Faces of Food Systems Planning: Molly Riordan

Name: Molly Riordan

Current Position: Good Food Purchasing Coordinator, City of Philadelphia

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Molly is currently the Good Food Purchasing Coordinator at the City of Philadelphia Department of Public Health Division of Chronic Disease & Injury Prevention. She is responsible for helping implement the City’s Nutrition Standards and increase the amount of local, sustainably-grown, fairly-produced food the City purchases for its food programs at its prisons, summer and after school programs, homeless shelters, and other congregate settings. Beyond purchasing, her work includes policy and program development to support a good food economy in Philadelphia.

Molly earned her Master’s in Regional Planning from Cornell University, and has worked at the intersection of agriculture and economic development through several nonprofits and academic roles. She was a lead author of The Promise of Urban Agriculture, a national study of commercial farming in urban areas, and of Good Eats, an assessment of the Philadelphia food economy’s potential to support health, equity, and economic growth.

What do you enjoy about your work? I get to explore new ideas about what a good food future looks like, and figure out ways to make it happen. The “how” is always more complicated, but working within the confines of a public agency makes me stretch my creative muscles to figure out new ways to achieve that future.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? One of the most challenging parts of my work at the City is raising the profile of food as a priority area. Food system planners know that food cuts across so many other priority areas for city leaders: land use, housing, small business development, large business attraction, health, waste reduction, gardening & farming, education, climate resilience and adaptation, and on and on. But governments don’t often look at systems: they look at specific issues and how to solve the problem at hand. It’s hard to keep people’s attention long enough to explain what “good food” means, let alone get them to envision the multi-pronged approach to realizing a good food economy.

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? The core of my work is focused on food programs funded via public dollars, but to change that food I engage distributors, manufacturers, and restaurants. That means my work is wide-ranging: I work with distributors to develop reporting metrics to find out what percent of City food comes from regional sources; I work with the Drexel Food Lab to engage manufacturers in producing lower-sodium foods that meet good food criteria. I work with groups engaged in urban agriculture and waste reduction to create intersections and synergies that support our vision for a good food future. My work is seeing those synergies through, and every day is different.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? I do consider myself a food systems planner, because while I’m not focused on land use policy or economic development, my work hinges on understanding interrelationships across the food system and developing policy and program recommendations that can advance positive change in one area without having negative consequences in another area. The “plans” may not look like what most planners think of when they think “plan,” but the functions are the same.

What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? Philadelphia has a deep history of urban agriculture, primarily through the work of people of color and especially Black farmers and gardeners. And while the City made some concessions to urban agriculture and ran some of its own programming, there was no plan in place to support growers in securing land and resources to continue to farm. Through a multi-year effort led by urban agriculture advocates and supported by City leaders, staff, and elected officials, we finally got the funding to hire an Urban Agriculture Director who is leading the process of developing an urban ag plan for Philadelphia. It is a strong process rooted in community engagement and undoing white supremacy, and it would not have been possible if that urban agriculture community had not worked together for years to make it happen.

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? It is a lot more varied than what I had originally envisioned, where you are either the Food Policy Director of a city or working for a handful of consulting firms. There are so many ways to work in this field that, on their face, have nothing to do with planning, but in which a planning background truly sets a person apart.

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? Susan Christopherson was my advisor at Cornell and initially woke me up to regional economic development through cluster activities. Becca Jablonski was earning her PhD at Cornell at the same time, and I had the opportunity to work with her on an economic impact assessment of a regional food hub that laid the foundation for the creation of the Local Food Impact Calculator. Working with Becca set me on my path to understanding the potential for regional food distribution as a means of wealth creation in rural areas, and her work continues to inspire me and guide my upstream approach to food systems change.

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? Talk to as many people doing the work you think you’re interested in as you can, and ask them questions. Also, see if they have any jobs available. I did not intern or work in the planning field before entering graduate school, and I think I would have asked more or different questions if I had. Asking others for their expertise—and everyone has expertise—is the primary thing that I learned from planning and what has helped me in my work. You can’t change things through sheer will or good ideas; you have to engage others’ expertise so that together you can come to a better solution than any single person alone could design.

What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school?  How much of the most valuable learning happens outside of the classroom. I worked two part-time jobs while I was in grad school, so I did not have as much time as my classmates for volunteer work weekends or studios that took us off campus for several days at a time. I couldn’t have done much differently from a financial standpoint, but maybe I could have restructured some things to take full advantage of that off-campus learning.

How do you think COVID 19 will shape/change your job/food systems? When COVID-19 hit, it was like everyone who had ever eaten a meal was all of a sudden an expert in the food supply chain and emergency food provision. And while it was tough at first to bring other staff up to speed on what is and is not possible or ideal in that emergency moment, it did make food a priority in a way that it hadn’t been before. And then George Floyd’s murder and the protests for racial justice opened everyone’s eyes to the fact that inequitable food access is a consequence of systemic and institutional racism in the United States. The dual fights to end white supremacy and end food insecurity intersect in food systems planning, and I hope that we can finally use our tools to reshape a future that is better for all of us.

