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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Faces of Food Systems Planning: Kimberley Hodgson

KHodgson_2013Apr.jpgKimberley Hodgson, MURP, MS, AICP, RD is the principal and founder of Cultivating Healthy Places, an international consulting business based in Vancouver, BC that specializes in community health, social equity, and resilient food systems planning. Before launching her business in 2012, she worked for the American Planning Association in Washington, DC as a senior research associate and manager of the Planning and Community Health Center. As a certified planner and health professional, her work focuses on conducting policy-relevant research and providing technical assistance on the design and development of healthy, sustainable places. She is a co-investigator of Growing Food Connections, a national project to build local government capacity to strengthen community food systems. She chairs the American Planning Association’s Food Systems Planning Interest Group and serves on the Vancouver Food Policy Council. She is the author of Planning for Food Access and Community-Based Food Systems, co-author of Urban Agriculture: Growing Healthy Sustainable Places and co-author of the Principles of a Healthy, Sustainable Food System.

This interview was conducted via email in March 2017 by Marcia Caton Campbell of the Center for Resilient Cities, and member of the APA-FIG Leadership Committee.

What do you enjoy about your work? I love the variety of work I get to do. As a consultant, I work with a diversity of clients (from developers and municipal governments to large non-profits like universities) on a range of projects (policy identification and analysis, policy-relevant research and evaluation, etc.). My work spans the health, food systems, and planning fields. I never get bored.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? As a trained and certified urban planner and health professional, I sometimes feel that I don’t fit anywhere. I occupy a space in between fields. However, this dual background provides a unique perspective. I am able to navigate between the public health and planning fields.

What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work? My work focuses on the entire food system – from production to waste management, more specifically how urban and regional planners can plan for healthy, sustainable food systems and the role of plans and policies in strengthening local food systems.

In the work that you perform, where does addressing food systems issues fit in? How has this changed over time? Before becoming a planner, my work focused on nutrition and food access. While a dietetic intern in New York City, I was exposed to health and food access inequities faced by low-income residents. Many of my clients did not have a grocery store in their neighborhood or had to travel long distances to access healthy, affordable foods. This experience sparked my interest in urban planning. While nutrition education is important, I realized I was more interested in how the built and natural environments impact a person’s health behavior. Although my path was not linear, I ended up pursuing a second master’s degree in urban and regional planning. This degree allowed me to think about specific health inequities in different ways, about how an individual’s neighborhood can support or inhibit health and well-being.

My career in food systems planning initially focused on food access and equity, but the more work I did in the field, the more I realized that food access is a systems problem. A problem that is greatly impacted by how and what type of food is produced, how it is aggregated, distributed and processed, etc. Urban planners are trained to think in systems – how everything is connected to everything else. My work with the American Planning Association taught me that the food system is connected to other urban food systems – land use, transportation, solid waste, housing, air and water, and more. It is not an isolated system and shouldn’t be treated in isolation.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? I consider myself an urban planner with a specialization in community health planning and food systems planning.

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? For the past decade, my perception of food systems planning has evolved. I have been very fortunate to lead national research studies that have identified and explored how local governments and planners are planning for healthy, sustainable food systems. These studies have shaped my perception of the field and expanded how I view food systems planning.

Additionally, I have served as a member of the Vancouver Food Policy Council (VFPC) since 2012. This all volunteer civic advisory committee has helped me to experience the challenges residents and community groups face in affecting policy changes.

Who (or what) has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? I have been very fortunate to work with brilliant people throughout my career as a planner. Several people have had a huge impact on my work: Joseph Schilling, Jerry Kaufman, Samina Raja, Marcia Caton Campbell, Kami Pothukuchi, Nisha Botchwey, Bill Klein. Each of these people have mentored me at one point in time and taught me about the importance of community engagement, equity and sustainability within food systems planning.

My life experiences have also had a tremendous influence on me as a planner. I am passionate about food systems equity and justice work, in part because I grew up in a low-income family and was a recipient of free and reduced priced lunches and food stamps. I have first-hand knowledge of food insecurity.

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? A degree in urban planning is essential. While my background in food policy and nutrition has helped me in my career, my urban planning degree has allowed be to think about the bigger picture: how land use, transportation, solid waste, housing, development, and other decisions made by municipalities and counties influence the food system. How everything is connected. My urban planning degree has also provided me with a robust understanding of local government policy. That said, many universities offer a food system course. These courses, whether or not they are housed in planning, offer a chance to explore food system issues.

