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Baltimore City, Maryland

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Mayor of Baltimore, with two school students in a community garden. Image Source: Baltimore Food Policy Initiative.

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Mayor of Baltimore, with two school students in a community garden. Image Source: Baltimore Food Policy Initiative.

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Baltimore City, Maryland: A Food in all Policies Approach in a Post-Industrial City

Baltimore City, Maryland faces many of the same food system opportunities and challenges of other post-industrial cities, but the municipal government is aggressively pursuing a “food in all policies” approach by engaging agencies throughout the city. This feature highlights the initial efforts that established this approach, including an effort to institutionalize intergovernmental collaboration, and a few of the subsequent policies aimed at improving food access and supporting urban agriculture throughout the city.

Located in the Mid-Atlantic and in close proximity to Washington DC, Baltimore City is home to approximately 622,000 residents. The city is a majority-minority city: approximately 63% of the population is Black, 32% white, and 5% Hispanic or Latino.[1] Like most post-industrial cities, Baltimore City experienced a significant population decline and subsequent economic decline over the past 50 years. The city has lost approximately 300,000 people since 1960.[2] Today, Baltimore City is home to more than 16,000 vacant properties. Approximately 23.8% of the population is below the poverty level, compared to 9.8% for the state of Maryland. And the median household income is considerably lower than the state level: $41,385 versus $73,538, respectively.[3] About 1 in 5 residents live in food deserts or areas “where the distance to a supermarket is more than ¼ mile, the median household income is at or below 185% of the Federal Poverty Level, over 40% of households have no vehicle available, and the average Healthy Food Availability Index score for supermarkets, convenience and corner stores is low (measured using a modified Nutrition Environment Measurement Survey).”  One of the biggest health challenges facing residents is access to healthy and affordable food.

Despite these challenges, the municipal government took significant planning and policy steps to improve the health and well-being of its residents. In 2009, then mayor Sheila Dixon established the Baltimore Food Policy Task Force, made up of various stakeholders including the health commissioner and the Planning Department’s Director of Research and Strategic Planning. This task force identified 10 goals and a series of recommendations. Based on the recommendations of the Baltimore Food Policy Task Force, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake established the Baltimore Food Policy Initiative (BFPI), and hired a full-time Food Policy Director with the support of the funding community. In 2009, Baltimore City Council adopted the Baltimore Sustainability Plan, which included a goal to establish Baltimore as a leader in sustainable local food systems as a way to increase access to healthy food. This investment and desire for an integrated and holistic approach has enabled the municipal government to pursue the idea of “food in all policies” by engaging many municipal government agencies. Listed below are these landmark efforts:

Baltimore Sustainability Plan, 2009. In March 2009, Baltimore City Council adopted a new sustainability plan that articulated a vision for the city, placing an emphasis on social equity, economic health, and environmental stewardship into the decision-making process. This plan established an overarching direction on sustainability issues for the city while providing a long-term vision and goals for how to make Baltimore more sustainable. The plan identified several important issues—one of them being food access—which has provided direction for developing programs and policies related to food access. This plan was later adopted as an element of the city’s Comprehensive Master Plan.

Baltimore Food Policy Initiative, 2009. The Baltimore Food Policy Initiative (BFPI) is an intergovernmental collaboration between the Baltimore City Department of Planning, Health Department, Office of Sustainability, and Baltimore Development Corporation. The initiative provides an umbrella within the municipal government for all food-related projects, policies, and partnerships; and seeks to identify and support the food policy work of all municipal government agencies. BFPI has increased efficiency and effectiveness for many of the municipal government’s efforts and initiatives. There are full-time salaried positions devoted to food access in multiple agencies, including the Food Policy Director, Food Access Planner, Food Retail Economic Development Officer, and Baltimarket Food Access Coordinator.  These positions are supported by a combination of grant and municipal government funds.

In addition to local policy, BFPI has leveraged its voice to advocate for state and federal-level policy change. The role of the mayor has also been critical to BFPI’s success. Mayor Rawlings-Blake along with other political champions have added legitimacy to the work of BFPI and elevated its profile and work to a national audience.

Since its creation in 2009, the BFPI initiated or supported a number of food-access related policies, programs, and projects. Listed below are a few of these efforts:

Food Access Mapping. The BFPI works closely with its municipal partners and Johns Hopkins University’s Center for a Livable Future to measure and monitor the status of the city’s food environment. This includes mapping of neighborhoods with low access and developing a better understanding and more accurate definition of food deserts. According to the BFPI, “these maps are essential…because they define the areas of greatest need, track progress, and help to better inform policy recommendations that aim to increase access to healthy foods in and around food deserts and to improve the overall food environment in Baltimore City.”

