Faces of Food Systems Planning: Ross Daniels

Name: Ross Daniels

Current Position: Community Planner and Policy Analyst at the Public Health Law Center, and based in St. Paul, MN

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Ross works at the intersection of public health and the built environment, improving both via food systems, trails, parks, sidewalks, and bike paths. His work includes development of research, trainings, and toolkits for funders and partners in these areas, and assists in drafting ordinances, resolutions, and memoranda of understanding to incorporate projects into official local policy. Prior to the Public Health Law Center, Ross held a planning position in Nashville, TN, and earned a dual masters in Urban & Regional Planning and Public Health from University of Wisconsin Madison.

This interview was conducted via email by Molly Riordan in June 2020, member of the Food Systems Division Executive Committee.

What do you enjoy about your work? I don’t think that urban planners traditionally get to think about the types of things that I get to think about on a day-to-day basis. I get to think about how infrastructure and community development can shape public health and address public health issues.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? My profession has its roots in public health, and I think for decades we lost sight of that. Because of that, we don’t have a very robust evidence base or menu of best practices on how to solve some of the most pressing health issues of today through planning. When I’m working with a community on how to improve physical health through a built environment intervention, or how to close health disparity gaps, often there are few examples to draw from and replicate.

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 tend to focus on food production (e.g., urban growth boundaries and conservation zoning) and markets. With respect to the latter, I explore how land use and zoning tools can be leveraged to promote access to food via mixed-use development, incentive zoning, planned unit developments, and other methods that push back against the Euclidean type of zoning model we’ve been accustomed to for decades.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? I provide technical assistance on how planning can help create a better and more equitable food system, but I have not done the planning myself. When it comes to food systems, I’m more of a policy analyst than a planner, evaluating what planners are doing to improve everything from cultivation to consumption.

What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? COVID-19 has really challenged the way we’ve been going about things from a food systems perspective. One of my organization’s ongoing projects is the Healthy Food Policy Project, which captures municipal government policies designed to promote good and resilient food systems. When the pandemic hit, the supply chain faced some stresses, workers from cultivation through sales were put at risk of infection, food service establishments shuttered at least temporarily, and people lost their jobs. Suddenly our work had this added dimension of how municipalities could simply keep people fed. Right now, we as planners are in this uncertain space where we don’t really know what cities are going to look like in the future, and how food systems will play into it.

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? Speaking with people in food systems, I have begun to understand more about how the layers of regulations—economic, environmental, and so on—affected growers. These policies are often written with large, industrial farms in mind, but in many cases they apply across the board, even for smaller scale farms or urban growers. Because food policies have been implemented piecemeal over the years and across many agencies that don’t talk to one another, it is extremely difficult to promote and advocate for new and different models of agriculture.

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? If more people had listened to Jane Jacobs, planning might not have created and perpetuated so many racial and socioeconomic inequities.

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? We are living in a moment where racial inequities have been laid bare. Look at how food systems have mapped onto health disparities across racial lines, and think about how to undo the cycles of poverty and illness to which our profession has contributed. Think creatively, too. Think about what you know about, say, TIF districts or overlay districts or TDR programs. Chances are you learned about these ideas in the context of housing or economic development, but you can apply them to food access as well. You don’t always have to completely invent brand new strategies when you’re trying to improve your local food system.

What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school?  I went into planning school thinking about land use mainly, and to be honest knowing its hold in transportation, economic development, food systems, and so many other spaces. I went through a cycle of thinking I was going to do everything. One day I was going to be a transportation planner, the next I was going to do NEPA, and so forth.

How do you think COVID 19 will shape/change your job/food systems? When this is all over, we are going to see brick-and-mortar retail shuttered permanently and office buildings abandoned. We are going to see commuting patterns change, particularly as work-from-home becomes the norm for much of our white-collar workforce. We might see a reaction against density. These are going to have massive ramifications to the physical landscape, and it is my hope that this will get us to think about how our transportation system can get people to food and vice versa, and how we can use our newly open spaces for more opportunities to cultivate food and provide it to people.

A Message of Solidarity from the Food Systems Planning Division of the American Planning Association

The APA Food Systems Planning Division stands in solidarity with the Black community and with those protesting racial bias and racialized violence. Racism is a primary cause of structural food system inequities and disparities that our profession strives to undo. Our work necessitates that we dismantle white supremacy and endemic racism to create a just food system. 

 We commit to centering and amplifying Black voices in the struggle for racial justice and food justice.

We commit to listening for understanding, to hear with our open hearts and minds, to follow the lead of Black leaders in the food justice movement and in planning. We commit to applying our individual and collective skills and privileges to uproot racism.

We commit to employing the platform of this Division in service to Black communities, and to identifying and disassembling the policies, laws, practices, attitudes, and assumptions that perpetuate violence against Black bodies. In this, we include both physical violence and subtler forms of violence that have led to vast inequities in economic, health, and environmental realities that intentionally and disproportionately obscure, devalue, and cut down Black lives.

We commit to continuing the work of fighting systemic racism and lifting up the work of so many across our networks and regions who are doing the same. We condemn ongoing racist and white supremacist acts across our country and in our own regions.

In solidarity,

Andrea Petzel
Ben Kerrick
Kara Martin
Laine Cidlowski
Marcia Caton Campbell
Megan Bucknum
Molly Riordan

Resources for Racial Equity in Food Systems:

 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge

Dismantling Racism in the Food System

Dismantling Racism in Community Food Work

Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land (article about book here)

Uprooting Racism Training from Soul Fire Farm

The Groundswell Center has an excellent resource page on racism and equity across the food system.

