Faces of Food Systems Planning: Marcia Caton Campbell

MCatonCampbell.jpgMarcia Caton Campbell is the executive director of the Center for Resilient Cities (CRC), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Madison, WI. CRC’s work pulls together many “systems” of a neighborhood: how we build community, how we feed ourselves, how we educate our children, how we produce energy and manage natural resources, how we create jobs, and how we design buildings and reclaim our neighborhood spaces. Marcia has close to 20 years of experience in community-based planning and food systems planning, research, and practice. Prior to joining CRC in 2006, Marcia taught urban and regional planning at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, specializing in food systems planning, community-based planning, and environmental conflict resolution. Her research, teaching, and publications focused on consensus building and community-based planning with diverse publics, and multi-stakeholder conflict resolution. She is a member of the American Planning Association’s Food Interest Group Leadership Committee and serves on the City of Milwaukee’s Green Team, coauthoring ReFresh Milwaukee’s food systems chapter. She is co-author of Urban Agriculture: Growing Healthy Sustainable Places and Principles of a Healthy, Sustainable Food System.

This interview was conducted via email in March 2017 by Kimberley Hodgson of Cultivating Healthy Places, and chair of APA-FIG.

What do you enjoy about your work? Although my entire career has been grounded in consistent themes of equity, social justice, collaboration and progressivism, what I enjoy the most about the work is that no two days are exactly alike. I am never bored – and I never tire of learning about what other food systems planners are doing and how I can bring their work to bear upon my own.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? The current national political climate is increasingly challenging for food systems work. It’s a climate we’ve been living with in Wisconsin for a while now. There’s a short-sightedness and lack of vision at the higher levels of elected office about the multifaceted nature of food systems planning – and how advances in our field translate into advances in neighborhood and community resilience, local and regional economies, public health, you name it. Food systems planning can serve a bridging function across political and economic spectrums, because everybody wants and needs to eat, healthfully, economically and, increasingly, sustainably.

What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work? My organization’s mission is to cultivate healthy, resilient people in healthy, resilient places. Our work is place-based, with community vision leading the way. In our current work, we operate the Badger Rock Center, a collaborative project in Madison, WI, that involves a neighborhood center, a public charter middle school with an urban agriculture curriculum, and a variety of food system-related activities (urban agricultural production, commercial kitchen, winter farmers market). We have been involved in local food policy work in both Madison and Milwaukee, and hold community gardens in trust in Madison.

In the work that you perform, where does addressing food systems issues fit in? How has this changed over time? I’ve worked on many aspects of the food system in planning over my career, from theory-building scholarship to professional practice, from site-specific urban agriculture projects to citywide food policy. What’s compelling to me right now from a planning perspective is cracking large institutional procurement and food supply chain issues, and developing food policy that leads to more resilient local and regional food systems. And, I want to see food justice achieved in the global North and South, though I recognize that the best role I might play in supporting that work may well be one of “stepping up to step back.”

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Absolutely.

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? Well, food systems planning didn’t exist when I first entered the planning field in the early 1980s. I was lucky to have been in the right place at the right time: to participate in the field’s early development in the late 1990s, and to continue working in food systems planning throughout my career. These days, I no longer have to explain – in certain circles, anyway – what a food systems planner does, thanks to the growing interest on the part of the general public in sustainability and resilience.

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? Dale Bertsch and Ken Pearlman, my planning professors at Ohio State, played a pivotal role in shaping my early interests and progressivism. I benefitted from working with them for many years, first as a master’s student, then as managing editor of the Journal of Planning Literature, and finally as a doctoral student. Tim Beatley’s thoughtful engagement and support of my work has been a great help over my entire career, dating back to my time at the Journal. I think I own every book Beatley has ever published.

But without question, Jerry Kaufman has had the deepest, most profound influence on me as an urban planner and food systems planner. I was so incredibly fortunate to become Jerry’s colleague as food systems planning was in its infancy. We worked together for close to a decade at the UW—Madison on research projects, scholarship, and professional practice issues — and then for the rest of his life, as close friends and colleagues on the Growing Power board of directors and as members of APA-FIG. Every professional conversation we had touched upon the food system. Many of the personal conversations did too.

My enthusiasm for food systems planning continues to be fed by the second and third generations of food systems planners, in the breadth, depth and richness of their food systems work. I think of Samina Raja and Kimberley Hodgson especially – and too many others to name! I have a front row seat for a lot of this, in my capacity as a member of APA-FIG’s leadership team.

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? Food systems planning is both a stand-alone area of intensive focus and work, and interdisciplinary and connected to every other subfield of planning. To be successful, you need to be grounded traditional planning skills: systems thinking combined with attention to detail, time and project management, data collection and analysis leading to evidence-based recommendation. But you also need the softer skills of negotiation, mediation, conflict resolution; collaboration, especially in cross-sectoral partnerships; the ability to recognize your own inherent privilege and associated biases; and above all, the ability to listen to what others have to say.

 What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? That there’s lots of room for outside-the-box and creative thinking. I wish I had thirty more years of food systems planning ahead of me – I think it’s the most exciting work to do as a planner.


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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