What is food systems planning?

Local governments across the country are starting to engage in this activity to build their community’s food system.

According to the Growing Food Connections project, food systems planning is a set of interconnected, forward-thinking activities that strengthen a community’s food system through the creation and implementation of plans and policies. Growing Food Connections is a project funded by a grant from the USDA to build local government capacity to strengthen community food systems.

At its best, food systems planning is rooted in the collaborative partnership between the food system community, which includes farmers, retailers, consumers and local government officials. Through the food systems planning process, local and regional governments develop and implement policies to influence and shape how food is produced, processed, distributed, consumed and disposed. These policies provide direction and guidance on how to address opportunities and challenges faced by the community’s food system. Examples of policies that can address food systems include:

  • Comprehensive land use plans
  • Zoning ordinances
  • Building codes
  • Government sponsored grant programs

The American Planning Association (APA) launched a Planning and Community Health Research Center to strengthen the connection between urban, regional and rural planning and community health. The Center works on addressing pressing health issues such as social inequality, physical inactivity and poor food access through urban, regional and rural planning. APA lists the following goals of their food system planning efforts:

  1. Preserve existing and support new opportunities for local, regional, urban and rural agriculture.
  2. Promote sustainable agriculture and food production practices.
  3. Support local and regional value chains and related infrastructure involved in the processing, packaging, and distribution of food.
  4. Facilitate community food security, especially among vulnerable populations;
  5. Support and promote good nutrition and health.
  6. Facilitate the reduction of solid food-related waste and develop a reuse, recover, recycling and disposal system for food waste and related packaging.

The APA formed a Food Interest Group that communicates regularly via email and webinars. Resources available through the APA’s Food Interest Group include Planning for Food Access and Community-Based Food Systems and Principles of a Healthy, Sustainable Food System.

Michigan State University Extension Community Food Systems educators work to support food systems planning. To contact a food system educator near you, click here or call 1-888-678-3464.

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