Plan4Health Success Story: Food Systems Planning in Rhode Island

Plan4Health connects communities across the country, funding work at the intersection of planning and public health. Anchored by American Planning Association (APA) chapters and American Public Health Association (APHA) affiliates, Plan4Health supports creative partnerships to build sustainable, cross-sector coalitions.

Data is powerful: it drives decision making, informs efficient programming, and helps tell stories.

Data is even more useful when you can visualize it in some way. The Planners4Health project allowed us to do just that: support the development of a versatile mapping tool focused on issues around food access.

Throughout the initiative, and as we worked with consultants on the development of this map, we began to feel that this mapping tool could make a big difference for not only planners, but public health practitioners, food systems advocates, and more. We began to think about the end-of-grant convening as an opportunity to create a space where we could bring these folks together, recognizing that while their paths may not often intersect, their work is strongly related. This, we felt, would be a perfect group to witness the unveiling of this exciting mapping tool.

To learn more about the development of the tool and how to use the resource, view this webinar below:

At the gathering, Dannie Ritchie presented the Plan4Health work she is spearheading on a neighborhood and community level. Sue AnderBois, director of food strategy for the State of Rhode Island, spoke about how food access, planning, and health all fit in with the larger Rhode Island Food Strategy unveiled in May of this year.

Representatives from three Health Equity Zone backbone organizations shared about the health and food access work happening at the local level across the State. Bringing it all together, Shayna Cohen from Karen Karp & Partners presented the Food Access Map itself.

"Thank you for including me and the West Warwick HEZ in the event last week. Sometimes the WIC work I do can feel like it's a little isolated from the other areas of food work, but I am grateful for the opportunity to showcase the West Warwick HEZ's work, and to meet other people across the state doing similar work in their own communities."
Health Equity Zone Presenter

We believe the Food Access Map can help at multiple levels of planning, food systems work, and public health initiatives — from the hyperlocal to statewide.

We have already learned of a number of different ways that people are utilizing this unique tool. A mobile food access program utilized the map to determine the most effective locations for it to operate from. A nonprofit working on supporting urban agriculture initiatives used it to help identify cities and towns that could most benefit from that work. AmeriCorps RI has recently started exploring this tool for shaping how and where they deliver services.

We in the food systems world frequently talk about the connectivity of food-related work, and the fact that the food system intersects with so many disciplines. It is always a pleasure to see collaboration and relationships develop among actors working in separate but overlapping spaces, and to facilitate partnerships that can take both partners' work to the next level. The Plan4Health grant helped us do that, and provided a game-changing tool for bridging community and state efforts and working across sectors.

To learn more about the local work in the Mount Hope neighborhood of Providence, view the video below:

Access the Food Access Map at For more in-depth detail on the map, this youtube recording of a webinar held in July 2017 offers background information and a deep dive overview of the map's functionality.

Top image: Walkpark Place in Providence, Rhode Island. Photo courtesy Rhode Island Planning Department.

About the Author
Leo Pollock is principal of The Compost Plant and network coordinator at the Rhode Island Food Policy Council.

February 15, 2018

By Leo Pollock