Traveling and living in a number of different places has exposed me to a number of urban planning and food systems issues. I grew up in a suburb of Dallas, TX, lived and worked in New York City; Paris, France; Boston, MA; Blacksburg/Roanoke, VA; Alexandria, VA; Washington, DC; and Vancouver, BC.

In terms of consulting, skills in time, budget, and project management are essential. I was fortunate to learn them in a previous job. Without them consulting would be daunting.

What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? One thing planning school doesn’t teach you is to think “outside the box” in terms of jobs and career possibilities. Being a public sector planner or working for a private firm are not the only job positions available to planners. I have met so many “undercover” planners working in various non-planning jobs and doing amazing food systems work.


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.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Megan Bucknum

MB.JPGMegan Bucknum is ¾ faculty with the Department of Geography, Planning and Sustainability at Rowan University in New Jersey where she currently teaches planning courses, including food systems planning. As a consultant, she has worked on food projects throughout the country and has held staff positions at New Venture Advisors LLC, Philly CowShare, The Food Trust, Fair Food Philadelphia and the Wallace Center at Winrock International, as well as assisting with the University of Vermont’s inaugural Food Hub Management Certificate course. She has been a contributing author to a the planning guide Building Successful Food Hubs, the Healthy Food in Small Stores report, and the book “Reclaiming Our Food: How the Grassroots Food Movement is Changing the Way We Eat.” Megan serves as a board member for the Share Food Program in Philadelphia, and is a member of the APA-FIG Leadership Committee.

This interview was conducted via email in March 2017 by Laine Cidlowski, member of the APA-FIG Leadership Committee.

What is your current position? Part-time Faculty at Rowan University (NJ) + Independent Consultant

How long have you held this position? Just over 3 years, with different degrees of teaching/consulting split

What do you enjoy about your work? Listening to and learning from people’s agrarian experiences. The majority of my consulting work has been conducting primary research, mostly through interviews, and facilitating public meetings. Through this work, I have been able to talk with and meet people from across the food supply chain in the quest to find where there are barriers and opportunities to increase the amount of regional food available within an area. The great part about splitting my time between consulting and teaching is that I get to help spread the stories of food producers to the next generation.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? This field has a lot of turnover, mostly due to the predominance of grant-funded positions within the subject area. I feel that it can be hard for projects and initiatives to create projects based on institutional knowledge because of staff turnover. Additionally, I think improvement can be made to try to connect various efforts within the good food movement to ensure that projects are not recreating the wheel.

What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work? While my career focus has been varied, the majority of my work (and interest) has been in regional food distribution and procurement, specifically integrating regionally produced food into conventional distribution routes. While this focus is very distinct, achievement of this goal will have wide benefits for both producers and consumers of regional food.

In the work that you perform, where does addressing food systems issues fit in? How has this changed over time? Addressing the food system has always been the core of the jobs that I have held.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? Building upon my previous answer, I have always sought after jobs that are completely food systems related. Because of this I have held a lot of nontraditional planning jobs and have often referred to myself as a “quasi planner.” I always preface my Introduction to Planning courses by mentioning how I am a planner, but a bit of a weird one.

The majority of the food-related jobs and projects on which I have worked may not seem fully planning related on the surface, like conducting a food hub feasibility study. However successfully implementing food systems projects requires working on more traditional planning related tasks, like farmland conservation, economic development incentive packages and making sure there are adequate accessible commercial properties available.

What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? In my opinion, over (or premature) investment in infrastructure is a hurdle to food systems projects. While it may be look great for a food systems related project to have a large warehouse, or for a municipality to have been able to offer subsidization for that project, if the business model is not secure, this project will likely not be viewed as a success for long.

An alternative is to have municipalities assist in the business development phase of a food-based project by leveraging a collaborative planning approach. This technique can help qualify and quantify regional food supply and demand as well as make connections that could be used for infrastructure sharing.

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? The more time I spend in this field, the more I favor public-private partnerships to implement food systems projects, especially those associated with regional food supply chain development. Because the market is still developing for source-identified foods, some financial assistance may be necessary to jump start programs, projects and businesses. I have seen more success in projects that have forged a public-private partnership to secure some of this assistance than projects that are fully grant funded.

