Exploring Stories of Innovation: Local Government Food Systems Planning and Policy

Growing Food Connections announced Exploring Stories of Innovation, a series of short articles that explore how local governments from across the United States are strengthening their community’s food system through planning and policy.

Beginning in 2012, Growing Food Connections (GFC) conducted a national scan and identified 299 local governments across the United States that are developing and implementing a range of innovative plans, public programs, regulations, laws, financial investments and other policies to strengthen the food system. GFC conducted exploratory telephone interviews with 20 of these local governments. This series will highlight some of the unique planning and policy strategies used by these urban and rural local governments to enhance community food security while ensuring sustainable and economically viable agriculture and food production. The first four articles in the series feature Seattle, WA; Baltimore, MD; Cabarrus County, NC; and Lancaster County, PA.

For more information and to download these free articles, visit http://growingfoodconnections.org/research/communities-of-innovation/.

Growing Food Connections is made possible with a grant from the USDA /NIFA AFRI Food Systems Program NIFA Award #2012-68004-19894. Partners include American Farmland Trust, American Planning Association, Cultivating Healthy Places, Ohio State University, and University at Buffalo.

Growing Food Connections Policy Database

Municipalities and counties got a big boost yesterday, in Lexington, KY at the American Farmland Trust National Conference, with the unveiling of a searchable database with more than 100 newly adopted innovative, local government food system policies that can be shared and adapted across the country. The Growing Food Connections Policy Database, hosted by the School of Architecture and Planning at the University at Buffalo, will assist local governments as they work to broaden access to healthy food and help sustain local farms and food producers.

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Growing Food Connections, a federally-funded research initiative to strengthen community food systems nationwide, has compiled over 100 policies governing issues as diverse as public investment in food systems, farmland protection, local food procurement and food policy council resolutions.

The content development for the database was led by Kimberley Hodgson, Principal, Cultivating Healthy Places, in partnership with the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab at the University at Buffalo, American Planning Association, American Farmland Trust and Ohio State University.

Growing Food Connections is a five-year, $3.96 million research initiative funded by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Local governments constantly search for ways to strengthen the local food economy and provide better access to healthy, local foods through public policy,” said Kimberley Hodgson, planner and co-investigator for Growing Food Connections. “This database will serve as an important tool to help local governments enact the kind of policies that will positively impact their local food systems.”

The database is a comprehensive catalog of enacted food policy. By drawing upon partner resources and networks, the database provides a vast resource of policies that have been implemented and are currently being used by communities. Furthermore, it provides inspiration for communities looking to start building their own food policy. The policies span different geographic regions, sizes of government, rural and urban areas, policy topics and policy types. This database is a useful resource particularly for government officials, planning and public health professionals, academics, and students.

“Until about a decade ago, many of these public policies did not exist,” said Samina Raja, PhD, Associate Professor at the University at Buffalo and Principal Investigator of Growing Food Connections. “The adoption of these policies signals that local governments in the United States are finally beginning to recognize the need to invest in food systems just as much as other public infrastructure such as housing and transportation,” she said. The policy database will grow over the course of the project and is organized to promote the sharing and adaptation of policies across communities.

In addition to the local government policy database, Growing Food Connections supports information-sharing and community education through a Food Systems Reader and growing list of publications via its website. The program is also developing an intensive program of research, education, technical assistance and extension activities for 10 Communities of Opportunity, or regions poised to tackle their food access challenges and agricultural viability, across the U.S.

Growing Food Connections Launches Website to Train Communities across the U.S. in Food Systems Planning

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Communities looking to broaden access to healthy food and sustain local farms and food production have a new resource – growingfoodconnections.org – a repository of information on food systems planning.

The site is run by Growing Food Connections, an initiative to strengthen community food systems nationwide, and will grow to include such resources as a Community Guide to Planning for Food and Agriculture. Led by the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab at the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning in partnership with Cultivating Healthy Places, Ohio State University and American Farmland Trust, Growing Food Connections will target 10 “Communities of Opportunity” – communities poised to tackle their food access challenges and agricultural viability – with an intensive program of education, training, technical assistance and extension activities.

The five-year, $3.96 million initiative is funded by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The American Planning Association is a key project partner along with a National Advisory Committee of esteemed leaders in agriculture, food systems and public health.

“Communities increasingly are looking for ways to connect their populations – particularly the under-served – with healthy, affordable and culturally acceptable food while fostering a viable agricultural sector,” said Samina Raja, PhD, UB associate professor of urban and regional planning, director of the Food Lab and a principal investigator for Growing Food Connections.

The new website, along with the initiative’s direct extension activities in these communities, led by the American Farmland Trust, will ensure planning officials have the tools they need to develop, implement and maintain policy solutions to sustain agriculture and strengthen their food systems.

