Faces of Food Systems Planning: Erin Hardie Hale

ErinHardieHale_headshotErin Hardie Hale is a Research Associate at University of New Hampshire, which coordinates the NH Food Alliance that is developing a statewide food systems strategy, which is connected to the broader New England Food Vision.

This interview was conducted via email and phone by Erica Campbell of the Vermont Farm to Plate Network, and member of the APA-FIG Leadership Team.

What is your current position, and how does your organization engage in food system planning efforts? I am a Research Associate at the NH Food Alliance. The NH Food Alliance aims to be an informed, connected, and active food systems network. We are developing a statewide food systems strategy, which is connected to the broader New England Food Vision. We convene working groups, regional and statewide gatherings, and other opportunities for participants to build relationships that add value to their work. We communicate and share information and resources about the NH food system with the network and general public regularly and in multiple ways. We also collaborate to implement, monitor, and adapt the action priorities identified by network participants.

How long have you held this position? Since 2013

What do you enjoy about your work? I find working in food systems exciting, because figuring out how to feed ourselves is at the core of so many critical issues, including environmental sustainability, social justice, community health, and economic viability.

I also find that people who work in the food system – from producers and entrepreneurs to food access advocates and policymakers – are passionate about what they do. The NH Food Alliance is all about encouraging collaboration in the food system and I love working with and learning from people who love what they do!

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? The complexity of the food system means there’s no one way to address challenges that will satisfy everyone, and finding common ground takes time, trust, and relationship building. There is a constant tension in our network between what many people see as the time intensive work of collaborative planning and building relationships and the need to take action or “do something” concrete.

What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work? The NH Food Alliance connects individuals, organizations, and businesses across the food system so people in sectors that don’t traditionally collaborate can learn from each other and work together toward shared goals. Our first initiative, the Farm, Fish, and Food Enterprise Viability Initiative, is the result of over two years of building our network, listening to hundreds of NH residents, and synthesizing dozens of reports. The common thread emerging from this work is that thriving local businesses are at the heart of our food system and can create cascading benefits for us all. Because we approach viability from a food systems perspective, our goals and approaches go beyond improving the bottom lines for individual entrepreneurs. Instead, we’re looking to create the conditions that support thriving businesses through education, market development, improved food access, and land and sea resource protection.

In the work that you perform, where does addressing food systems issues fit in? How has this changed over time? Everything we do addresses food system issues!

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? Not by training! I have a PhD in agriculture and science education from UC Davis with a focus on coalition building and collaborative learning and research between farmers and conservation groups in California’s Central Valley. I also have a master’s degree from UC Davis in International Agricultural Development, have worked on farms in Oregon and NH, and have extensive experience in agricultural training and education, working with farmers, farmworkers, and rural communities around the globe, from California and Kenya to Bolivia and Egypt.

What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? As I mentioned before, building trust between stakeholders with different perspectives has been a big challenge. There was some skepticism early on about why the UNH Sustainability Institute was taking the lead to coordinate the network building and planning process and so it was difficult at first to get all of the key stakeholders and leaders in the room talking with us. We worked hard to distribute leadership across different groups, make strategic connections, and be very transparent about our process. We also chose to focus our first initiative on viability, in part, because it was an issue that groups across the food system could unite behind.

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? I learned everything I know on the job. Curtis Ogden, our process facilitator, and his organization, the Interaction Institute for Social Change, had a profound impact on the way we approached our network building and planning effort. We’ve also had a very supportive group of other state planners in New England that meets in a monthly Community of Practice call hosted by VT Farm to Plate coordinators, so we were able to learn from other states like Vermont, Maine and Rhode Island that were ahead of us in the process or doing things differently.   Food Solutions New England has also provided an important regional framework and avenue for thinking about planning beyond state borders.

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? I don’t think that we necessarily need new technologies or scientific research to tell us how to grow healthy food and get it to everyone who needs it in an ethical and responsible way. What we really need to know how to do is share ideas and learn from each other. People are making it work in small and big ways all over the region; learning about what works in one place and adapting it for another and supporting that innovation and collaboration is a driving force of the NH Food Alliance.

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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

How to Conduct a Community Food System Assessment- A New Guide for Planners

APA’s current PAS (Planning Advisory Service) Memo focuses on how planners can conduct or support a community in a community food system assessment. A community food system assessment provides a comprehensive tool to identify the assets and barriers for a community’s food system. Conducted at the neighborhood, city, or even regional level, this assessment tool offers a systems approach that provides planners and the community ways to identify issues and solutions, engage the community, and inform policy-making. The Community Food System Assessments (Nov/Dec 2015) Memo, by Kara Martin and Tammy Morales, includes examples of assessments, resources, and a case study on Buffalo, New York to demonstrate how various communities have used this tool.

