Faces of Food Systems Planning: Kara Martin

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Kara Martin recently became the Program Director for the Food Innovation Network (FIN) based in south King County, WA. Previously, Kara was a food systems planning consultant who worked independently since 2009. Based in Seattle, Kara works with communities to create equitable, vibrant places for people to lead healthy lives.

Kara serves on APA-FIG’s Leadership Committee and was interviewed by Andrea Petzel on January 26, 2017.

How long have you been in this position? I became the FIN Program Director in 2017- while the position is new, I worked as a consultant on the project for the past three years. Previously, I was owner/principal of Healthy Community Planning LLC, and I’ve worked as a consultant for food systems planning since 2009. After graduating with a master’s degree from the University of Washington in 2009 in the heart of the recession, I didn’t think a job would be waiting for me. Everybody was being laid off, and because of the focused work I did I was aware of some interesting funding opportunities and had the right relationships to make consulting for community food systems planning work right out of grad school.

How did you become a food systems planner? Before becoming a planner I did a lot of work around food security and hunger relief. During that time I read Sweet Charity by Janet Poppendieck, got halfway through it and got upset about the state of our food system here in Seattle. Working in downtown Seattle for a meal program, and seeing what life was like for people after hours, when businesses close their door, made me rethink my focus. I started making the connection between food systems, food access, and built environment, and ultimately ended up pursing a master’s degree in planning at the University of Washington’s College of the Built Environment, where I focused all my energy on food systems planning work.

What do you enjoy about your work? The range of projects I get to work on. Because it’s systems work I can work with food entrepreneurs, farmers, city planners, residents; a lot of people with people with different perspectives, which leads to a lot of innovative strategies and innovative thinking. I particularly enjoy community-ownership of food system efforts. FIN works with community food advocates, community leaders, who guide our strategy development and implementation while engaging their communities in the mission.

What do you find challenging about your work? I think getting people to understand the link between the food system and built environment. Food systems planners are often working in silos or in other fields of planning, which makes it challenging to move any goals or policies forward.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Yes!

What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work? Two areas: community food access and economic development around the local food economy. I like to think of food as a community development strategy that’s not just about locally produced food. We need to better connect local food to the broader food economy and all communities.

In the work that you perform, where does addressing food systems issues fit in? How has this changed over time? In the beginning I spent almost three years working on a healthy food retail project. I don’t do that now, but now I work with a lot of food entrepreneurs, and my earlier work gave me a lot of credibility because I worked with small food retail businesses. I have the unique role of having one foot in the policy world, and the other in the “real” world, such as helping businesses get started and grow.

Any advice to people who want to work in food systems planning? Take any class, workshop, webinar you can – if it’s not food focused, find a way to make your projects and papers on food policy topics. Attend food policy council meetings, volunteer, and get to know your community and the work that’s happening on the ground.


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. The APA will be featuring 8 food system planners at the National Planning Conference this May 2017 in a special “Faces of Food Systems Planning Session”. Click here for more information.

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