Food Systems Planning, With or Without a “Planner” Title

While preparing for APA’s webinar, “Careers in Food Systems Planning,” a few panelists asserted that, while each of us studied planning and is doing food systems planning, the word “planner” is rare in our titles.

Rare? Hardly.

Scroll through APA’s Food Systems Planning Interest Group’s “Faces of Food Systems Planning” biographies, and you will find that not all food systems planners are “planners” by title or department. They work in departments of public health, sustainability, parks, and agriculture; they have their own consulting firms, or work in nonprofits; they are in academia and cooperative extension.

While food systems planning has been adopted by some municipalities, regional councils, and states, and more food systems planners sit inside planning departments than ever before, there are even more planners working toward shared goals outside the planning department’s walls.

That diversity of positions and experiences benefits both inside-planners and outside-planners.

Outside-planners tap the knowledge of their entities and offer perspectives that inside-planners might not see. They also may be aligned to community groups or experts that inside-planners do not know or that may be skeptical of planning and government.

Meanwhile, inside-planners navigate the competing priorities of a planning department and the municipality more broadly, while continuing to make the case that food systems planning is the connective tissue between land use, health, sustainability, and economic development.

The inside/outside nature of food systems planning may be an artifact of its recent popularity, but it is likely necessitated by the complexity of the system it addresses.

In the City of Philadelphia, where I work, no fewer than 18 departments "touch" food, including Parks and Recreation, Public Health, Procurement, and Sustainability. Nearly every food systems planning project requires collaboration among departments and with outside experts, and in my experience, those projects have become stronger because we are planning from different points of view.

There is no doubt that having food systems planners inside planning departments can boost the efforts of outside-planners.

That is one of the many reasons that the Food Systems Planning Interest Group seeks signatures on its petition to become its own division within APA. We encourage every eligible member who feels strongly that food systems belong in planning to sign the petition today.

Above all, student planners with an interest in food systems should take as a positive sign that there are a growing number of positions both inside and outside traditional planning roles that, in all but name, are food systems planners. I am excited to be on a distinguished panel of professionals proving that food systems planning does and must happen inside and outside.

I hope you will join us to find out more.

Top image: Fresh produce. Public domain photo from Pexels.

About the Author
Molly Riordan is the good food purchasing coordinator for the City of Philadelphia. She works to include good food in city food contracts, which supply 14.5 million meals per year to Philadelphians served by city departments.

September 9, 2019

By Molly Riordan