“This effort is unique,” suggests Julia Freedgood, assistant vice president of programs at American Farmland Trust, “because it builds capacity of local governments to support family farmers and ranchers as a path toward community food security.”

Kimberley Hodgson, planner and principal of Cultivating Healthy Places, notes that “the website will provide local government officials with a range of tools to assist them in developing their own food system plans and policies.”

A social networking forum and webinars will support information sharing and peer-to-peer dialogue across participating communities. Forthcoming is a comprehensive database of local and regional public policies, from food production ordinances to food system plans and local procurement policies, to facilitate policy change.

With information on continuing education, doctoral programs in food systems planning and policy at Ohio State University and University at Buffalo and student internship opportunities, the website also supports Growing Food Connections’ goal to develop an educational framework for the next generation of food systems planners.

For more information, visit: growingfoodconnections.org.

Philadelphia’s Vacant Property Journey

Philly-Cover-ImageWith support from the Ford Foundation, Virginia Tech’s Vacant Property Research Network (VPRN) recently published a new case study on the City of Philadelphia’s approach to reclaiming vacant property and developing a healthier, more resilient city.

The case study identifies
policy reforms and program innovations to reclaim vacant properties, discusses Philadelhpia’s capacity
and networks for adapting to ever-shifting vacant property problems, and offers recommendations
for improving and sustaining a more resilient approach to urban regeneration.

The case study is the first in a series of three, that will also include Cleveland and Baltimore. By
synthesizing the strategies and initiatives across these three pioneering cities, the case studies
bring to life the elements of a holistic and resilient policy process for vacant property reclamation that can assist practitioners, policymakers, and researchers in the design and development of a more resilient system for reclaiming vacant properties and regenerating distressed communities.

The study team included Joseph Schilling, LLM, Director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech, and Kimberley Hodgson, MURP, MS, AICP, RD, founder of Cultivating Healthy Places.

USDA Invests in Research to End Hunger and Address Food Security Challenges

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On February 27, 2013, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Deputy Secretary, Kathleen Merrigan, officially announced more than $75 million in grants for research, education and extension activities to ensure greater food security in the United States and around the world. The awards were made to teams at 21 U.S. universities to conduct research that will find solutions to increasing food availability and decreasing the number of food insecure individuals.

These awards were made through the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) 2012 Agriculture and Food Research Initiative’s (AFRI) Food Security program. The program supports research that will keep American agriculture competitive while helping to end world hunger, and focuses on achieving the long-term outcomes of increasing domestic and international food availability and food accessibility.

The University at Buffalo (UB) is one of the U.S. universities that received this prestigious grant. The focus of the UB funded initiative (formally titled “Building Local Government Capacity to Alleviate Food Deserts”) is to build the capacity of local governments to reconnect farmers with underserved consumers.

Co-investigators in this UB initiative include Samina Raja, PhD (the project lead, University at Buffalo), Jill Clark, PhD (Ohio State University), Julia Freedgood (American Farmland Trust), and Kimberley Hodgson, MURP, MS, AICP, RD (Cultivating Healthy Places). Key partners include the Planning and Community Health Research Center at the American Planning Association and individuals from other national non-profit organizations.

For the full USDA announcement, visit http://www.nifa.usda.gov/newsroom/news/2013news/02271_food_security.html.

New Report: Planning for Food Access and Community-Based Food Systems

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The American Planning Association published a new report that outlines the results of a three-year, multi-phased research study that identified and evaluated the food access and food system components of local government plans in the U.S.

Planning for Food Access and Community-Based Food Systems: A National Scan and Evaluation of Local Comprehensive and Sustainability Plans is a free, 175-page report that is divided into four main sections and provides detailed results and analyses for each phase of the study:

FoodAccessPlanningReport_Nov2012-CoverSection 1: National Survey
The survey identified 80 comprehensive plans and 25 sustainability plans that explicitly addressed an aspect of local or regional food systems. The five most-cited food system topics in the identified comprehensive and sustainability plans were rural agriculture, food access and availability, urban agriculture, food retail, and food waste.

Section 2: Plan Evaluations
A sample of plans (13 comprehensive plans and 8 sustainability plans) was selected for in-depth plan evaluation. Plans were evaluated for how they support and advance principles of a healthy, sustainable food system; how they promote access to safe, nutritious, affordable, culturally appropriate, and sustainably grown food; how they address implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of the food-related goals and policies; and the overall quality of food-related goals and policies.

Section 3: Case Studies
The research team conducted and recorded semi-structured, key informant phone interviews with local government planners and other stakeholders from 15 of the 21 selected plans to learn more about the food access and food systems planning process.

Section 4: Recommendations and Sample Plan Language
The final section of the report provides recommendations for municipalities and counties that are engaging in (or beginning to engage in) food access and food systems planning; sample plan language of food systems related vision statements, goals, policies, action items and implementation mechanisms; as well as data collection and assessment tools to monitor and evaluate changes in the local food system over time.