Megan Horst is Assistant Professor at Portland State University in Portland, OR.
Andrea Petzel, member of the APA-FIG Leadership Committee, conducted this interview in October 2015. The following responses have been edited.
Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Yes!
What do you enjoy about your work? Working with students and infiltrating their planning minds with foods systems issues. I also really like bridging the gap between research and practice.
What do you find challenging about your work? Food system work is filled with wicked problems with no one cause but rather systemic injustices. Trying to address all of these issues can be challenging, when one has little power or say over the cause. Sometimes the heaviness of the problems can be daunting; federal policy, climate change, social justice issues.
Who has had the most influence on you as a planner and as a food systems planner? I’ve really been influence by literature beyond planning –Julie Guthman, Alison Alkon, Julian Aguyeman – people who work in food justice and how the food movement isn’t paying attention to justice and is over-focused on local and sustainable food.
How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? I think I originally came to food systems planning based on my interest in sustainability issues and now I marry it much more closely to social justice issues.
What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work? I work mostly on the research side of things and right now I have an interest in farmland and farming issues – the effectiveness of urban growth boundaries, how we deal with expected growth, and whether investors are making a grab for farmland. Farmland access could be a concern; who gets to access and who’s producing the food. Is it corporate investors? Is it luxury or second homeowners? What does that mean for access by landless, young, immigrant farmers – farmers who really want to grow food sustainably for the local population? There’s lots of work happening to foster access to new farmers and that’s exciting.
Do you have any advice for someone entering the food systems planning field? Read from literature from broader food justice issues, not just planning topics. Read about international work, and learn about anti-oppression and anti-racism training. As a planner you also need to use many practical skills; you need to be good at facilitating meetings and always work on being better at communicating and being more inclusive.
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.