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? My graduate advisor at the University of Virginia Tanya Denckla Cobb. Not only did she deepen my understanding of the food system in general, but she taught me the most valuable tool to any project and community development: facilitation. Drawing from her experience as a trained mediator and facilitator, she taught me how to conduct a successful interview, facilitate a meeting and design a project plan that allows for public inclusion in a meaningful way. Lastly, she taught me to ask people, “if you had a magic wand, what would you do?” I cannot tell you the wealth of information I have unearthed by asking this question…right after the interviewee asks if I’m serious.

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? Work in this field before you consider any academic training, even undergraduate education! Yes, this is coming from someone who teaches at a university and teaches a food systems planning course. Because this field is so specific, I think people really need to be sure that they want to focus on this before they make the financial commitment to a traditional education experience. If you are interested in working in the food system, start at the source: the farm. Apprentice on a farm and consider a Food Systems 101 class; feel free to email me and I’ll send you a list of readings to accompany your work experience.

The skill I use most in my food systems work that has allowed me to successfully contribute to projects is listening. Truly listening to people, not just hearing them, will reveal both hurdles — as well as their possible solutions — in our food system. People experiencing a problem have often thought about a solution. Try asking them about their ideas.

What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? A little bit more about the discipline! I embarrassingly did not know a lot about this field, I had to look up who Jane Jacobs way the first week of classes.


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.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Amanda Wagner

WagnerAmanda Wagner is the Nutrition and Physical Activity Program Manager for Get Healthy Philly, a program of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, working with stakeholders across the city to help Philadelphians eat healthy and be active.

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? Amanda Wagner

What is your current position? Nutrition and Physical Activity Program Manager – Get Healthy Philly – Philadelphia Department of Public Health

How long have you held this position? Since January 2014. Prior to this position I was the Food Policy Coordinator with Get Healthy Philly since 2010.

What do you enjoy about your work? I enjoy working across departments and sectors; looking into “policy, systems, and environmental” change opportunities; and making connections between individual, environmental, and public health.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? Identifying leverage points to make things happen at scale; balancing implementing initiatives and taking time to measure/assess outcomes and make tweaks as necessary; navigating bureaucracy, funding, and capacity.

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? Consumption and food retail including healthy food access in communities (corner stores, Chinese takeout, farmers’ markets, SNAP incentives, etc), institutional food procurement (city departments, hospitals, food programs); food access initiatives (including coordinating with Food Access Collaborative, City shelters, and feeding programs such as summer, afterschool, school lunch and breakfast). I am also starting to do more work with production. We received a recent grant on health impacts of urban gardening and greening on brownfields. I also work on integrating health (including healthy food access) into planning and zoning; and looking at opportunities to partner more with manufacturing, distribution, and food waste recovery.  

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? Yes and no. I think of myself as a planner whose work includes food system issues, but I also do a lot of implementation and policy work, and integrating with other health issues such as active design, physical activity and health equity.  I do oversee a “Healthy Communities Planner” who is integrating health into planning and zoning, and we do create and implement strategic plans that involve food system issues.  

What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? Identifying ways to address deep rooted poverty in Philadelphia, while making a livable wage for farmers in agriculturally-steeped region and workers throughout the food-chain. An ongoing process to be addressed that also involved building on the community, non-profit, and academic capital we also have on hand.

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? It needs to be married to economic realities and policy/implementation.

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? Alison Hastings has had a tremendous impact on me! She was my first supervisor after planning school and working on food system planning.  She demonstrates the effectiveness of bringing together planners with other stakeholders, and using planning tools and data to move projects forward. I was also influenced by a trio of professors at Penn’s Planning school – Tom Daniels (farmland preservation), Domenic Vitiello (urban agriculture and food justice), and Amy Hillier (food and health).

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? Knowing GIS and spatial analysis is helpful everywhere, also use skills in projection, stakeholder convening, good PPT design, bridging spatial and other factors together.

What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? Carefully think about compensation and student loan debt!  And get a good combination of hard and soft skills in your coursework.


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. 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.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Andrea Petzel

APetzel.jpgAndrea Petzel, AICP, is the principal of Broadview Planning, a women-owned consulting firm specializing in community planning and public engagement. Before founding Broadview Planning in 2014, Andrea was a project manager and senior urban planner for the City of Seattle. During her time at the City of Seattle, Andrea led the legislative process for the city’s Urban Agriculture Ordinance, one of the nation’s first comprehensive urban agriculture ordinances aimed at removing barriers to growing and producing local food. In 2016, Andrea made the shift from policy to practice by starting her own backyard urban farm, Alouette Acres.

