The Food Pipeline
Food is just as important as water and energy. Finally, it's being treated that way.
By April Terreri
What does the word "nutraceutical" mean to you?
If the answer is "not much," then it may come as a surprise that many planners are rethinking the link between food and the rest of our economy.
That's what Mark Lapping did in developing a food infrastructure when he was dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University from 1989 to 1994.
"On the one hand, New Jersey has an enormous pharmaceutical industry and on the other hand a large agricultural base," Lapping says. One connection between them is nutraceuticals — new drugs derived from foods, says Lapping, who today is professor of planning and public policy at the University of Southern Maine. "As planners, we began to consider how to develop R&D opportunities to help the pharmaceutical industry use more of the food we grew in New Jersey."
Lapping and his team noticed other connections as well. The connection between farming and food processing led the Rutgers group to explore ways to capture more of the downstream dollars derived from New Jersey grown produce.
Overall, however, New Jersey is not unique in finding the link between food and other industries (and seeing food as a vital part of an economic development strategy). Similar efforts are occurring in New Hampshire, Maine, Wisconsin, and elsewhere.
On the federal level, various agencies are working on a different link. They see food as a vital resource on a par with energy and water — something to be protected.
The Garden State
Seeing several big gaps along the food supply chain, Lapping and others at Rutgers worked with the New Jersey Department of Agriculture to develop a strategic plan for the state's farming industry. "The state clearly needed distribution systems and food-processing facilities for local farming," Lapping says. "New Jersey farmers are terrific producers, but we saw much of the raw material going out of state to be processed. We wanted to be able to capture all of that value-added development in the state so jobs and revenues would stay in New Jersey and not go to Philadelphia or New York City."
Taking a holistic approach, the strategic plan, published in 1994, suggested development in food processing, marketing, and scientific endeavors. The plan laid out an agenda for public investments to support what was then a $1.2 billion agricultural business in the state through food processing, transportation, and research and development. (An update: in 2001, that number had increased to $1.37 billion, according to the state's Department of Agriculture, and the value per acre of farmland and buildings was $8,000, the highest in the nation.)
The 1994 plan suggested that research could help the state's large cranberry and blueberry industries, which produced more than $49 million worth of fruit in 1995. "We looked at everything from evaluating goals and analyses, to considering strengths and weaknesses, to weighing opportunities," Lapping says. "Then we developed a strategy on how to implement them."
Among other things, the plan urged alternatives to pesticides and insecticides — including a water system Rutgers had developed to curb insects.
"The agriculture and food sector is a multi-faceted form of economic activity that needs a multi-faceted set of responses and inputs from the government," Lapping says. "It's a viable sector worthy of investment because of its enormous potential for economic development and wealth creation."
Lapping's numbers support the point. In the mid-1990s, he says, the food and agriculture industries contributed $54 billion to New Jersey's economy. "Any state would get excited by an industry that could produce 13 percent of the state's gross income, and this industry was already there and will be there forever, unlike a factory that can go overseas."
Lapping and his colleagues saw another opportunity: helping farmers understand how they could accommodate the food needs of New Jersey's rising population of immigrants from India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan. "Emerging markets are very important to continue monitoring, and planners are very well equipped to do this because we are so in touch with the changes in the demography of a region," says Lapping.
About two million pounds of food pass through the warehouse distribution facility operated by Milwaukee-based Growing Power — a nationwide nonprofit and land trust focused on community food systems. That facility receives food from about 300 farmers across the country each week. They belong to the Rainbow Farmer's Cooperative (RFC), which is supported by Growing Power and offers marketing channels to help sustain small producers, says Will Allen, director of Growing Power and RFC's president.
"These systems provide high-quality, safe, healthy, affordable food for all members of the community," he says. "They also provide guaranteed markets for farmers around the country." Farmers get a fair return because they negotiate prices for their products and get paid on delivery — in contrast to the conventional brokerage method whereby farmers are paid up to 90 days after delivery, and sometimes never.
Every week warehouse workers fill 300 grocery bags each with about 20 pounds of food including produce and meats. The food is distributed throughout the state of Wisconsin and in Chicago on Fridays, and on Saturdays through Market Basket drop sites located at schools, nonprofit organizations, and homes. Individuals pick up their food at one of these sites.