Virtual Happy Hour This Friday May 8th

Join Us for a Virtual Happy Hour This Friday, May 8th from 5-6pm CST

While we’re sad to not be together in person at NPC20 in Houston this year, the APA Divisions Council is still expecting to take a final vote on our Division status in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, though, please join for a virtual Happy Hour this Friday, May 8th, we’d love to get the chance to say hello and hear about your ideas for our new Food Division. We’re looking for folks to join us as we start up this new Division, so do let us know if you’re interested in volunteering or joining a Committee.

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Join us for a virtual happy hour with APA’s 21 Divisions and 8 Interest Groups! Come to network and catch up with members of groups you belong to, or check out groups you’re interested in joining. When you register, please indicate which happy hour you’d like to join (we’ll be in the Food Systems Planning breakout). If you’d like to join more than one, you can communicate with the host during the meeting and they will put you in any room of your choice.

When: Friday, May 8th 5-6pm CST

Where: Online

Link to Register: Zoom Call Link

 

Hope to see you there!
-The APA-Food Leadership Committee

#APAFOOD #APAFOODDIVISION

FIG is seeking local partners for Houston 2020!

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FIG is coming to Houston for the National Planning Conference, April 25-28. We will have a special announcement to celebrate, and are hoping to find a few local partners that can help us plan our annual reception.

We are seeking:

  • A great venue: Memorable, perhaps unconventional, and a bonus if it features the food system in some way (e.g. a community garden or urban farm); walkable or easily accessible via public transit from the George R. Brown Convention Center
  • Amazing food: delicious, healthy, locally-sourced, creative.
  • Local partners: a few individuals and/or organizations that can be our “boots on the ground” in the lead up to the conference.

Please send venue/food suggestions and indicate any interest in partnering to: Ben Kerrick, ben@kkandp.com.

APA-FIG is becoming an official APA division!

Hooray! Thanks to your support, we’ve reached the required 300 signatures and are on to the next step in our quest to become an official division of the APA. Next, the Executive Committee of the Divisions Council is reviewing our proposed organizational structure, budget, and bylaws and will make a recommendation to the full Divisions Council. We anticipate that will be in January 2020.

Next, the Divisions Council will make a formal recommendation to the APA Board, who, in turn, will vote to approve APA Food Systems Division – the first new Division in four years. If all goes well, we hope to have official approval and celebrate at the APA National Conference in Houston in April 2020.

Look for updates along the way and thanks again for your support!

APA FOOD Leadership Committee

Help FIG get the final 20 signatures to become an official APA Division!

We need less than 20 signatures to complete our application to become an APA division! Please add your name to this petition and share with others. It just takes 1 minute to be part of making food systems planning recognized as a core area of the planning profession!

Thanks for your support!

APA-FIG Leadership Committee

Careers in Food Systems Planning Webinar

Curious about food systems planning? Join members of APA’s Food Systems Interest Group (APA FIG) and other practicing planners to learn more about working in food systems planning and policy development. The September 18 (11-12pm PDT) free webinar highlights how planners in the private, public and nonprofit sectors are actively working on food policy topics, including urban agriculture, economic development, health equity, food access, and/or waste issues as part of their day-to-day jobs. After participating in the webinar participants will be able to:

• Identify different career options in food systems planning.

• Understand the qualifications necessary for the job.

• Learn about day-to-day work activities.

To register, click here.

For a preview of what will be discussed check out APA’s latest blog post – “Food Systems Planning, With or Without a Planner Title.”

Help FIG get the final 50 signatures to become an APA Division!

Thanks for joining us in San Francisco for APA’s national planning conference. It was great to catch up with old friends and meet new faces working to advance food systems planning.

We’re thrilled we were able to collect over 100 signatures for our petition to become an official division of the American Planning Association. Food is a sustaining and enduring necessity. Yet among the basic essentials for life — air, water, shelter, and food — only food has been absent as a focus of serious professional planning.

We need only 50 more signatures to complete our application, so please add your name here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/APAFoodSystems and help make food systems planning recognized as a core area of the planning profession!

And please pass the link on to your friends and colleagues and help us gather the last 50 signatures.

Thanks for your support!

APA-FIG Leadership Committee

We hope to see you at the National Planning Conference!

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Heading to the National Planning Conference in a few weeks? APA-FIG will be co-hosting a reception with the Healthy Communities Collaborative. Come and network with other planners and learn about FIG’s efforts to become an official APA Division (please sign our petition). Interested in learning more about food systems planning? Check out all of the food focused sessions.

Farm Bill Listening Session – March 14

USDA Acting Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Joel Baxley today announced that on Thursday, March 14, from 2:00-4:00 p.m. EDT, USDA Rural Development will conduct a listening session webinar to listen to questions and comments from the partners, stakeholders and customers who will be affected by the implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill.

Topics will include new tools in the 2018 Farm Bill to increase access to rural broadband e-Connectivity, expanding credit to rural communities, and other key provisions relating to USDA Rural Development programs.

Registration is required to participate. A registration link can be found at www.rd.usda.gov/about-rd/farm-bill. The deadline for registration is 3 p.m. EDT Wednesday, March 13.

Interested parties unable to participate in the listening session may submit comments on the 2018 Farm Bill to USDA Rural Development through March 30, 2019, via email to RD.Innovation@osec.usda.gov.