hurdle is really figuring out distribution of fruits and vegetables. I could add actual production of fruits and vegetables, but I think farmers are pretty smart and adaptive; although we have some issues around getting farmers affordable land. But, in any corner of the state we still have significant challenges about consistent distribution of fresh healthy food products. The biggest challenge in the food system, in our perspective, of moving fresh, healthy foods where they don’t is exist is whether the location needing the product is rural and has one very small retailer, or very urban, like Denver, with many corner stores that all face the challenge of having a very consistent supply of fresh, quality products. The small rural food retailer and the urban corner stores are not on the bigger trucking routs. We really struggle with finding smaller, more nimble distribution models that are sustainable.

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? A lot. I went to grad school in 2001, so a long time ago. And food systems planning didn’t really exist. Now the field is recognized as a professional field. In my grad school days at Berkeley, I was the only planner taking classes in public health. For many people it seemed very weird. Public health professors thought I was this cool planner, but didn’t get the connection. Fast-forward a couple of years and Berkeley now as a dual degree in planning and public health. So academically, students can now get recognition for focusing on food systems planning. Professionally, APA started offering food systems sessions at conferences, which didn’t exist early in my career; and APA developed a food systems planning interest group (APA-FIG). Now there is academic, education, training and professional recognition for a field that didn’t exist before. I think that is a huge! So now, justifying the use of city staff time to devote to this topic isn’t the stretch it used to be. And now, they also have more resources to be able to do it well. I think this is great.

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? When I was an undergraduate student the Community Food Security Coalition was just starting. It doesn’t exist anymore, but their founder and executive direction, Andy Fisher, had just finished his master’s degree in city planning with Robert Gottleib in Los Angles. At the time, I was 20, finishing my bachelors degree in social work, and heard about Andy’s background and the organization. It was exciting to see people as front-runners that were doing planning, and really looking systemically at how to create communities that support healthy living and support everyone in achieving a healthy life.

What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? I wish I had been more assertive about what I wanted to do. I went to planning school because I wanted to. I was a social worker for a couple of years and really loved it, but I really wanted to work on healthy food systems. That was the original motivator for me. I wanted to work on healthy community work, but then when I got to Berkeley there was just no infrastructure for it. There was no faculty working on this.

A lesson I’m still learning is really being able to articulate the importance of working through many different approaches. Whether you grow food, you’re a farmer, you’re growing food. Whether your life passion is to grow food, to grow fruits and vegetables to feed a healthy population; or whether your life mission is to just make sure policy is conducive to healthy food systems; and so on. I think that understanding all of those pieces and articulating why you do what you do and really honor the role that others play, is something we’re not always good at.

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.