Andrea serves on APA-FIG’s Leadership Committee and was interviewed by Valerie Pacino on February 28, 2017.

How long have you been in this position? I founded Broadview Planning three years ago after leaving a position with the City of Seattle’s Office of Sustainability and Environment. While I was at the City of Seattle, I was lucky to work on a wide range of policy projects, from food systems and health impact assessments to energy efficiency and workforce development. When I left, I was eager to find a new opportunity to continue to work on a wide range of policy and public process projects. I quickly realized consulting was the best fit for my skills and interests, and so I created that role for myself by starting my own firm.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? No, I consider myself a traditional land use planner, but I seek out projects at the nexus of health, sustainability, and the built environment. I’ve been really lucky to work on some exciting food systems work, but I wouldn’t say I’m a food systems planner.

How did you get involved in food systems planning? Through my work on the City of Seattle’s Urban Agriculture ordinance, the goal of which was to reduce code barriers to growing and selling food in city. Through the policy development process, I was introduced to a great network of food systems planners, academics, urban farmers, and non-profit organizations all working towards a shared goal of increasing access to local grown, healthy food. It was a really exciting project, because at the time no other city had legislated a comprehensive approach to allowing urban agriculture in the city. It was thrilling to lead such a creative and collaborative policy development process that laid the groundwork for a much larger conversation about health and planning at the City of Seattle. The success of the Urban Agriculture ordinance led us to pursing federal funding to develop Seattle’s Healthy Living Assessment (HLA), a framework to assess health impacts at the neighborhood level. We worked to create clear, measurable metrics to assess community health at the neighborhood level using data that was easy to access, and readily used by community members in order to track progress toward health outcomes. The project was awarded a 2013 National Planning Achievement Award for a Best Practice from APA.

What do you enjoy about your work? The range of projects I get to work on brings me joy, and I thrive on bringing a health and food systems perspective to new clients and projects. I also love learning new things and thinking through new ideas, so I launched my own urban farm endeavor, and watching how policy translates into the real-life practice of growing and selling food is fascinating.

What do you find challenging about your work? Definitely getting people to make the link between food systems and the built environment. Also getting policy makers to embrace genuine community engagement in order to understand the very real challenges of people doing the work they’re trying to legislate.

Any advice to people who want to work in food systems planning? I believe a solid grounding in traditional land use planning is essential. Find a network of people doing the work you’re interested in and engage with them however you can – be curious, persistent, and helpful. Join APA-FIG! Also, find out what’s happen in your community and get involved with local projects.


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.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Ben Kerrick

Ben Kerrick head shotBen Kerrick has been a consultant with Karen Karp & Partners in New York City for nearly three years. Ben has a wide range of life experiences and technical expertise, all of which he brings to bear on his work as a food systems planner. With nationally renowned food system consultant Karen Karp, Ben co-hosted the 2015 Heritage Radio Network podcast series, How Great Cities Are Fed. Inspired by W.P. Hedden’s 1929 book of the same name, Karen and Ben examine food systems in historical and contemporary terms through topics such as refrigeration, foodsheds, transportation, and “the middlemen.” Karen and Ben are joined by guest experts and friends from the food sector as they delve into the issues and hidden workings of how our great cities are fed.

This interview was conducted via email on July 5, 2016, and was edited by Marcia Caton Campbell. She highly recommends binge listening to How Great Cities are Fed on your favorite podcast subscription service.

What do you enjoy about your work? We work all across the food chain, and as consultants our work is project-based, so there’s a tremendous variety and dynamism to the work – no two days are the same. So far this year my work has included designing a kitchen and café program for a social services non-profit, assessing a food bank supply chain, developing a concept for a new food education hub in a small town, and researching feasibility and market demand for a new slaughterhouse in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. So it’s really engaging, and we often get to see the way our work impacts organizations and people in tangible ways. I also get to make maps and other data visuals fairly often, which I get a big kick out of. And, you know, I love to eat, so I feel pretty lucky that I get to talk and think about food every day.

My background is in the arts – I have a degree in theater, and I spent five years working for a New York City arts non-profit – so I also enjoy being able to draw on that experience whenever I can, whether in our event design projects, or by engaging with artists and designers whose work deals with issues of food, agriculture, and sustainability.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? There’s so much to learn. Food systems are so complex – I sometimes feel overwhelmed by how much I don’t know. But that’s also what keeps it exciting and interesting, and I learn something new every day and with every project. I ask a lot of questions.