The Memo is just one of APA’s many resources focused on food system planning. The 2008 PAS Report, Planners Guide to Community and Regional Food Planning (PAS 554), by Samina Raja, Branden Born and Jessica Kozlowski Russell, is particularly helpful for understanding how planners play a role in the food environment. The policy report, Planning for Food Access and Community-Based Food Systems: A National Scan and Evaluation of Local Comprehensive and Sustainability Plans by Kimberley Hodgson (2012), is useful for communities incorporating food access into their comprehensive plans or sustainability plans. Check out these and other APA’s food system publications that can help you and your community in taking steps to building a healthy, equitable food system.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: James O’Neill

JONeillJames O’Neill is a social planner for the City of Vancouver, where he devotes the majority of his time to urban food systems planning and policy work. He is currently responsible for implementing the Vancouver Food Strategy.

This interview was conducted via phone by Kimberley Hodgson, Chair of APA-FIG, on September 24, 2015. The following responses have been edited.

What is your first and last name? James O’Neill

What is your current position? Social Planner, Department of Social Policy, City of Vancouver

How long have you held this position? 5 years

What do you enjoy about your work? I enjoy the ability to see different things that are happening on the ground through my work. There are tangible benefits of working on topics such as food. I enjoy being able to financially support the work of community organizations and witness the effects and outcomes of this funding – how it contributes to building more resilient and sustainable communities throughout the city.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? I find it most challenging to work across and between different topics. Food is a varied and wide topic expanding everything from food production to waste disposal. There are many different things the city can work on, so trying to be strategic when there are competing interests can be challenging.

What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work? In our department, we take a food systems lens on all that we do.

In the work that you perform, where does addressing food systems issues fit in? How has this changed over time? Here in Vancouver, we take a community development and social justice lens on food issues. Although several planners in my department focus on food systems planning and policy, no one has a title other than social planner. This allows our director to move us around, depending on resources and needs. About 85% of my time focuses on food work, and the other 15% focuses on issues concerning older adults and infrastructure development.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? Yes. Although I don’t have that title, I do think I advance the work of food systems and sustainability in the city. And a lot of people look to me and my colleague as the food policy team to implement the actions developed in the Vancouver Food Strategy.

What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? In the past year, the biggest hurdle was the development of the Vancouver Food Strategy. Before its development, there were a number of food policy initiatives, projects, and other programs being led by community and neighborhood groups. The city wanted to support this work, but there was no coordinated policy. There was no one document we could point to and say to city council that this is what we are working on and that the food systems is a priority and is connected to other city issues. It took about 18 months to develop the Vancouver Food Strategy, which elevated the conversation of food policy to a different level to be equal to other city initiatives. We can now sit around the table with the transportation, land use, waste planners, and others to show how food can add value to what they are doing. We now have policy at adopted at the same level and deemed as important as some of these other urban topics.

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? In the beginning food systems planning was an outlier. It was considered grassroots, even radical. But, I think now the perception of food systems planning has changed over the years to be a solid piece of policy and strategic priority for the City of Vancouver, but also for many cities across North America. Many of these cities now see how food can add value and help achieve a number of social, environmental and economic goals.

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? There hasn’t been one particular person. The Vancouver Food Policy Council (VFPC) members have such a passion and interest and depth of knowledge around food. They come with different and unique lenses. Speaking with VFPC members offline and working on different projects to better enable and support the work I am doing, has helped me to stay grounded and move a lot of the work forward.

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? Hone in on food systems planning, but recognize that food systems planning, when working in a municipal setting, is one of many competing and different urban topics. Planners need to be able to understand how cities work, and have a holistic view of planning.

A lot of our success within the City of Vancouver has been around relationship building, or working with other people in different departments across the city. We cannot strengthen our food system alone. We need the parks, sustainability, planning, licensing, transportation, and other departments. We also need to have great relationships with the community and community organizations. Policy within the city is important, but we also want to support the work of community groups.

It’s also important to be strategic, and to anticipate when to push ideas forward or when to hold back. Sometimes things might happen that are out of your control, so it’s important to be patient and wait for future opportunities to move forward on a particular issue.


