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

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JOB OPENING: City of Baltimore City Planner II

City Planner II list is currently opened (http://agency.governmentjobs.com/baltimorecity/default.cfm) until June 30, 2016. If you know anyone who has an interest and qualifies, please share this information.

When there are food access planner position openings anytime throughout this year, the city must refer to the city planner II list that is generated from this posting. Therefore, if you have any interest in working for department planning as a food access planner now or within the year, than apply now to be on the list- application due by June 30th. This is the list we will use throughout the year for any food access planner job openings.

No calls or emails please.

JOB OPENING: City of Madison, WI Food Policy Coordinator

The City of Madison is hiring a Food Policy Coordinator. This position will direct food policy work for the City of Madison by providing leadership and strategic direction to policymakers and stakeholders including, but not limited to, policy development, coordination, implementation, and analysis.  This position will also oversee several food-related programs and provide administration and analysis of the programs. The position will have an intense focus on increasing equitable access to healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food to all communities and developing polices that positively impact the health and well-being of all residents of the City of Madison and beyond.

See full position description here.

Apply for this position by June 23, 2016.

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.

Job Opening: Planner II (CITYlab Team), Lead the implementation of “fresh”: Edmonton’s Food & Urban Agriculture Strategy

The City of Edmonton is hiring a Planner II to lead the implementation of Edmonton’s Food and Urban Agriculture Strategy. See the link for more details.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Jaspal Marwah

IMG_3963 - Version 2Jaspal Marwah is a regional planner working for Metro Vancouver, a regional planning agency, in Burnaby, BC. He is responsible for developing an action plan to implement the Metro Vancouver Regional Food System Strategy.

Kimberley Hodgson, Chair of APA-FIG, conducted this interview via email in October 2015.

What is your first and last name? Jaspal Marwah

What is your current position? Regional Planner, Metro Vancouver, Burnaby, BC

How long have you held this position? 2 years

What do you enjoy about your work? I like the variety of assignments and projects that I’m able to participate in – from technical work like processing requests to change land use designations, or assisting municipal partners in aligning their planning processes with the regional growth strategy, or championing a new plan or strategy like the regional food system action plan. My area of focus tends to also be in social planning issues, which I find rewarding to participate in. And it’s also interesting to focus on the connections and opportunities for local governments to collectively advance initiatives that are region-wide.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? Working at a regional scale doesn’t have the same level of engaging technical, hands-on, on the ground type of planning work that happens at the municipal level. And political interests are always a challenge to navigate.

What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work? I’m working on an action plan to implement our regional food system strategy. My focus is on convening all of the local governments in Metro Vancouver to assess the current state of activity related to the region’s food system, to map out what’s happening on the ground in the next 5 years, and to address areas that need more effort. This initiative focuses specifically on the dimensions of the food system that local government have immediate control over and can directly engage with.

In the work that you perform, where does addressing food systems issues fit in? How has this changed over time? My involvement with food systems planning started out working with colleagues to plan and deliver a consultation series on different aspects of the regional food system, including some analysis of the feedback and outcomes. Following that, the food system portfolio migrated from a different department into the planning department, where I was able to take the lead on moving things forward in developing a regional food system action plan. Currently, food systems planning remains one of my lead projects.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? I consider myself a planner who is fortunate enough to be involved in food policy and food system issues. Although I enjoy being engaged in the regional food system, it is only one dimension to my overall planning work.

What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? One of the biggest challenges is in securing and sustaining political and organizational support for bringing food system issues into the local government sphere of activity. Some don’t always see the important role that local governments have in supporting the food system. Building connections among local governments helps create a network of peers and practitioners to learn from, and to develop common approaches and language around integrating food system issues into local government processes. Similarly, building relationships between local government and civil society groups seems to be a very effective approach to enabling a lot of on the ground activity.

How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? I started off in the green development/ sustainability policy field, and wasn’t aware of food systems and the connection with planning at that time. Since then, I’ve seen the steady growth of food systems issues in general within my community, and increasingly in the realm of local government interests. It is now a burgeoning field with opportunities for practitioners and supporters in the public, private and non-profit sectors.

Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? The colleagues and partners I worked with when I first started out in the consulting field helped provide perspective and experience to learn from and to understand the field more holistically. For food systems planning, my peers Janine de la Salle and Mark Holland have always been passionate voices and innovators in the field, and have helped bring food systems planning to the forefront of planning practice in Vancouver.

