Growing Food Connections Launches Website to Train Communities in Food Systems Planning

3/13/2014

Communities looking to broaden access to healthy food and sustain local farms and food production have a new resource: www.GrowingFoodConnections.org, a repository of information on food systems planning.

The site is run by Growing Food Connections, an initiative to strengthen community food systems nationwide, and will grow to include such resources as a Community Guide to Planning for Food and Agriculture.

Led by the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab at the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning in partnership with Cultivating Healthy Places, Ohio State University and American Farmland Trust, Growing Food Connections will target 10 Communities of Opportunity--communities poised to tackle their food access challenges and agricultural viability--with an intensive program of education, training, technical assistance and extension activities.

The five-year, $3.96 million initiative is funded by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The American Planning Association is a key project partner, along with a National Advisory Committee of leaders in agriculture, food systems and public health.

"Communities increasingly are looking for ways to connect their populations--particularly the underserved--with healthy, affordable and culturally acceptable food while fostering a viable agricultural sector," said Samina Raja, Ph.D., UB associate professor of urban and regional planning, director of the food lab and a principal investigator for Growing Food Connections.

The new website, along with the initiative's direct extension activities in these communities, led by the American Farmland Trust, will ensure planning officials have the tools they need to develop, implement and maintain policy solutions to sustain agriculture and strengthen their food systems.

"This effort is unique," says Julia Freedgood, assistant vice president of programs at American Farmland Trust, "because it builds capacity of local governments to support family farmers and ranchers as a path toward community food security."

Kimberley Hodgson, planner and principal of Cultivating Healthy Places, notes that "The website will provide local government officials with a range of tools to assist them in developing their own food system plans and policies."

A social networking forum and webinars will support information sharing and peer-to-peer dialogue across participating communities. Forthcoming is a comprehensive database of local and regional public policies, from food production ordinances to food system plans and local procurement policies, to facilitate policy change.

With information on continuing education, doctoral programs in food systems planning and policy at Ohio State University and University at Buffalo and student internship opportunities, the website also supports Growing Food Connections' goal to develop an educational framework for the next generation of food systems planners.

For more information, visit www.GrowingFoodConnections.org.