Planning and Community Health Research Center

Food Systems

Like air, water, and shelter, food is essential for life and plays a central role in our health, economy, and culture. Healthy, sustainable communities require healthy, sustainable food systems.

Planners play an important role in the development of healthy, sustainable local and regional food systems to support and enhance the overall public, social, ecological, and economic health of communities. Community food system planning is the collaborative planning process of developing and implementing local and regional land-use, economic development, public health, and environmental goals, programs and policies to:

  • Preserve existing and support new opportunities for local and regional urban and rural agriculture;
  • Promote sustainable agriculture and food production practices;
  • Support local and regional food value chains and related infrastructure involved in the processing, packaging, and distribution of food;
  • 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;
  • Support and promote good nutrition and health, and;
  • Facilitate the reduction of solid food-related waste and develop a reuse, recovery, recycling, and disposal system for food waste and related packaging.

APA's Food Interest Group

APA's Food Interest Group (FIG) is a coalition of APA members interested in or actively engaged in food system planning at the local, regional, state, or national level. It was initiated in 2005 by Jerry Kaufman, FAICP, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and Deanna Glosser, president and CEO of Environmental Planning Solutions, Inc. and former APA Divisions Council vice-chair.

FIG currently includes more than 100 members interested in food system topics at the intersection of planning, food systems, sustainability and public health. FIG Steering Committee members include its founders (Kaufman and Glosser), as well as Kami Pothukuchi, associate professor of urban planning and director of SEED Wayne at Wayne State University; Marcia Caton Campbell, Milwaukee program director, Center for Resilient Cities; Samina Raja, associate professor of urban and regional planning and associate professor of health behavior at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York; Heather Wooten, planning and policy associate, Public Health Law & Policy; and Kimberley Hodgson, staff liaison and manager of APA's Planning and Community Health Research Center.

If you would like to become a member of the American Planning Association’s Food Interest Group, please take a few minutes to fill out this form:

Access to Healthy Food

The majority of Americans do not meet the Healthy People 2010 objective for fruit and vegetable consumption. However, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is associated with positive growth and development, weight management, and a decreased risk for chronic disease.

Despite these findings, many children and adults, particularly in low-income households, do not have access to fresh, affordable produce and other healthy foods. Low-income, minority neighborhoods throughout the nation, face disproportionate rates of obesity and chronic disease. This may be due in large part to easy access to fast-food restaurants and convenience stores and unavailability of larger food stores and other sources of healthy, affordable foods such as farmers' markets and urban agriculture.

Americans get their food from grocery and convenience stores, fast-food restaurants, farmers' markets, urban agriculture, and community supported agriculture. Some areas benefit from food and nutrition programs such as community gardens, urban farms, and farm to institution programs.

The availability of healthy and unhealthy foods in a community is fundamentally driven by a number of factors:

  • proximity of food outlets to schools and residential areas
  • prevalence and types of food outlets available in neighborhoods
  • the presence of food and nutrition programs in a community
  • local policy and regulatory framework (e.g. food policy councils, food charters, school food policy, local plan-making, zoning regulations, design regulations, and other standards)

Planners play an important role in assessing existing food access disparities, shaping the food environment of communities, and facilitating healthy eating.

Principles of a Healthy, Sustainable Food System

The American Dietetic Association, American Nurses Association, American Planning Association, and American Public Health Association met to develop a set of shared food system principles. The resulting principles have been collectively endorsed by these organizations.

Read the principles

APA's Commitment

Committed to expanding upon research, education, and policy development in the area of food systems planning, the American Planning Association released a Policy Guide on Community and Regional Food Planning in 2007. This guide provides an overview of the connections between planning practice and the production, processing, packaging, distribution, transportation, access, consumption, and waste disposal of food.

Planning magazine cover August/September 2009Since 2007, APA has continued its efforts to provide practicing planners and allied professionals with guidance on how to improve the local food system. The PAS Essential Info Packet on Food Systems Planning is a collection of documents compiled in response to inquiries from more than 1,500 PAS subscribers on the topic of food systems planning. The September/October 2007 issue of PAS Memo, "Community and Regional Food Planning," is dedicated to providing readers with a brief overview of community and regional food planning.

PAS Report No. 554 coverMore recently, APA published Planning Advisory Service (PAS) Report 554, A Planners Guide to Community and Regional Food Planning: Transforming Food Environments, Facilitating Health Eating; two issues of Zoning Practice, "Zoning for Public Markets and Street Vendors" (February 2009) and "Zoning for Urban Agriculture" (March 2010); and a February 2010 issue of QuickNotes for PAS subscribers, "Food Systems Planning."

The PAS report, coauthored by Samina Raja, Branden Born, and Jessica Kozlowski Russell, provides practicing planners with a common understanding of community and regional food planning and an overview of best practices of planning related programmatic and policy efforts to plan for a healthy, sustainable community and regional food system. The Zoning Practice issues discuss the regulation of public markets, street vendors, and urban food production (including community gardens), processing and distribution through zoning, business licensing, and other standards such as fees and taxes.

APA also published a special issue of Planning magazine on food systems planning. This special "Food Factor" issue features content related to healthy eating, food access, urban agriculture, farmland preservation, edible landscaping, vacant property conversion, and an interview with the USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan.

With funding from RWJF's Healthy Eating Research, APA is currently identifying and evaluating food access goals, objectives, and policies contained in comprehensive and sustainability plans across the country. With EPA, APA is developing a PAS Report on urban agriculture.

Click here for an overview of APA's resources, publications, and activities related to food system planning.