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 feel constrained by job titles or even distinctions between public/private/non-profit sectors – there are many paths that lead to food systems planning. Look for opportunities to be involved in food systems issues in your community – there are non-profits that are always looking for assistance, and who are doing a lot of the ‘on the ground’ work; municipal advisory committees with opportunities to be involved as a citizen; attend council meetings for food systems issues to get a sense of the discussion, debate, areas of concern from a local government perspective; and, if one is working in a planning company that doesn’t have any food systems experience, there’s an opportunity to bring the issue to the table as part of other projects. Like any planning work, the skills involved are varied and depend on the nature of your work, but some skills are always helpful, such as: systems thinking (to consider how all parts of the food system interact), facilitation (sooner or later you’ll be involved in some form of consultation and group work) and relationship-building (positive and productive relationships with other agencies is key to advancing food systems issues).

What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? Planning is a broad, generalized field and has as many dimensions as it has practitioners. The education helps give one a sense of the field, but the real learning really only happens after planning school once you’re practicing!


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: Helen Schnoes

IMG_20150412_170915Helen Schnoes is the Food Systems Coordinator for Douglas County, Kansas. As a recent graduate of planning school, and a recent hire occupying a newly created position, Helen provides a unique perspective on defining her food systems planning work. Her work focuses on a variety of local food system development initiatives, including food hubs, farmers markets, farm to school, food policy council support, and food system assessment. She is also an active member of APA-FIG’s Policy Working Group.

To learn more about the innovative food systems planning and policy work of Lawrence and Douglas County, click here.

Kimberley Hodgson, Chair of APA-FIG, conducted this interview via email in October 2015.