Another challenging and engaging dimension of food systems work is that food is so fundamental to daily life – we all eat, everyday – so people have strong personal feelings and opinions about food, and the stakes often feel high. But that also convinces me that this work matters. And it’s rewarding when you can work with a diverse group of stakeholders to find some new solution to a gap in the food system.

What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work? As I mentioned, we work all along the food chain. I’m the only one trained as a planner on staff, so I do tend to work on the more “planner-y” projects – community or regional food assessments, economic development through food business, things like that. I’ve also done food access-oriented work with food banks and social services organizations. We do event design and facilitation for food-related events (such as the James Beard Foundation Food Conference), and with my background in theater and the arts, I work on those as well. Others in our company focus on different areas, like culinary education, supply chain analysis, and program design and evaluation (though much of my work touches those things too).

In the work that you perform, where does addressing food systems issues fit in? How has this changed over time? I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that most or all of the work I do addresses food systems issues. It just depends on the lens you’re using, and how explicit it is. Sometimes it’s a community saying, “Research and assess our food system, identify issues and needs, and help us find opportunities for improving it.” Other times it’s an independent entity like a non-profit or business doing something that touches food, and we’re working on some narrow component of it – but even in that case, the first thing we do is always to contextualize that program within the larger food system.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? Absolutely. All of my work relates to food systems planning in some way.

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? I came to the broader field of planning by way of food systems planning – not vice versa. I went to graduate school knowing I wanted to study food systems, and did dual Master’s degrees in Environmental Science and City & Regional Planning. So I entered the urban planning world sort of thinking everyone else would be as excited about food systems as I am, which needless to say wasn’t exactly the case. But I was lucky that there were some great food systems-oriented opportunities in my planning program, and I’ve been very lucky to continue that trajectory into my current work.

But I think food systems planning is still kind of a blip in the larger world of planning. In most contexts, when I’m talking to someone new, I have to explain what food systems planning is – the phrase alone usually elicits blank stares. I go to a monthly happy hour with LGBT urban planners, and even people I meet there – practicing urban planners! – don’t usually know about food systems planning as a field and discipline. I experience the same thing at the APA conference. That all being said, I do think there’s more and more food systems planning happening out there, and I think it will continue to grow.

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? Dr. Casey Hoy was my advisor at Ohio State University – and after I graduated I managed the Agroecosystems Management Program that he directs. He really instilled in me a willingness to not shy away from areas of daunting complexity in food systems research, and a deep commitment to robust, rigorous data analysis – and the ability to communicate that analysis clearly and effectively. Casey is great at getting a diverse group of stakeholders to the table and “translating” between the different languages that, say, farmers, academics, policymakers, and businesspeople use. That skill is crucial to successful food systems work, and I try to get better at it with every project. If the people you bring to the table all speak the same language, you’re probably not trying hard enough to get diverse voices into the conversation.

And now I have the pleasure of working with an outstanding staff at KK&P – we all bring something different to the table and I learn from each of them every day. Karen Karp has been doing this work for over 25 years, so she was really early on the scene of food systems work (though I’m not sure that phrase would have been used then). My background is firmly in the non-profit/public service/academic world, whereas Karen came to this work through restaurant and business consulting. So working with Karen has really broadened my knowledge and toolkit in terms of working with food businesses and entrepreneurs to create a more resilient food system. Karen, like Casey, is also a really skilled facilitator of diverse stakeholder groups, so I learn a lot from her in how she approaches those conversations.

Do you have any advice for someone entering the food systems planning field? What skills do you use the most in your food systems planning related work? I think effective food systems planners need to be both generalists and specialists. So I would advise an aspiring food systems planner to get exposure to as much of the food system as possible – agriculture, processing, distribution, retail, institutional feeding, food access work, the list goes on – to build an understanding of how the pieces fit and relate to each other. And whenever a particular topic or area really catches your interest, dig deep to develop more specialized expertise. I wouldn’t say I’ve been especially strategic about picking my areas of expertise, but I’ve followed my interests and passions and that has served me well.

I also think effective stakeholder engagement and facilitation is absolutely foundational to successful food systems work that pursues sustainability, resilience, and equity. Keep asking, “Who’s not at the table? Whose voices are being left out of this conversation, and how can we include them?” I’ve never taken formal facilitation training, but it’s central to the work that we do, and I would highly recommend seeking training or opportunities for learning about stakeholder engagement and facilitation.