"All the food is sustainable, including the meat, which could be grass-fed beef or pastured poultry, turkey, chicken, or pork," says Allen. Each bag of produce costs $12; special baskets containing meat or poultry, in addition to the produce, range from $20 to $32. "This Market Basket program is geared to weekly purchases for lower income people. It's a lot easier to handle than buying a share in a community-supported agricultural farm" (CSA), Allen says.
Any food not purchased by local residents is sold to restaurants, grocery stores, or other community-based organizations. "You really have to have a diverse marketing system for a project like this to work," Allen says. He notes that the cooperative plans to prepare and distribute 1,000 bags every week by the end of 2004, once the organization's Chicago operation is up and running.
At the moment, Growing Power has a staff of 12 and an annual budget of $541,000. RFC's annual budget is $700,000. Among the staffers is a sustainable food movement planner, who does policy work and helps the organization prepare garden designs for presentations at city planning departments.
The organization also sponsors national workshops to train others in setting up similar programs. "This sustainable food movement can really help small producers," says Allen. "We look at the whole food system in terms of production, distribution, and marketing. A good part of this system approach involves planners, who can help design ways to get food from farmers to the people."
Hancock County Locally Grown Foods Project, a nonprofit based in Blue Hill, Maine, has developed a food supply infrastructure to accommodate local farms. "Maine is primarily a rural state, and finding ways to stimulate rural economies is not easy. But agriculture can once again become the backbone of rural communities with proper planning," says Ron Poitras, director of the project.
The project, which began in 1997 under the auspices of the Hancock County Planning Commission, connects about 15 local farms to 56 local restaurants, country stores, and a few local institutions through scheduled pickups and deliveries of fresh produce. "The beauty of our system is delivering produce the same day it's been picked and with no warehousing," Poitras says. "Farmers package and label the produce for us to deliver to specific restaurants."
Like his counterparts in other parts of the country, Poitras has taken note of several related economic development opportunities, including food processing facilities. One benefit, of course, is that those activities create jobs and bolster local economies.
The Hancock County project has an annual budget of $40,000, half of it paid for by foundation grants and the Maine Department of Agriculture, Poitras says, the rest by fees.
Keeping food safe
The Los Angeles-based Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC), a national nonprofit with about 270 members, is creating alternative community-based food systems. "We are working to create an economic space within communities for small-scale and medium-sized growers and processors so communities can take ownership over their food systems," says Andy Fisher, CFSC's executive director.
"We are linking the farmer and the consumer so there is a safer and more secure food chain. There's better control than if you are depending on a few large companies and are sourcing products from all over the world," Fisher says.
Food accessibility is the issue here. "Food offers an important vehicle for building a much more sustainable city," Fisher adds. That is why planners should "use food issues as a vehicle to meet their goals, whether relating to land use, transportation, economic development, or revitalization or beautification."
CFSC also works on food policy. Bills now pending in Congress (H.R. 2626 and S. 1755) would provide seed grants for schools to buy their food from local farmers. Legislation now in place includes the Community Food Project Program, a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that provides $5 million annually to nonprofit groups creating alternative food systems. The program also provides funding for food policy councils, Fisher notes.
Madison: the mother lode
The City of Madison Farmers Market — one of the largest in the country with over 200 farmers represented — draws between 15,000 and 20,000 visitors on an average summer Saturday, says Mark Olinger, director of the city's Department of Planning and Development. "Madison has been described by some as ground zero for community-supported agriculture, and many residents buy share into CSA farms," he notes.
There are now over 1,000 CSA farms throughout the country, a movement that blossomed within the last 10 years or so, says Jerome Kaufman, FAICP, professor emeritus in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Kaufman is president of the board of Growing Power and has long pushed planners to consider food as part of community infrastructure.
Madison has gotten the point. University faculty members, planners, local cooperatives, and nonprofits interested in food delivery have formed a Central Agricultural Food Facility (CAFF), which gets locally grown foods into local school systems and restaurants. "We are also looking into the possibility of establishing a centralized food processing facility, a place for receiving and storing local produce, and an indoor market," Olinger says. Another Madison group — the Willie Street Food Co-op — is examining the feasibility of a central processing kitchen to prepare and sell food.