Baltimarket, 2010. Under the BFPI umbrella, the Baltimore City Health Department developed a suite of community-based food access and food justice programs. Baltimarket envisions a Baltimore with communities that have equitable access to healthy, affordable, and culturally-specific foods every day. One aspect of the program is a virtual supermarket that uses an online grocery ordering and delivery system to bring food to neighborhoods with low-vehicle ownership and little access to healthy foods. Qualifying neighborhood residents can place their grocery orders at a local library branch, school or senior/disabled housing site and/or from any computer or device that has internet access. Payment can be in the form of cash, credit, debit or SNAP.

Homegrown Baltimore Employee Wellness CSA Farmshare, 2014. The City of Baltimore negotiated with the Managerial and Professional Society of Baltimore (MAPS) union, a labor union representing City of Baltimore employees, to allow for members to participate in a community supported agriculture program (CSA) or farm share as part of their wellness benefit. This is the first program of its kind in the United States. Members of the union can be reimbursed up to $250 of the cost to participate in a CSA.

Expansion of SNAP Benefits at Farmers Markets, 2014. Baltimore is participating in a pilot project with the United States Department of Agriculture to integrate Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and wireless devices. If fully adopted, the use of wireless devices will allow for the acceptance of SNAP benefits at all Baltimore farmers markets.

In addition to tackling food access issues head on, the municipal government supports urban food production as an important strategy to reclaim and reuse vacant property in a productive way that contributes to the social, economic, and environmental health of the community. Since 2009, the municipal government developed a number of policies to support urban food production. These include, but are not limited to:

Land Leasing Initiative, 2012. Through the Land Leasing Initiative, the Baltimore City Office of Sustainability provides long-term leases for city owned vacant land to prequalified farmers. There are 5-year leases with a 2-year notice to vacate (dependent on farm type), at a rate of $100 a year and funding available with initial capital costs. No tax is imposed on non-profit farms and for-profit farms are eligible for tax breaks.

Homegrown Baltimore, 2013. In late fall 2013, the municipal government adopted Homegrown Baltimore, an urban agriculture plan with an aim to increase production, distribution, sales and consumption of locally grown food within Baltimore. This plan offers 25 recommendations for improving the local food system in the city. A key imitative that came out of Homegrown Baltimore identifies vacant lots within city limits that are available to farmers to grow and sell food on a five-year lease.

Health, Zoning & Building Codes, 2012-2013. Between 2012 and 2013, the municipal government revised its health, zoning, and building codes to better support urban agriculture. The Baltimore City Health Code was revised to allow the raising of chickens, mini goats and ducks within city limits. The Baltimore City Building Code was revised to allow for the construction of coops to maintain small fowl and hoop houses to improve season extension and the economic viability of farmers. And, the Baltimore City Zoning Code was modified to designate specific spaces for both food production and food distribution, and allow for growing and selling in the city, either from a farm or community garden.

Urban producers continue to face challenges related to water access, soil contamination, and lack of awareness among the general population about the benefits of urban agriculture. Efforts are being made to remedy these issues including a Garden Irrigation Fund through Homegrown Baltimore and a city produced Soil Safety Policy to guide responsible use of potentially-contaminated soil. The increases in demand for urban agriculture have also created economies of scale whereby farmers are interested in larger lot sizes than the city can provide.

Baltimore has many policies and initiatives aimed at improving food production and ensuring that those who need it most benefit from the increase in local food. The city’s “food in all policies” approach is an example for others to follow. These efforts and successes can guide other post-industrial cities in a quest to promote health and well-being for all residents.

In addition to the above policies, Baltimore has a suite of policies and supports a variety of programs and projects designed to help the city achieve its goal of all residents having access to healthy, affordable food:

[1] US Census QuickFacts,

[2] Maryland Department of Planning, Maryland State Data Center, Population of Maryland’s Regions and Jurisdictions, 1790-1990,

[3] US Census QuickFacts,

Cabarrus County, North Carolina

Image Source: Cabarrus County Sustainability Department.

Image Source: Cabarrus County Sustainability Department.

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Advancing Local Food Policy in Cabarrus County, North Carolina: Successes and Challenges in a Changing Political Climate

Cabarrus County is an innovative, agricultural community that has experienced both tremendous political successes and setbacks to strengthening its local food system. Between 2008 and 2014, the county government took important steps towards institutionalizing and funding local food systems policy and programmatic work by establishing a food policy council and creating a local food system program coordinator position. In June 2014, due to significant and unexpected budget cuts, the county government cut financial support for this work and eliminated the local food system program coordinator position. The following feature highlights these successes and setbacks and provides a summary of how the community is moving forward in light of its current struggles with maintaining ongoing political support for local food system work.