Food Systems Division – Link to join the Division now live on APA

We’re thrilled to announce that the link to sign up for membership for the new APA Food Systems Division is now live! Join us and become a founding member of the Division today.

Visit https://www.planning.org/divisions/food/ to sign up.

Over the next few months, we’ll be transitioning to our new APA website and more information will be available.

Please join us for our first (virtual) member meeting on Thursday, August 27th 6:00 ET. We’ll hold a conversation about the Division’s goals and work plan and learn how you can get involved. We encourage you to register in advance: https://washington.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJMud-iqpjMsG9T264YtcomfMUUEqHr2aHTM This will be the first of our membership meetings that will be held every other month, on the 4th Thursday.

First Membership Meeting
When: Thursday, August 27th 6-7pm ET/3-4pm PT
Where: Online

Register for the Membership Meeting & Happy Hour: https://washington.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJMud-iqpjMsG9T264YtcomfMUUEqHr2aHTM

We hope to see you there!
-The APA Food Systems Division Executive Committee

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.

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

North American Food Systems Network: Connecting Food Systems Practitioners Across the U.S. & Canada

Special Guest Post from the North American Food Systems Network (NAFSN)

As a food systems lexicon continues to grow across academic, public, and private sectors, the practice of food systems work has taken shape.  A focus on how individuals and organizations are doing food system work has developed. By supporting food systems practitioners, The North American Food Systems Network (NAFSN) works to illustrate the true breadth and depth of food systems work, across sectors, within all communities, applicable to everyone who grows, manages, teaches or eats food.

NAFSN is a new organization founded in 2015 offering leadership and technical skills training, networking, and other professional development opportunities for the burgeoning group of individuals supporting the development of equitable and sustainable local and regional food systems. Members range from farm educators and community nutritionists to justice activists and scholars. The mission of this network is to coalesce the current disparate group of practitioners, and build individual and collective capacity to solve pressing food and agriculture issues across the U.S. & Canada.

So how does that happen from all corners of the United States and Canada? Presently, there are many innovative solutions and pioneering organizations working to address and understand the complex issues of food systems; for example, working to eliminate causes of food deserts, obesity, hunger, and other food-related human health issues as well as working to increase sustainable farming practices, ecological and economic health of farms and rural areas, and creating viable markets. There is a need for a holistic collaboration and coordination between and among these efforts.

Leaders are needed to guide and propel projects and insights, and NAFSN aims to provide the tools to build the necessary human capital and create a place for sharing and collective learning. NAFSN expects to see growth of competencies, increased best practices, and more effective targeting of resources as results of its efforts. Currently, NAFSN members are organized around Circles that house work teams. Collaboration, skill and knowledge sharing, and mentorship have driven special projects from certification and training expansion, policy and governance building, and social media and communications development.

 
NAFSN Founding Members are currently working on projects specific to funding, racial equity and inclusion, and member networking. We’d love to hear from you! For more information about our national partner organizations, membership, and current projects check out our website: foodsystemsnetwork.org, or facebook: facebook.com/NAFSN, or e-mail: Membership@FoodSystemsNetwork.org

Food Well Alliance: Changing the Food System from the Ground Up

Food Well Alliance ATL1 Food Well Alliance ATL2

The Food Well Alliance is an Atlanta-based nonprofit organization formed in partnership with the Atlanta Community Food Bank (ACFB) that connects members of the local food movement around building healthier communities, strengthening the local food system and improving lives.   The Alliance amplifies and accelerates metro Atlanta’s local food movement by hosting and organizing events, facilitating working groups and projects, making grants, and providing resources and information to the community at large.

Food Well Alliance serves three primary roles: to connect, to promote, and to mobilize. One of its main purposes is to create a space for nonprofits, community organizers, educators, entrepreneurs, and growers to learn about what others are doing around local food in Atlanta and how the community can align its efforts, identify challenges and barriers, and work collaboratively to strengthen the local food system.  Food Well Alliance provides opportunity to use the collective impact model to hear the local food community’s voice, cooperatively design a solution or program, and then mobilize the resources and funding to implement those solutions.

Young as the Alliance may be, it is deeply rooted in Atlanta’s food system.  It’s Advisory Committee includes a veritable who’s who of Atlanta area food systems, including Bill Bolling, Founder and former Executive Director of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, representatives from the Atlanta Botanical Garden, the Atlanta Regional Commission, Captain Planet, Georgia Organics, and many others (for a full list, click here).

The Alliance has been working hard to assess the needs of the local food community and recently celebrated its first year with a Healthy Soil Festival.  Hundreds of people attended, celebrating efforts to provide greater access to healthy food and learning about the importance of healthy soil – the foundation of a sustainable garden and good food production.