Citing numerous "threads floating around the city," Olinger says planners can help pull everything together into an integrated food system to promote the community and bolster economic development. In fact, the CAFF serves as an informal umbrella planning group for several area programs. But Olinger says he would like to include a food infrastructure element in the city's new comprehensive plan, now in draft form.
"Food is really an anchor in our neighborhoods, and whether it's purchased from community gardens, neighborhood grocery stores, or co-ops, it offers a gathering point for people," Olinger says. "We are thinking about how all these things could be used as part of our neighborhood revitalization strategy and our economic development strategy, as well as how we can preserve rural and agricultural land from sprawl."
The university certainly plays a role. At Troy Gardens, a racially mixed neighborhood on the north side of Madison, residential development and urban agriculture have been combined with the help of planners, says Marcia Caton Campbell, assistant professor in the university's urban and regional planning department. A local land trust bought the 31-acre parcel after the state put the land up for sale in 2001.
Planners from the university and others are working with the city to rezone the land for diverse uses. One was to provide five acres of community gardens for about 85 households and a five-acre urban farm to serve 100 households under a CSA structure.
An apple a day
Agriculture has long been the economic base of Londonderry, New Hampshire, and will continue to be a vital component of the economy, says Peter Lowitt, AICP, the town's director of planning and economic development from 1993 through 1999. Key components, he says, are agricultural and orchard preservation.
The town created the orchard preservation plan in 1997, after the planning department identified rural character as Londonderry's most important community concern, says Lowitt. "The community was concerned with the loss of open space and with its sense of community character," he says, noting that the next step was to enhance the working landscape while also attracting visitors. "Agribusiness and tourism are related in this respect."
One result was Apple Way, a posted route connecting four of the town's five apple orchards. Londonderry has more apple orchards than any other community in the state, and four have pick-your-own operations. "Linking arts and crafts to agricultural products and events like apple blossom festivals, harvest festivals, petting zoos, and ice cream stands underscored this important connection (between agriculture and the local economy)," Lowitt says.
Although it is difficult to quantify the effect this promotion has had on the local economy, Andre Garron, AICP, the town's director of planning and economic development, says, "Apple Way did put Londonderry on the map in terms of working apple orchards, and it adds a regional and broader appeal to the town's tourism base."
"Food and agriculture is one of the largest segments in our economy, employing about one-sixth of the nation's population along the farm-to-fork food chain," says John Hoffman, director of planning and threat mitigation in the Emergency Programs Division of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. And yet, as Mark Lapping points out, "the U.S. has a federal agricultural policy — but no federal food policy."
Planners can address the big picture. One point of intervention is to advocate for crop and livestock diversity. Another is to create an economic space for small-scale and medium-sized growers and processors. "Communities can then take ownership over their food supply systems," says Fisher.
"Finding ways to access food processing and a distribution chain are presenting serious problems that planners can help with," adds Caton Campbell. Even access to supermarkets is a growing concern among planners, because some of these markets have abandoned declining neighborhoods, particularly in inner cities.
Supermarkets are major community resources in emergency situations, notes Tim Hammonds, president and CEO of the Food Marketing Institute, which represents supermarkets, food wholesales, and distributors. "One of the things we learned after September 11 is that supermarkets around ground zero provided an important gathering place for people as well as first responders," Hammonds says.
Although no federal agency yet acts as a watchdog over food supplies, after the events of 9/11, the federal government identified food as one part of the nation's critical infrastructure, along with energy, water, telecommunications, finances and banking, transportation, and several other elements. Each element has its own Information Sharing Access Center (ISAC), which falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security.
"The Food ISAC's role is to serve as an early-warning communications system so we can quickly reach the member associations in the farm-to-table food system," says Hammonds of the Food Marketing Institute, which serves as the administrator for the Food ISAC. A critical response would require the continuous flow of food and water in and out of communities, Hammonds says.
North Carolina developed a model state action plan, he notes. "We work with planners in everything from prevention planning, to dealing with how to implement threat-reduction measures should the terrorism level be elevated in a particular infrastructure, to continuity of planning and operations," says Hoffman at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture.