Cabarrus County is an urban county located in the south-central part of North Carolina, bordering the City of Charlotte. The county is home to commodity crop production and livestock production, as well as a small, but growing segment of fruit and vegetable production. Small-scale farmers have access to direct sale opportunities through the county’s robust farmers market system: 5 seasonal markets and 1 year-round market for a county population of approximately 184,500. The county also has three food businesses that provide aggregation, distribution and wholesale services for beef, poultry, dairy, produce and other foodstuff produced in the county.

Access to land and capital remain challenges for new farmers. Unless family owned land is available, it is often difficult for new farmers to buy or long-term lease land. Finding capital for equipment and other inputs is also challenging. While there is a growing interest among small-scale farmers to sell to institutional markets, particularly schools, there is a lack of education on how to tap into these markets either directly, or indirectly through existing large food services such as Cisco, Aramark and US Foods.

Since the recession, the county experienced an increase in the number of food insecure individuals and families. A major non-governmental organization in the community – the Cooperative Christian Ministry – serves as a quasi food hub for the county and distributes food to individuals and families through a network of small food pantries. The number of people served each year continues to increase. The two most sought after foods by food emergency agencies in the county are high quality proteins and fresh produce. However, much of what they currently receive includes packaged foods. Transportation also limits access to food for many individuals in the county.

Food Systems Policy

Between 2008 and 2014, the county government took important steps to support food production and food security, and tackle challenges through plans, policy, and programs. Listed below are a few of these:

Comprehensive Plan Update Process. In 2008, the County government updated its comprehensive plan. The planning process revealed 4 important needs of the agricultural community and paved the way for food systems policy innovation. Under pressure from development by surrounding communities, county commissioners decided to preserve agriculture in the northeast part of the County. When asked how the County government could support agriculture in the county, farmers and agricultural landowners responded by asking for 4 priorities:

  • an incubator farm, or facility to train the next generation of farmers;
  • a slaughter facility to enable farmers to finish their cattle and pigs in the county;
  • a food systems assessment so that the county could fully understand the state of agriculture before planning how to move forward; and
  • a food policy council to oversee these and other food projects, better connect the local government with private citizens and businesses, and guide the development of a sustainable local food economy and a healthier population.

Trust Fund Supporting Local Food Economy. As a result of the comprehensive planning process, the county board of commissioners adopted a resolution in May 2009 that created a special fund from present-use valuation deferred tax penalties to support sustainable agricultural projects. When property leaves the North Carolina agriculture present-use value program (PUV), the payment of deferred taxes on the property is placed in a special account that is dedicated to funding sustainable agriculture-related projects, instead of going into the general fund. While PUV is a statewide program, Cabarrus County is the only county that sets aside money in a separate, special account for sustainable agriculture projects.

Local Food System Assessment. In 2010, the county government contracted the Center for Environmental Farming Systems for approximately $30,000 to conduct a food system assessment to: 1) provide an initial evaluation of the food system in the county, 2) highlight assets and challenges within different segments of the food system, and 3) make recommendations for action.

Cabarrus Farm & Food Council. In April 2010, the county board of commissioners adopted a resolution that established the Food Policy Council – now known as the Cabarrus Farm & Food Council. Between 2010 and 2014, the council received approximately $7,000 from the county government to support activities, materials, and an annual retreat.

Local Food System Program Coordinator. A month later in May 2010, the county board of commissioners created a local food system program coordinator position. This was an intentional decision of the county board of commissioners, so that the coordinator could oversee the food system assessment, coordinate the food council, and manage other food-related projects. Between 2010 and June 2014, the coordinator was responsible for (1) coordinating and providing technical and logistical support to the food policy council; (2) planning, teaching and evaluating educational programs that support a productive, economical, environmentally sound and secure local food system that enhances the community (e.g. managing the food system assessment and more recently managing the Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm).

These policies and staffing decisions paved the way for subsequent local government supported food systems projects, programs and policies. Until drastic budget cuts in 2014, the county government supported the development and/or operations of: the Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm, the Cruse Meats Harvest Facility, the Community Demonstration Garden, and the Rotary Square & Market. In addition, the food council developed a locally grown marketing campaign, and the county board of commissioners adopted a local food purchasing policy for the purpose of supporting the local food economy and to provide better access to fresher, more nutritious and better tasting food at county events.