 

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.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Amy Verbofsky

Verbofsky Photo.jpg

Amy Verbofsky is a planner working at the Office of Environmental Planning at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Laura An, a planning intern at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and a graduate student of planning at the University of Pennsylvania, conducted this interview in October 2015.

What is your first and last name? Amy Verbofsky

What is your current position? Planner in the Office of Environmental Planning at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC)

How long have you held this position? I’ve been in my current position since January 2015, 10 months. But I started at DVRPC as a food systems planning intern 3 years ago.

What do you enjoy about your work? There are always a lot of different things to work on; it’s a very broad topic and involves everything from economics and building the food economy to farmland preservation, and food access. There are lots of ways to get involved.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? You’re always learning as you’re going. I didn’t study food systems in school, but it’s more learning on the job, things like farmland preservation or financing food businesses.

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? Whatever stakeholders want you to focus on. For the last three years, I have worked on a Food Economy Strategy (increasing food access, building economic opportunities through food) for Camden, NJ. A recent project is a Food Promotion Survey for Montgomery County, PA. There are lots of different people in the food systems community and with lots of different interests.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? Yes, but I don’t typically introduce myself that way. It depends on my role in a given project because food systems are only a part of the overall work that I undertake at DVRPC.

What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? Planning can be slow, and often times the area or community you’re working with is changing rapidly. We need to make sure our work is always current and relevant to what’s happening in the community. For example, Camden City is changing significantly in just the past 3 years as several large corporations have announced relocating to take advantage of state tax incentives. The challenges that everyday people face haven’t really changed but the players who are involved in addressing those issues have changed, and therefore have also changed what growth looks like. It’s also difficult when you’re doing long-term work to keep stakeholders engaged over a long period and to ensure that your plan is eventually implemented over time.

Did you know you wanted to go into food systems when you first started that work? In graduate school, I focused on Community and Economic Development. I saw food systems as a way to address community/economic development issues from an equity/poverty perspective. Food systems came along with the internship and job opportunity with DVRPC. It is one way to address the problems I am interested in.

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? Learning just how broad food systems is, particularly that the problems are not just in distressed and low income communities but are also in rural areas. Food systems also incorporates broader topics, not just food access, but everything important to all the different players in food systems. Regional planning helps me see a lot of different perspectives, in different types of communities.

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? In terms of food systems, definitely Alison Hastings, currently DVRPC’s Manager of the Office of Communications and Engagement. From working with her in the past 3 years, watching her and learning how to run meetings, soaking in knowledge. Alison helped me find a niche and supported my career growth. She also transferred a lot of her food systems planning work and knowledge over to me.

Another influence is Samantha Phillips (Director of the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Emergency Management), gave me my first real job before grad school, inspired me to take on more responsibility and bring passion to work in public service. She’s a strong young female leader in government.

And last but not least, Amy Hillier, a professor at University of Pennsylvania who has a dual faculty appointment between the Department of City and Regional Planning and the School of Social Policy & Practice. She has a passion for Philadelphia and for similar issues.

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? Be open to opportunities. There are lots of ways to do food systems planning, and many ways to address all these issues in the food system. It’s helpful to also know how to work with others, building relationships, and finding partners. It’s a small community within food systems so it’s imperative to maintain good relationships.

The skills I use most are: writing, case study research, and meeting facilitation.

What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? Use grad school as a time to make connections, and get experiences like internships. The most valuable things I took away were not necessarily the hard skills, but the opportunity to intern at DVRPC. Being a grad student also gives you the opportunity to network and the opportunity to explore the field.


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.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Laura Raymond

LR head shot 1Laura Raymond is a Commerce Specialist in Small Farm Direct Marketing at the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

Andrea Petzel, member of the APA-FIG Leadership Committee, conducted this interview in October 2015. The following responses have been edited.

What is your current position (include your title and name of organization)? I currently work in a position funded by a federal Specialty Crop Block Grant and my role is to help small and direct marketing farms extend their markets within Washington State’s local and regional food system. These are farms that are selling direct to consumers and more directly to retailers or food services. Our state is unusual because we have so many small and mid-sized farms that grow specialty produce crops and 95% of farms in Washington State are considered small farms

Through extensive outreach I provide farmers with technical assistance to help navigate regulations and permits, and I help them develop marketing strategies and basic best practices for their businesses. There are so many levels of jurisdiction that intersect with growing and selling food, and we help make it easy for farmers to understand.

