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.

Community-Based Farming in Southern British Columbia

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Many farms and organizations throughout North America are interested in the social, economic, and environmental benefits of community-based farming. Innovative programs and food system enterprises aimed at enabling community-based farming include examples such as Intervale (Burlington, Vermont), Serenbe (Atlanta, Georgia), 21 Acres (Woodinville, Washington), Zenger Farm (Portland, Oregon), Fairview Gardens (Golita, California) and Prairie Crossing (Grayslake, Illinois). More recently, new community-based farms such as the Black Creek Community Farm in Toronto have been planned and are currently being launched.

The Delta Community-Based Farm District Plan – developed by Tara Moreau, Owner of Grow Moreau Consulting, and Kimberley Hodgson, Founder of Cultivating Healthy Places – provides an example of how a community-based farm can be developed in southern British Columbia.

What is community-based farming?

Community-based farming is the production, processing, distribution, and marketing of food and other products that cultivate direct connections between farmers and the adjacent community. Community-based farming:

  • Builds community through the interaction of people with the land;
  • Promotes small-scale, sustainable agriculture;
  • Protects and enhances natural habitat for wildlife;
  • Creates aesthetically pleasing landscapes, and;
  • Embraces the local and regional context.

Community-based farming generally occurs at a smaller-scale, allowing for a greater diversity of farm types; depends on cooperative government systems, such as shared facilities and equipment, for economic short-term feasibility and long-term viability; encourages interaction between farmers and residents; and provides economic activity through direct market sales neighborhood farmers markets and other supportive economic infrastructure.

The Delta Community-Based Farm District Plan

The Southlands property, a tract of land in the southeast quadrant of Tsawwassen in Delta, British Columbia, is currently owned by Century Group Lands Corporation. In October 2006, Century Group outlined a broad, sustainable land use vision for Southlands. To achieve this vision, Century Group’s proposal includes mixed-use development on 20% of the site, and agriculture, natural habitat, and recreation uses on the remaining 80%. This proposal dedicates 279.2 acres for agricultural uses.

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The Delta Community-Based Farm District Plan illustrates how the agricultural area of the Southlands property can support the development of community-based farming over the next 30 years, by:

  • Identifying a 30 year vision and goals for community-based farming and related food system activities on the land;
  • Identifying and describing a diversity of community farm types that could be used to achieve the long-range vision and goals;
  • Proposing a potential governance and management structure for how to connect, coordinate, and manage the various farm types;
  • Exploring potential steps and estimated costs required for implementing the farm types; and
  • Exploring the potential economic, ecological and social benefits of the farm types to the immediate and surrounding communities.

Benefits

The Delta Community-Based Farm District has the potential to provide a number of health, social, economic, and ecological benefits to Delta residents and surrounding communities, including: increased access to healthy food by increasing the production of a diverse range of fruits and vegetables; empowerment and mobilization of new farmers by providing access to land, education and farming communities; and ecological stewardship by ensuring that farmers meet specific sustainability standards.

An exploration of this specific scenario reveals significant economic benefits for Delta and its residents. These estimated annual benefits include over $2.39 million per year in net revenue for farmers, approximately 26 full-time jobs per year created, and $281,645 per year in net revenue for the proposed governing non-profit organization. Total net revenue for the 30-year time period would be approximately $2.8 million for the proposed governing non-profit organization. Startup costs for this scenario would be $1.9 million for farmers and $1.6 million for the governing entity.

This scenario demonstrates how such a community-based farming endeavor could be economically self-sufficient after only ten years of operation and serve as an innovative model for community-based farming in Metro Vancouver and beyond.

For more information about the Delta Community-Based Farm District Plan and to view a copy of the full plan, click here.

About the Authors

Tara Moreau, PhD. Dr. Moreau is a sustainable agriculture scientist. Over the past decade, her research has focused on the science, planning, and policy of sustainable food systems. As the sole proprietor of Grow Moreau, her expertise around climate change, urban agriculture and integrated pest management give her a diverse background into the implementation of sustainable agriculture and food systems.