Budget Cuts

Despite the local government’s support of food systems work, on June 16, 2014 the county board of commissioners voted to cut all funding for food systems related work and projects (including funding for the food council and about $400,000 for the Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm), and eliminated the local food system program coordinator position. These cuts were part of $3 million in broader budget cuts and approved in a 3-2 vote on June 16, 2014.[1] Beyond the food systems related cuts, the budget cuts included the elimination of funding for economic development, several county employee positions, the County Wellness Center, as well as the reduction in the county government’s contribution to health insurance.[2]

According to Aaron Newton, former local food system program coordinator for Cabarrus County, food system stakeholders learned important lessons from these drastic changes. Before these budget cuts, the majority of food systems related programs, projects and other efforts were solely dependent on county government funding. The budget cuts forced the Elma C. Lomax Farm and the Cabarrus Farm and Food Council to realize that there was a pressing need to diversify their funding streams, primarily through the development of new partnerships, including likely and even unlikely partners.

Signaling the emergence of such partnerships, in July 2014 the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) entered into a temporary agreement with the county government to assume operations of the Elma C. Lomax Farm through December 31, 2014,[3] which was later extended for an additional year.  In addition, a private philanthropist, Scott Avett, one of the founding members of the music band – The Avett Brothers, provided a personal donation to the Lomax Farm and later that year provided fundraising assistance for a Barnraiser campaign that raised about $25,000.[4]

In a political turn of events, on December 15, 2014, the county board of commissioners restored $2.1 million of the $3 million budget cuts. However, the restorations did not include specific funding for the local food systems work.[5] Later in a response to a request from CFSA, on February 16, 2015, the county board of commissioners approved authorization of $25,000 in funds from the County’s deferred tax fund to match funds raised by the Barnraiser funding campaign. The combined funds provide financial support for the Lomax Farm until June 30, 2015.[6]

Next Steps

The June  2014 budget cuts drastically changed the face of food systems policy work in Cabarrus County. The use of deferred tax funds, beyond support of the Lomax Farm, is still undecided. And, the fate of the local food systems program coordinator position and subsequent local food systems program work is still unclear. However, food system stakeholders, including the Cabarrus Farm and Food Council, will continue to tackle food systems issues within the county.

The council is currently taking steps to secure 501c not-for-profit corporate status and is soliciting charitable contributions to continue its work.  While the council has focused its work on food production, the council plans to address other components of the food system, notably food security, institutional food procurement, food processing, and food distribution in subsequent years. The council plans to develop a long-term, 10-year food security plan that will address the current fresh food supply issue experienced by food emergency agencies; consider the use of mobile markets and programs to distribute healthy foods into neighborhood grocery stores; and explore a farm to school program to benefit local growers while improving access to healthy food within the school system.












City of Burlington and Chittenden County, Vermont

Downtown Burlington’s City Market Onion River Co-op offers food access opportunities to typically underserved populations. Image source:

Downtown Burlington’s City Market Onion River Co-op offers food access opportunities to typically underserved populations. Image source:

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Multi-level Governmental Support Paves the Way for Local Food in Chittenden County, Vermont

In Vermont, a strong Dillon’s rule state and one of the most rural states in the United States, a combination of state, regional and municipal-led planning and policy initiatives are paving the way for food systems change in Chittenden County. State entities – including the Health Department and the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, and local entities – including the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission (CCRPC) and the City of Burlington municipal government, are actively engaged in improving access to healthy food, supporting food production and related farm enterprises, food processing, and workforce training. These entities have employed various policy and planning levers to support and enable the innovative food systems work of leading non-profits and organizations in the community.

Chittenden County is located in northwestern Vermont. About 350,000 acres in size, the diverse landscape includes a mix of farms, forests, water bodies, small cities, suburban areas, and villages.[i] Home to approximately 160,531 residents, or about 26% of the state’s population (626,562), it is the state’s most populous county.[ii] Of its 19 municipalities, the City of Burlington is the largest in the county, as well as in the state, with 42,211 residents.[iii] Buels Gore is the smallest with 30 residents.[iv] The state’s largest higher education institution, University of Vermont (UVM), is located in Burlington. UVM includes 9,958 undergraduates, 1,371 graduate students, 459 medical students and 1,364 full- and part-time faculty.