The festival was part of the Alliance’s Healthy Soil, Healthy Community initiative – a series of workshops, demonstrations, soil testing, and other activities organized in partnership with numerous community organizations to support the growth of community gardens and raise awareness about the importance of healthy soil and composting. The initiative offered 30 free public workshops across 5 counties of Metro Atlanta to educate gardeners on the elements of living soil and methods to build soil.  The partners jointly designed a resource guide for Healthy Soil, provided composting signs and bins, and distributed local compost to over 50 community gardens in the region.   Click here for a list of partners.

To strengthen and expand the capacity of local food innovators and entrepreneurs, the Food Well Alliance has partnered with Atlanta’s Center for Civic Innovation to create the Food Innovation Network – a formal network of entrepreneurs, educators, and community organizers dedicated to growing and using local food, starting a food business, nutrition and health, and food access.  The network offers events, trainings, one-on-one advising, and encourages participants to share resources and ideas to help build a stronger Atlanta food system.

 

Connection to Food System Planning:

Food systems planning will be critical to the success of Food Well Alliance.  An assessment of the current landscape is needed in order to have baseline data, to evaluate and measure impact, and to create a roadmap for going forward.  But first, Food Well Alliance is working to convene all of these organizations and people together to explain how collective impact could work in this context, how it serves their needs, and how to best align efforts to bring greater participation and investment to the local food movement in Atlanta.

Throughout the course of its first year, Food Well Alliance discovered a common obstacle to improving food systems: the silo effect. So many people diligently working with local food know that they are part of an interconnected web of educators, producers, consumers, and distributors but they don’t necessarily see it within a local food system framework.  But rather than view this as a barrier, the Alliance chose to view this as an opportunity – coming to a common understanding of what the local food system is, why each piece is important, and how they are all needed for the whole to be successful.

The Community Gardens working group was the first effort to convene a group around a collective impact approach to assess and prioritize community needs.  This group of 7 nonprofit and education leaders shaped the goals and design of the Healthy Soil, Healthy Community Initiative and will do an evaluation of the process and program this winter.  Other working groups are currently in development for 2016, based on priorities and challenges identified by the community.

To learn more, visit Food Well Alliance or find us on Facebook.

 

Photos courtesy of Seanna Berry and Food Well Alliance

Seanna Berry works on research and development at Food Well Alliance and has written on food systems issues nationally and in AtlantaPrior to earning her graduate degree in City and Regional Planning from Georgia Tech, she worked in community food systems growing, processing, selling, and distributing fresh local food. She sees great opportunities to incorporate agriculture into how we shape our neighborhoods and regions.

Erin Thoresen (@ELThoresen) loves food, travel, and thinks a lot about what makes a “good” place. Her work has brought these interests together in food systems planning – helping launch youth-staffed farmers’ markets with Sustainable Long Island and serving on the Suffolk County Food Policy Council. She now works in transportation at Gresham, Smith and Partners in Atlanta and continues her involvement with food systems through APA-FIG.

Produce Incentives Expand from Farmers’ Markets to Grocery Stores

 

Kansas City supermarkets are testing a program that doubles low-income shoppers spending on local produce. Photo by Patty Cantrell.

A popular incentive for low-income shoppers at farmers markets is moving into grocery stores. The expansion promises nourishment for both rural and urban areas.

Around 5,000 low-income shoppers used the program from June through August in a trial run at four Price Chopper supermarkets in metro Kansas City. They spent nearly $30,000 on produce, mostly from smaller scale farmers in the region.

“This is economic development,” said Mark Holland, mayor of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County, Kansas. “It benefits the farmers selling local produce. It helps people who need it most to stretch their food dollars. It also benefits grocery stores; it brings people into the store.”

The Double Up Food Bucks retail expansion in Kansas City provides shoppers who use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamp) benefits with a dollar-for-dollar match on their Price Chopper loyalty cards when they buy up to $25 a day of locally produced fruits and vegetables. They can then use the extra money to buy more of any produce, doubling the amount of healthy food they take home.

“It fit right in with our loyalty card program,” said Mike Beal, chief operating officer for Balls Food Stores, a regional family-owned chain with 15 Price Chopper and 11 Hen House supermarkets in the Kansas City area.

Farmers are also feeling the love.

Balls buys from more than 150 farmers through Good Natured Family Farms. The regional marketing cooperative, or food hub, supplies local products for every department, from produce, dairy and meats to honey and other items like jams and pickles.

Diana Endicott, president of Good Natured Family Farms, said the group’s produce sales are up 20 to 30 percent at the four Double Up Food Bucks test stores.

By Patty Cantrell, Regional Food Solutions

Originally Published 9/18/15 – full article at WallaceCenter.org

Milan’s Urban Food Policy Pact

On World Food Day on October 16th Mayors from 46 cities around the world will sign on to Milan’s Urban Food Policy Pact. Work on the Pact by international experts, the European Union and United Nations began in 2014 to craft the proposal. The pact focuses on equitable and sustainable food systems and includes goals to “develop sustainable dietary guidelines”, “encourage and support social and solidarity economy activities”, “help provide services to food producers in and around cities”, “support short food chains” and “raise awareness of food loss and waste”. Click here to find out more about the pact and which cities will sign on.