As planners, we are concerned with planning for the provision of a variety services for populations of today and the future. We plan for economic development, affordable housing, sanitation, energy conservation, transportation, land use. A goal behind the sustainable development movement is stabilizing and improving the living standards of people without compromising the planet and overexploiting resources. Of the five essential needs for human survival (air, water, food, shelter and sleep), food and shelter are not always accessible for some populations of people because of their location or lack of sufficient income. How do we plan to provide access to environmentally healthy food for growing populations?
Food “level of service” has not necessarily been an area of focus for Florida planners because the marketplace and government nutrition assistance programs seemingly offer adequate food options for many people. Does the free market provide enough healthy food in an equitable, environmentally healthy and sustainable manner? The fact is, in a land of plenty that produces and distributes abundant food, some people are still going hungry or are malnourished: “In 2014, 14.0 percent of households (17.5 million [U.S] households, approximately one in seven), were food insecure” (Coleman-Jensen 2015b, p. 1). Many of those who are affected are children and the elderly.
“Food security” is defined as plenty of food available for an active, healthy family. “Food insecurity” is the opposite: the lack of enough food and the lack of healthy, nutritious food each day. Food insecurity is a family having to choose between basic needs such as rent and food, or not having enough grocery money to last the month or the lack of a close-by food supply. People who live in low-income neighborhoods or in rural areas often don’t have full service grocery stores nearby. If such residents don’t own a car, they can’t get to the store without walking or taking the bus a long way. Neighborhoods without a grocery store are called “Food Deserts”. Food deserts are defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Low income people sometimes can’t afford to buy enough food for everyone in their household each day. What foods they can find and afford often has low nutritional quality. Some households earn a little too much money to meet Federal poverty level qualifications for food subsidies.
The topic of food sustainability is complex. The food production industry, patterns of development, husbandry of agricultural lands, energy use, water resources and transport of goods are some of the topics relating to food sustainability. Access to food during crisis and emergencies and protection of food from malicious actions are also considerations. Planning for a sustainable community must address the fact that some people do not have a dependable access to healthy food. In addition, what foods we eat, where they come from, how they are produced, how far they are shipped and the quality and freshness of foods are considerations relating to planning for a healthy population and a sustainable food supply. Food systems planning relates to these topics and to public health.
Other aspects of food planning include offering populations healthy diet choices of wholesome, fresh natural foods, promoting sustainable agriculture practices, facilitating locally grown food access, and promoting healthy diet and exercise in order to create healthier communities, use less energy and reduce obesity and disease. People are receptive to eating fresh locally sourced foods and are using their economic power to buy it and influence the market. However, the healthy food band wagon is primarily benefitting those who can afford it rather than those who are food insecure.
Grocery store chains are responding to requests by consumers to supply fresh food from local sources. Some grocery chains specialize in healthy foods, such as Whole Foods and Fresh Market, others are providing a greater emphasis. Restaurants and chefs have pursued fresh local foods to use in their menus due to higher quality and freshness, which lead to the movement “Farm to Table”. The “Farm-to-table” approach emphasizes a direct relationship between a farm and a restaurant or consumer. Rather than buying through distributor or food service, some restaurants establish relationships and buy direct from the farm. The terminology now includes “Community Supported Agriculture” (CSA) which refers to direct sales of foods from local farms to local residents, co-ops and markets. But the fact remains that these farm sources of fresh food cost more and are predominantly available to people with higher incomes. The exception is the “Farm to school” programs (like the one in Florida), serving many low-income children, where local farms are engaged in providing school children with healthy locally grown food. In turn, these smaller farms have enough business to be viable where otherwise they could not compete.
In Florida, The State of Florida Dept. of Agriculture & Consumer Services Division of Marketing and Development oversees the “Fresh from Florida” program that helps Florida producers market their products. This program highlights the many foods produced in the state and shows which seasonal fresh foods are available at any given time of the year. The Division also has a list on their website of participating restaurants featuring foods “Fresh from Florida”. They run a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) coordination program. In conventional agriculture, the farmer bears all the risk of production, but CSAs allow farmers to share farming’s risks and rewards with consumers. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services maintains a list of CSAs throughout Florida, but, because CSAs are not required to register with the department, the list is not complete. The Division also provides a list of the State’s independent Farmer’s Markets which offer sources of healthy local foods. Vendors at community farmers markets in some Florida counties participate in the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP), which provides WIC (US Government Women Infant Children Nutrition Program http://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/women-infants-and-children-wic) participants with coupons that can be used to purchase locally grown, fresh Florida fruits and vegetables. This produce can be purchased at authorized farmers markets from April 1 to July 31. The Florida Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services also has a program to recognize sustainable agriculture practices.
