Food systems planning is concerned with improving a community's food system. A food system is generally understood to be the chain of activities connecting food production, processing, distribution, consumption, and waste management. Food is a necessity; along with air, water, and shelter, it is a basic essential for life. Yet only in recent years have food systems been a focus of serious professional planning interest.
Food system activities take up a substantial amount of urban and regional land and represent important parts of community and regional economies. Access — or the lack thereof — to affordable, healthy food can have significant impacts on communities, and both hunger and obesity are nationwide public health concerns. The environmental impacts of industrial farming practices and food waste as well as the energy and resources consumed by growing, harvesting, processing, and transporting our food are also significant.
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Elements of Food Systems Planning
Community food systems planning is the collaborative planning process of developing and implementing local and regional land-use, economic development, public health, transportation, and environmental programs and policies to: (1) preserve existing and support new opportunities for local and regional urban and rural agriculture; (2) promote sustainable agriculture and food production practices; (3) support local and regional food value chains and related infrastructure involved in the processing, packaging, and distribution of food; (4) facilitate community food security, or equitable physical and economic access to safe, nutritious, culturally appropriate, and sustainably grown food at all times across a community, especially among vulnerable populations; (5) support and promote good nutrition and health; and 6) facilitate the reduction of solid food-related waste and develop or manage a reuse, recovery, recycling, and disposal system for food waste and related packaging.
The Benefits of Food Systems Planning
Healthy, sustainable local and regional food systems bring economic, environmental, and social benefits to local communities. Planning for local food systems helps maintain and grow economic opportunities in the agricultural and food sectors through jobs and production on farms and in farm support businesses, food processing, food transport, food marketing, food distribution, food retail, and other food-related areas. Community food systems that stress local and regional food production and sales as well as ecologically friendly, sustainable farming practices reduce the amount of energy and resources needed for food production and distribution as well as the negative environmental impacts of agricultural production on land, water, and air. Planning to promote better access to and availability of healthy, fresh food impacts health at both the individual and community level, as does attention to community food security and equitable food access issues. Educating and engaging local residents in community food systems can improve health outcomes, increase social capital, strengthen sense of place and community character, and offer entrepreneurial opportunities.
Planning for Local Food Systems
Planning for local food systems starts with a community food assessment, a comprehensive tool that provides a clear picture of the food system resources, assets, challenges, and opportunities in a community. It can be conducted at the neighborhood, city, or regional level, and emphasizes community participation throughout the process.
The information provided by a community food assessment on the status and needs of the local food system can be used to inform further food planning efforts, including the development of food system plans or the integration of food systems considerations into the comprehensive plan. As part of these processes, planners can engage communities in visioning exercises to identify problems and opportunities related to the community food system; engage and educate community residents about these issues; establish food systems goals and objectives; develop strategies to implement these goals and objectives; and ultimately promote the long-term health and sustainability of the community.
The inclusion of food issues in a comprehensive plan helps connect food systems with land use, transportation, economic development, natural resources, health, and other elements of local policy and planning. When included in comprehensive plans, food is often addressed through the lens of community health and access to healthy food, but food systems can be linked to other plan areas, including land use, economic development, natural resources, and energy, among others.
Support for this collection was provided by the Growing Food Connections Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2012-68004-19894 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.