Kimberley Hodgson, MURP, MS, AICP, RD. Hodgson is the founder of Cultivating Healthy Places, an international consulting business specializing in community health, social equity, and sustainable food systems planning. As a certified planner and health professional, her work focuses on conducting policy-relevant research and providing technical assistance to the public and private sectors related to the design and development of healthy, sustainable places.

New Report from APA: Healthy Planning

The American Planning Association’s Planning and Community Health Research Center recently released a new publication – Healthy Planning: An Evaluation Of Comprehensive And Sustainability Plans Addressing Public Health. This report provides results from an evaluation of 18 local comprehensive plans and 4 sustainability plans from local governments across the United States that address various public health topics and issue areas in their local level plans. Results highlight the progress of specific localities in addressing public health, but also reveal the slowness of the planning field to fully embrace public health as an important societal issue.

This evaluation is part of a multiphase research study that began in 2010 for the purpose of identifying “local planning responses to important health issues [and examining] how comprehensive and sustainability plans can promote long-term community health.”

The multiphase study commenced with a national survey to identify local governments across the U.S. that are actively planning for public health. According to the survey, only 260 and 51 respondents indicated that their local comprehensive plan or sustainability plan, respectively, contains explicit goals or policies that address public health.

Not surprisingly, traditional public health topics, like clean water and air, emergency preparedness, and public safety were cited the most. However topics related to chronic disease, social health and equity; and food and nutrition – all high priority public health issue areas – were only addressed by 6.7%, 12.6%, and 8.7% of the identified comprehensive plans, and 4.9%, 35.3%, and 22.2% of identified sustainability plans that explicitly addressed public health.

Based on specific criteria (such as geographic spread, plan adoption date, population, and inclusion of 10 or more health related topics), APA staff and its advisory committee selected a handful of these identified plans for further evaluation. Selected comprehensive plans included Alachua County, FL; Baltimore County, MD; Chino, CA; Washington, DC; Don Ana County, NM; Dubuque, IA; Easton, PA; Fort Worth, TX’ Kings County, CA; Niagara County, NY; North Miami, FL; Omaha, NE; Oneida Nation, WI; Palm Beach County, FL; Raleigh, NC; San Diego City, CA; South Gate, CA; and Trenton, NJ. Selected sustainability plans included San Francisco, CA; Grand Rapids, MI; Philadelphia, PA; and Mansfield, CT.

The APA team developed an evaluation tool to evaluate the extent to which these plans address various components of public health, the overall quality and structure of each plan, and the implementation strategies used to achieve public health goals. Results of the evaluation revealed that overall, the plans made clear connections between planning, the built environment and public health impacts. However, goals and policies related to active living were strongest, while explicit connections to other public health issues, like food and nutrition, social cohesion and mental health, and health and human services were less frequent and not comprehensive. Plans that included a standalone health element tended to have a greater and more comprehensive emphasis on health, than plans that integrated public health throughout. One of the most noticeable weaknesses of the evaluated plans was the “lack of explicit discussion about how the built environment can affect a range of public health factors”. Additionally, public health data was often not utilized to support public health related goals and policies.

The results of this research point to the need to further educate planners about the connections between the built, natural, and social environments, and public health. While planning has its roots in public health, the field has a long way to go before it fully embraces public heath – in all its dimensions. After all, how can a community be truly sustainable without a healthy population?

Cultivating Healthy Places’ founder, Kimberley Hodgson, led the initiation of this multiphase research study, when she was the Manager of APA’s Planning and Community Health Research Center from 2008 to 2011. She currently serves on the advisory committee for this study. 

This blog post was originally published on Virginia Tech’s Sustainability Planning Lab Blog: http://www.sustainabilityplanninglab.com/planning-for-public-health/.

Maryland Planning Releases New Statewide Food Systems Planning Guidelines

On September 25, 2012, the Maryland State Department of Planning released a new report – Planning for the Food System – which offers guidance to local governments across the state on how to incorporate the local food system in local planning and development policies. This guidance document is the 28th in a series that focuses on smart growth and sustainability. For more information, read the press release here.