Planners work with food security personnel on process, facilities, physical security, transportation, and food handling to ensure that terrorism can be dealt with as efficiently as other aspects of food safety and handling, Hoffman says. "It's important to preserve the infrastructure to preserve the economy so when the event is over, you can continue to operate."
The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) took a closer look at food security after 9/11 as well, says Mark Nelson, GMA's vice-president of scientific and regulatory policy. "This involved a better understanding of our suppliers, our customers, where our products are distributed, and transportation aspects such as how raw materials are received and, once products leave our control, making sure they get where they are supposed to go and are not diverted en route," Nelson says. GMA's 140 member organizations represent about 90 percent of the products in supermarkets today.
The federal Food ISAC plans to coordinate with the Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO) — who operate at the state and local levels — to develop standard procedures rather than acting on the fly, says Nelson. "But the real focus of these organizations is identification and prevention and how we will all communicate before an event can occur," he says.
"Planners will get involved as we design these programs because, ideally, we want to know who we should call, what we will do, who will be responsible when an event occurs — because it will cut across a lot of disciplines and areas that normally had been quite independent," Nelson adds.
The International Foodservice Distributors Association (IFDA) represents companies that supply food service products to restaurants, hospitals, country clubs, schools, and businesses, says Mark Allen, senior vice-president Allen says his organization works with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture to ensure traceability throughout the food supply chain. "We are encouraging our industry to develop a Global Trade Item Number (GTIN), which is the data structure in a bar code providing a unique identifier for each individual company and product," Allen says.
John Block, secretary of agriculture under President Ronald Reagan, is executive vice-president of FMI. "I support the idea of farmers markets and locally grown food, but the fact is consumers today want to buy at a reasonable price and be able to buy produce throughout the year, not just when it's in season," he says.
Hoffman points out that the nation's food supply is vastly different from what it was even 50 years ago. "Up until the 1970s, the majority of the food you ate was fresh, seasonal, and came from within a 50-mile to 100-mile region," he says. "With today's improved food preservation technologies, sanitation techniques, and transportation technologies, our highly integrated food supply infrastructure is in place so we can distribute fresh foods over a wider range. Our food is safer and cheaper than it ever was."
The food system is a highly orchestrated and regulated structure, he adds. "We can leverage large-scale production and highly efficient production in multiple areas of the country and these are good things," Hoffman says. "Some might say this kind of system is a corporate evil — but if you want to be able to walk into a grocery store any day of the week and get a safe and sanitary high-quality head of lettuce, then this is the kind of system you have to have in place."
April Terreri is a freelance writer in Whitefield, New Hampshire.
Images: Top — Growing Power, a Milwaukee-based nonprofit, distributes food from about 300 farmers nationwide — helping to sustain small producers. Photo Charlie Koenen, Growing Power Inc. Middle — L. A.'s Community Food Security Coalition supports small and medium-sized growers and food processors nationwide. An example of a L. A. farm. Photo Jered Lawson. Bottom — A fish stall at the Stockton Farmers Market. Photo Jered Lawson.
On the web
Growing Power: http://www.growingpower.org/
Grocery Manufacturers of America: http://www.gmabrands.com/
International Foodservice Distributors Association: http://www.ifdaonline.org/
Community Food Service Coalition; http://www.foodsecurity.org/
City of Madison: http://www.cityofmadison.com/
City of Chicago: http://www.cityofchicago.org/
New Jersey Agricultural Smart Growth Plan: www.state.nj.us/agriculture/index.html
Rutgers University Food Policy Institute: http://www.foodpolicyinstitute.org/
For more on community supported agriculture, see the Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/
To learn about nutraceuticals: www.nutraceuticalsworld.com
A Hancock County program called Revitalizing the Working Landscape in the New Economy, which focused on food and low-impact forestry, won an outstanding planning award from the American Planning Association (Planning, April 2000, p. 8).
See also "The Food System," by Kameshwari Pothukuchi and Jerome Kaufman (Journal of the American Planning Association, Spring 2000, p. 113) and "The Food Factor," by Sylvia Lewis (Planning, December 1984, p. 4).