The healthy, fresh local food movement has affected the local entrepreneurial economy in Florida. The movement towards using local food sources in both family and commercial kitchens has grown tremendously over the last decade and has resulted in new business models. An example of the entrepreneurial private sector ‘Farm to Table’ movement in Orlando is the Farm-Haus (Facebook | Website). The locally-owned food delivery service specializes in delivering healthy, chef-created dinners to your door. Ingredients are locally sourced from Florida farms and freshly made the same day of the order. The service area covers downtown Orlando neighborhoods.
Another successful Orlando example of a healthy food program that targets lower-income customers is Hebni Nutrition Consultants http://soulfoodpyramid.org/. Hebni is a community-based, not for profit (501 (c)(3)) agency formed in 1995 to educate high-risk, culturally diverse populations about nutrition strategies to prevent diet-related diseases. The target audience for Hebni’s services are populations who are at risk for obesity, heart disease, diabetes and hypertension. In their early beginnings, the Partners of Hebni developed intervention programs and educational tools such as the “Soul Food Pyramid” and “Sisters: Take Charge of Your Health” which address populations, particularly African-Americans, who are at high risk for poor health outcomes. The group invented the “Fresh Stop” food bus. The Fresh Stop bus is a mobile farmers market created to serve Central Florida food desert neighborhoods. The program offers fresh fruits and vegetables in community-centered locations and at budget-friendly prices.
“Agrihoods” are another example of entrepreneurial farm centered “lifestyle” residential developments built next to or around working farms providing fresh food to residents. Agrihoods can include restaurants, markets and hotels based on the farm to table healthy foods theme. A famous example of an Agrihood is Serenbe near Atlanta http://serenbe.com/. Serenbe has a 25 acre organic farm, a seasonal farmer’s market, edible plants throughout the community and a CSA program. Serenbe has won numerous awards including the Urban Land Institute Inaugural Sustainability Award, the Atlanta Regional Commission “Development of Excellence“ and EarthCraft named Serenbe the “Development of the Year.”
How food is typically produced is based on efficiency and uniformity in order to meet demand rather than sustainability. Americans enjoy a variety of reasonably priced foods. But food prices do not account for the external costs caused by the system. In the US, most food is now produced by large family farms or co-operatives (35%) though they are only 2% of total farms. Smaller farms produce the next highest amount of food (26%) but continue to consolidate to form larger farms. Small local farms are rare. Food distributors have large facilities and buy in large quantities. As a result, regions are dependent on far-away sources of food for their populations.
Food is grown and distributed across the US and the world. On the up side, Americans have access to global foods and have many choices at any season of the year. Food distribution depends on huge fleets of trucks and trains, planes and boats over long distances to deliver food to the consumer. The distance from the farm to the table is known as “food miles”. The longer the distance, the more energy is expended in transport of food. The benefits of global food distribution must be weighed against the energy costs, greenhouse gas emissions and pollution of transport. Use of energy, chemicals and antibiotics in food production and distribution are of concern when planning sustainable food and agricultural systems.
Sustainable local food production and delivery (Local farm cooperatives, Farmer’s Markets, Community Gardens) is more typically the focus of a local planning agency. Larger local governments are adding staff positions that focus on sustainable, equitable local food supplies and health. This is a growth area of the planning field.
How does a planner address sustainable food planning? A planner could begin the planning process by asking basic questions. How do our citizens get their food? Where does it come from? How is it transported? How do we respond to food needs during emergency and disaster situations? Is the food supply distributed equitably? What areas of our city are lacking in full service grocery stores? Do stores carry fresh foods? Do all residents have quality food choices? What nutritional issues does our County health department and WIC (Women, Infants, Children nutrition) program administrators see in people they serve locally? Do we have farmer’s markets and community gardens? Do we have local co-ops and farms to supply local markets? If so, are they equitably available and affordable? Are we wasting too much food? Do we have a local food bank? May residents plant their own gardens in their yards? May residents raise a few chickens at home for fresh eggs? These are some of the questions that will shape a planner’s work to ensure their community has a healthy, sustainable food supply