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.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Laine Cidlowski

LCidlowski.JPGLaine Cidlowski, AICP, LEED-AP is the Food Policy Director for the District of Columbia Office of Planning in Washington, DC. She was previously the Lead Urban Sustainability Planner for the Office of Planning where she was the project manager for the Office of Planning for the Sustainable DC initiative and Plan to make the city the healthiest, greenest, and most livable city in the United States. Prior to joining OP in March 2008, she worked as Planner-Urban Designer for the Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning Commission in Prince George’s County Planning Department. She holds a Masters Degree in City and Regional Planning – Certificate in Urban Design from the University of Pennsylvania and B.A. Degree from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill in Environmental Studies. Laine is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, and serves as a Co-Chair for APA-FIG.

This interview was conducted via email in March 2017 by Megan Bucknum, member of the APA-FIG Leadership Committee.

What is your current position? District of Columbia Food Policy Director, DC Food Policy Council and DC Office of Planning

How long have you held this position? Around a year and a half

What do you enjoy about your work? I love working with so many committed and dedicated activists and community organizers from diverse areas of the food system. It is really inspiring to see their creativity and enthusiasm as they come up with new programs to help build and support our local food system. I feel really honored to be able to build on their work and scale-up solutions for healthy food access, urban agriculture, procurement, food justice, food businesses and more at the citywide level. My job entails different things every day, and I enjoy that variety.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? First, the problems we face in food systems are deeply rooted in institutional racism, justice, and poverty. Although these cross-cutting systematic injustices are often the precursors to food justice programs, it’s important to understand that solving these problems cannot be done fully within food systems work. Prioritizing and focusing within such a vast field can also be a challenge, especially when there are so many different programs and organizations taking different tactics at how to approach the same issues.

What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work? Since I work at the citywide level, I work on a bit of everything. I coordinate for more than ten agencies of the District of Columbia who have responsibility over their respective part of our local food system, and also manage our Food Policy Council (FPC). Our FPC works on sustainable food procurement, food equity, food access, nutrition and health, food business, and urban agriculture issues.

In the work that you perform, where does addressing food systems issues fit in? How has this changed over time? Everywhere! This position was just created in 2015, so before I was hired, no one was looking at food issues systems wide.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? I’d say I do now, though my undergrad degree was in environmental studies, and my Masters in city planning and urban design. I worked my way to food systems through green infrastructure and sustainability, which I think are all interconnected, although my academic training did not focus on food systems.

What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/ organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? Access to grocery stores in low-income communities is the toughest issue for us, and the most urgent to get a handle on. Residents in our wealthiest neighborhoods have one grocery store per 13,000 residents. In our poorest areas, it’s almost 1 per 70,000. Nothing is a higher priority for us than to get full-service grocery options in those areas.

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field?I’ve always thought of it as a city or regional level system, but the more and more I learn about the field, the more interested I am in the behavioral psychology aspect of the issue. So much is influenced not just but the built environment and community but also by the choices of individuals, corporations, governments, and communities. Individual and group choice has a huge impact on our food systems as a whole, so gaining a better understanding of how and why people make decisions around food will help us to take a much more nuanced approach to our work in the future.

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? My prior boss, Harriet Tregoning had a huge influence on me. She taught me a lot about the power of being really strategic with your efforts at work, to use a combination of storytelling and data to persuade and work with decision-makers to make change in a community. She’s a really thoughtful and curious leader who always wanted to know the why and the detail of our efforts. She would encourage us to take risks, fail, and figure out how to quickly glean lessons from our failure and try again.

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? Don’t just send a blitz of copy and paste informational interview emails. So many young people are interested in this field right now, which is really wonderful; however I, and many of my colleagues get lots and lots of informational interview requests. The ones that get responses from me are the ones that are specific and provide some detail about why you’d like to talk to me specifically (i.e. you did a little research) rather than a blanket request.

Relationship building, making connections, and networking is almost as important as your work itself. If you have good relationships established, not associations based on needing something from someone, it is much easier to find common ground to work on a project or issue later. Those are skills that translate across many fields, but it is especially true for food systems.

What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? Take a zoning class, a law class, a regulatory class and a negotiation class. Knowing and understanding the regulatory system can help you understand the context for your work. Learning the art of negotiation can help you better understand the needs/wants of the people you work with.


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.