Category Archives: Community Health

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 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/.

Hodgson Named Metropolitan Institute’s Visiting Sustainability Fellow

In September 2012, the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech’s College of Architecture and Urban Studies in Alexandria, VA, selected three professionals to serve as Visiting Sustainability Fellows to the Institute for the 2012-2013 academic year. Cultivating Healthy Places’ founder, Kimberley Hodgson, was designated as the Sustainability and Public Health Fellow.

Other fellows include, Mariia Zimmerman, Principal of MZ Strategies, LLC and former Deputy Director for the Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Michelle Cullen, Manager of the Brand System Strategy for IBM’s Smarter Planet and Smarter Cities Program.

The visiting fellows were selected to foster collaborations with the Institute and engage with the larger research and teaching communities at Virginia Tech.

PolicyLink Webinar: Equitable Strategies for Growing Urban Agriculture

PolicyLink held a webinar today, titled “Equitable Strategies for Growing Urban Agriculture.” This webinar highlighted the challenges and opportunities faced by communities to build support within city government and to develop effective strategies for advancing policy and fostering partnerships that promote urban agriculture.

Featured speakers included, Cultivating Healthy Places’ founder and principal consultant, Kimberley Hodgson, as well as Harry Rhodes from Growing Home in Chicago, and Jennifer Ly a Sustainability Associate with the City of Richmond.

Kimberley’s presentation provided an overview of promising policies across North America that support a variety of types and forms of urban agriculture. For a copy of Kimberley’s slides, click here, and to view a list of her current and past urban agriculture related work, click here. The webinar will be archived on PolicyLink’s website, under “Past Webinars”.