  1. What is your first and last name? Helen Schnoes
  2. What is your current position? Food Systems Coordinator, Douglas County, KS
  3. How long have you held this position? Since April, 2015
  4. What do you enjoy about your work? I enjoy working with a wide range of people throughout the community, and the chance to balance an appreciation for the local context with bringing new ideas to the table and learning from the work happening elsewhere. I get to staff our food policy council, a group of 23 stakeholders who advise our county and city commissions on food systems issues. It has also been rewarding to provide a supporting role to increase public input into policy change–and learn on the ground about the technical details of these processes/policies at the same time.
  5. Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? Defining what it is! With just under 6 months at this job, I’ve learned a lot, but am still figuring out how to define the “scope” of what I’m doing. As a new role in county government, I talk a lot with my boss about what our place in the community is to support local food development and community health–and what “food systems” issues we can actually meaningfully address at the local scale. Recently, figuring out how to frame issues, especially how food “connects” issues beyond its materiality, has been on my mind. There’s a lot of powerful writing and thinking nationally about food issues and planning–but translating that into practical, on the ground action is an intellectual and professional challenge–though quite an exciting one to have the chance to tackle! On a practical level, too, I’m in a grant-funded position, so its tenure is limited in its initial composition, and dependent upon Congress. (But we are thinking about future options.)
  6. What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work? It’s a mix: Local food system development, including food hub creation and fostering wholesale opportunities for small-scale farmers; supporting farmers markets; farm to school purchasing processes; food policy council support/facilitation; communications and public messaging, including a focus on health; local food system assessment (across sectors) and planning.
  7. In the work that you perform, where does addressing food systems issues fit in? How has this changed over time? It’s everywhere! My role is funded by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) grant our health department received, so some of my key priorities are guided by that (wholesale local food purchasing, including farm to school and public promotion for local, healthy foods). But that work is also closely tied to other opportunities that arise in the community–including the food plan that the steering committee leading our comprehensive plan update tasked the food policy council to create for the next year, and the revision to our local urban agriculture policies, which the city commission tasked Planning with this summer. I’ve helped with public outreach and draft review.
  8. Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? With just over a year since completing my planning master’s degree, I do find that the planning lens really influences how I think about the work and how I see myself relating to the various stakeholders and community members I engage with. Attending the national APA conference in Seattle and participating with APA-FIG further help me maintain this identification with food systems planning even though some of my days are not as closely related to “planning,” per se. The chance over the coming months to help create a local food plan and update our food system assessment, however, present an exciting opportunity to really delve into food systems planning and, hopefully, anchor it locally in our long-range planning and policy priorities.
  9. What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? When our first food system assessment was conducted over five years ago, after our food policy council formed, the report pointed to local food infrastructure and food security as key areas needing attention. This has guided a lot of work since then, including creating a community garden program on city land, receiving a USDA grant to conduct an in-depth feasibility study and farmer/buyer outreach about building a regional food hub, and creating a matching program for SNAP at Farmers Markets–launched by and still partially-funded by local government. Since arriving this past April, I’m working with the core group of farmers leading the formation of the food hub and we worked with them to apply for additional USDA funds to help launch their aggregation business. Our Chamber is working with them to disburse other start-up funds our food policy council received to support the effort. Now that we’re launching an update of that first food system assessment, we’re talking about how we can integrate labor concerns, river environmental health, and even housing affordability to continue pushing how we (and our leaders) understand and address food security. Both local food aggregation (and growing the production/viability of small-scale farmers), especially in Kansas, and food security are long-term issues with many non-local influences. However, I’ve been impressed by the continued energy in this community to maintain commitment to these efforts.
  10. How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? Not a lot of people know what food systems planning is! (Although I do think my mom gets it now.) I’m still working on how to simply talk about the type of work I’m doing. However, as a young professional, I’m very excited to be entering the planning field at this time that food systems issues really are further establishing themselves within the profession. The question of scale is also very clear in my mind since taking a job in local government, and how influential state and regional dynamics can be–yet at times beyond our immediate sphere of action for the majority of our work. But, this intrigues me to continue thinking about alternative approaches, opportunities for coordination and collaboration, etc. Also: There’s often an urban (big city urban) bias to a lot of “national” conversations about food planning.
  11. Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? I like to tell people that I chose to attend Cornell for my planning degree as much for its location in Ithaca, NY, given its strong local food scene, and its standing as a land grant university with cooperative extension, as any of its “prestige.” There were so many people there that contributed to how I think about food systems and planning: Mildred Warner was an amazing (and demanding) advisor, and John Forester imbued an important level of self-awareness about the process and place of planners. I had the great fortune to overlap in my two years there with Becca Jablonski, and meet others she works with, including Ken Meter. I have a handful of peers who also pursued their own food systems planning focus and we bonded over our shared commitment to this area that many of our classmates rarely even knew existed (at first). My program also encouraged us to take courses outside of planning, so leveraging law, business, development sociology, agricultural economics, and natural resource courses provided a breadth of perspectives about issues central to food systems work. Volunteering with a community local food networking group and interning with Martha Armstrong at Tompkins County Area Development in Ithaca were very formative and helped get a bit of reality to balance my coursework “up on the hill.” From my volunteering I met Jeanne Lecesse, who now with Growing Food Connections, has provided helpful guidance about being a young planner on the job market interested in food systems. My food systems work is also very much shaped by two summers in Sitka, Alaska, and subsequent work with Nic Mink to research wild salmon and help launch Sitka Salmon Shares, a sustainable wild seafood business built upon the community supported fishery model, adapted for Midwestern consumers. Since graduate school, I’ve had the opportunity to intern with the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota and work with the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture–two pioneering groups in my home state who have worked for decades to build capacity and connections that have significantly impacted small- and medium-scale agriculture and the state’s local food system. I draw from all of these experiences for my current work.
  12. 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 feel I could still gain much from what others answer when asked these questions! That said, I am a strong believer in always following your passions, putting yourself out there for different opportunities (some will be dead ends, others will work out), and having a driving curiosity mixed with entrepreneurial spirit. Find people who inspire you and from whom you can learn, and ask questions. (I’m currently reading Food for City Building by Wayne Roberts and think that’s a pretty accessible and over-arching primer for thinking about this type of work, though of course context-specific to Toronto.) The ability to think critically/creatively and make connections (with people, across issues) is really important in the rather nebulous realm of food systems planning. Take an optimistic perspective, most of the time. A lot of this work comes down to communication with others, building relationships, and thinking strategically of both the short and long term. Synthesizing information and tailoring arguments for different audiences is important. Be humble and listen. I’m hoping to build my more technical skills regarding specific policy interventions, financing options, public facilitation processes, etc. Though I don’t use it, I appreciate that I persevered through a GIS course to understand data analysis and presentation better, and how to utilize it as needed. Being able to conduct meaningful evaluation is also important. I’ve done quite a bit with Survey Monkey, for example, and benefited from exposure to survey design while in school, as well as use of Excel for basic analysis and presentation. Related–knowing where to go for other examples of food systems work, data sets, etc. is helpful and something to continually develop. (And, luckily, FIG and GFC are working on this!) I personally think there’s an under-appreciated importance for food as culture and the power of stories. I reflect on this quite a bit, even though I don’t often utilize it in my day-to-day work so far. Gravy, a podcast by the Southern Foodways Alliance, is excellent on this front and one of my favorite things right now.
  13. What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? Knowing more about local government, its processes and financial aspects, though varied across place, could have provided a richer foundation for a lot of our planning discussions. Despite getting pretty advanced with math in high school and college, I hadn’t had a statistics course until grad school, and it was a WHIRLWIND from which I learned a lot, but would have probably gotten more out of, and better leverage now, with additional coursework. When I wrote my application for planning school, I actually said that I wanted to enter the program not to be a planner, but to gain the tools of the planner to influence food systems change. However, I now have deepened my appreciation for the larger field of planning, and value that professional identity much more than I anticipated I would three years ago. So, I’m probably the opposite of a lot of planners–where I’m the food systems girl who’s enjoyed expanding my perspective through planning, instead of the planner who’s beginning to integrate a food systems perspective.

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.