Planning your community’s future for a stronger, sustainable, self-reliant food system

How a community grows, changes and prepares for its future is guided by its master plan. Where does the food system fit into your community’s future plans?

How does your community decide where farmers markets can locate? Where are there permitted uses for hoop houses or community gardens? Are there designated places where food-related businesses and activities are encouraged? In Michigan, master planning is enabled by the Michigan Planning Enabling Act (M.C.L. 125.3801 et seq).

Anticipating the growing interest in local and regional food systems and increased demand for locating food-related enterprises in urban, suburban and rural communities, the American Planning Association (APA) developed a policy guide to help community residents and planners become engaged in community and regional food planning. Their work culminated in the development and approval, on May 11, 2007, of the Policy Guide on Community and Regional Food Planning. A downloadable version of the guide is found on the APA website. Additionally, the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments publishes a useful guide for Food Systems and Food Innovation Districts.

The APA guide provides for two overarching goals for planners: “Help build stronger, sustainable, and more self-reliant community and regional food systems, and, suggest ways the industrial food system may interact with communities and regions to enhance benefits such as economic vitality, public health, ecological sustainability, social equity, and cultural diversity.”

Planning for local food systems is being put into practice in the master plan for Lansing, Mich. This plan, called Design Lansing, is the first comprehensive master planning process undertaken in Lansing since 1958. One of the plan’s objectives is to, “Support local food production and improve access to fresh food, including community gardens, farmers’ markets and urban agriculture.”

The city hopes to achieve this by: supporting local food advocates’ planning efforts; encouraging local food organizations to partner and share lessons learned; capitalizing on available park space and property that will be land banked for the mid- to long-term (five-plus years) for community gardens; reviewing and revising local policies and ordinances to eliminate barriers to local food production and sales; and developing zoning and land use policies that allow the development of food business districts.

Lansing is one of the early adopters of a proactive planning approach that acknowledges the importance of using sound planning to support the sensible development of local and regional food systems as promoted by the policy guidance of the APA.

Michigan State University Extension has educators focused on community food systems and land use specialists as well as MSU’s Planning and Zoning Center  and the School of Planning, Design and Construction all have research and resources available to help communities plan for a future that includes stronger, sustainable and more self-reliant food systems.

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