What do you enjoy about your work? Working with farmers and learning about their particular farms, businesses, and how they’re making it work. There’s so much diversity in people, places and crops, and farmers are really committed; it’s not the easiest place to make it work and they do it because they love it and that’s really inspiring. I also really enjoy being part of re-creating a viable regional food economy.

What do you find challenging about your work? There aren’t always easy solutions and there’s so much regulation, with good reason. But it can be difficult in the moment, when helping a farmer who is doing important, hard work, to remember there’s a good reason for a particular rule. Also, over the last 60 years agriculture and food systems have really been evolved towards to be large scale, industrially-modeled, and globally-oriented. But now there’s growing consumer interest for fresh, healthy food and this means more opportunity for small local farms. In our state increasing numbers of young people are bucking long term trends and are getting into farming. It’s exciting that people think farming is a good way to make their livelihood, and local governments are starting to pay attention and trying to be creative about creating and keeping a vibrant local farming scene.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? No – I’m not sure who the food systems planners really are! Food systems are so vast and interconnected, and are really are about the overlap of food, health, culture, transportation, and land use. Good policy needs input from all those sectors.

Do you have any advice for someone entering the food systems field? Find the thing you really care about and work on it. Find what you can do, connect with other people and do it! There are so many fields that interconnect with food; you can be a graphic designer and work in food systems!


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.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Dean Severson

Severson.jpg.JPGDean Severson is Principal Agricultural and Rural Planning Analyst for Lancaster County Planning Commission in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Laura An, a planning intern at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and a graduate student of planning at the University of Pennsylvania, conducted this interview in October 2015.

What is your first and last name? Dean Severson

What is your current position? Principal, Agricultural and Rural planning analyst, Lancaster County Planning Commission in Pennsylvania

How long have you held this position? 17 years.

What do you enjoy about your work? I like working one-on-one with municipalities.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? Because Pennsylvania is a home-rule state, the county does not implement many plans. It can be frustrating because the planning commission can only advise and recommend, but municipalities, and specifically local officials are responsible for implementation. My priorities or interests aren’t necessarily local officials priorities and interests.

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 focus mainly on traditional land use planning, rural areas, agriculture, and tangentially food systems planning. My primary focus is on agriculture as land use, and then secondly as an economic development issue. I work with municipalities to coordinate their land use planning decisions, help limit amount of development, and direct it to appropriate places, so that agriculture can thrive with little or no interference.

It’s interesting that in my experience, a lot of local planning boards in rural areas are made up of farmers or other people who have some relationship to agriculture or working in the food industry (such as dairy).

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? No, because that’s too narrow. As a land use/community planner, I look at a variety of issues. I don’t really specialize on food system planning, but food systems are definitely a component of land use planning.

What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? Making sure there are connections between agricultural areas and market areas in urban areas and other smaller communities in Lancaster County. Most of Lancaster’s food production is exported out of the county for further value-added processing. But lately I have noticed growth in smaller-scale more direct-to-consumer production. The challenge is making sure there’s an atmosphere where small producers can thrive when competing with large farms for land, provide marketing opportunities for them to get product into local hands. Zoning regulations and farmland programs are more designed for larger farms; we haven’t made the transition to better accommodate or serve smaller farms yet.

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? It’s broadened, seeing all different components of it. First food system planning seemed to be narrowly focused or defined (a food desert). But now I see the big picture – that it encompasses everything in from production to consumer. What’s the planner’s role in that? Making sure there are opportunities for small producers to enter into the market; transportation/infrastructure connections to make sure product can make its way to consumers. We need to look at the importance of agriculture in economic development efforts. And we need to also consider niche agriculture (smaller scale), because those producers have specific needs.

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? Not any one person, but municipal officials who helped put things in perspective. Planners can think that planning issues are most important, but we are probably further down on the list – there are lots of other things that occupy municipal officials’ time and energy. Also – Farmers.

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? Look at the entire spectrum from production to consumption- a failure of a lot of planners is to focus on just the consumption end of food systems. True, we must be aware of the needs of consumers. But we also must determine what limits or prevents producers from expanding their businesses and bringing their products to the market.

I use the same skills for food system planning as I do for land use planning in general: listening with an open mind to hear new ideas.

What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? Planning school doesn’t always prepare you for the day-to-day things. It often promotes this idea that you’ll be creating a grand master plan and that everyone will immediately get on board with it, but the reality is a lot of progress is made incrementally and much rests on developing a working relationship with your planning clients or local officials, and then eventually being able to accomplish things jointly with them over time.


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.