Unlike many rural areas in the U.S., the county’s population is growing at a higher rate than the state and the New England region. Although the county is predominantly white (89.9%), its demographic diversity is increasing faster than the rest of the state. Between 2007 and 2013, the county’s Hispanic or Latino population grew from 7.4% to 9.7% between 2007 and 2013, compared to 4.8% to 6% for the state. And the county’s Black population increased from 2,409 in 2007 and to 3,851 in 2013. The county is also a refugee settlement community and over 50 languages are currently spoken across the county.[v]

As a Dillon’s Rule state, Vermont state government dictates the powers and authority of local governments. According to the Vermont League of

Cities and Towns, “despite its tradition and reputation of direct democracy and robust local control, Vermont has one of the most centralized governments in the country.”[vi] Both municipalities and counties in the state are limited in their powers to affect community change. Dissimilar to county governments in most U.S. states that provide a range of services related to transportation, health, parks, planning, law enforcement, education, etc., Vermont county government functions are limited to providing minimal services to the courts, and sheriff’s and high baliff’s offices.[vii]  As a result, state government agencies, regulations, initiatives and programs more directly influence municipalities than in other states.

The Vermont State Department of Health provides health services to Vermont municipalities through its 12 district offices. The Burlington District Office serves all municipalities within Chittenden County, providing maternal and child health, refugee health, school health, environmental health, and emergency preparedness services.[viii] And, the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission (CCRPC) – a regional planning organization – provides regional land use, transportation, emergency management, energy, water quality, natural resources, economic development, governance, education and outreach planning and technical assistance to the county’s 19 municipalities.[ix]

Chittenden County has a long history of agricultural production. Its 587 farms[x] primarily produce dairy and vegetables, as well as beef, berries, and maple syrup[xi] and nearly 200 farms market food directly to consumers.[xii] Between 2007 and 2012, the number of farms decreased by 1%, while the acreage of farmland and the average size of farms decreased by 12% and 11%, respectively. Despite these decreases, the average market value of products sold per farm increased 26%: from $56,958 in 2007 to $71,951 in 2012.[xiii]

County farmers face a number of challenges including access to land, markets and certified processing facilities, difficulty competing with mass-produced products from other areas in the country, and retaining farmland in face of development pressures. There is often greater monetary value in developing farmland rather than maintaining it as a farm. Despite these challenges, Chittenden County residents are very supportive of locally produced goods, including food. There is great community support for farmers markets, farm-to-institution programs, and farm-to-restaurant activities. Chittenden County is also home to the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, one of the oldest organic farming associations in the United States; the UVM Food Systems Initiative that promotes food systems research, teaching, and outreach;[xiv] the Intervale Center – 350 acres of privately and publicly owned agricultural land in Burlington and a publically supported farm incubator (see section below for more information); and extensive smaller scale community and backyard gardens. The farmers and gardeners grow a wide range of crops, vegetables, and flowers, and raise poultry, goat and pigs.

Obtaining access to farmable land is one of the county’s and city’s main food production challenges. The Burlington municipal government is trying to address this issue by providing plots and lease agreements for interested gardeners. However, finding arable land of a sufficient size remains a challenge for the city’s farmers. Frequent flooding, including on Intervale lands, also makes urban food production difficult, however a 2015 survey of Intervale farmers indicated that the benefits of farming in this area (access to a large market, good soil, and a community of supportive farmers) far outweigh the flood risks.

While the poverty rate in Chittenden County is lower than the national rate, it is increasing.  In Burlington, over 25% of the population lives below the poverty line, well above the state average of 11%.[xv] According to Hunger Free Vermont, about 1 in 7 children (or about 14%) in the county are food insecure. This figure is estimated to be a bit higher in Burlington. The county’s most underserved residents include low-income residents, children younger that school age that are not accessing the free breakfast or lunch programs offered by schools, and residents of parts of Burlington, the City of Winooski, and the Town of Milton. In Burlington, the city’s most underserved populations include primarily people of color, seniors, immigrants, and refugees. Burlington’s residents access both the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as well as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) at rates of 15% and 12%, respectively[xvi]. Food access barriers in Burlington are exacerbated by a public transportation system that does not serve all parts of the city and only runs on certain days of the week.

Despite these challenges, municipal government, non-profit, and business actors within Burlington’s food system are mindful to locate food assets such as community gardens, farmers’ markets, and affordable grocery options in underserved areas. These locational strategies reduce food disparities. Burlington is also home to the City Market Onion River Co-op, the top grossing food co-op in the U.S., which has a strong affordability mandate. The number of ethnic food stores offering culturally appropriate foods is also growing. Immigrants and refugees have also benefitted from the Pine Island Community Farm’s Vermont Goat Collaborative, a partnership program between the Vermont Land Trust and the Association of Africans Living in Vermont that supports new immigrants in the raising and slaughtering of goats and chickens for meat.

To address the existing challenges, foster the community food system, create green and sustainable jobs, and increase access to healthy food, the CCRPC and the Burlington municipal government have taken important steps to plan for the future of their community food system. These actions have taken various forms including working directly with non-profit and community partners on policy innovations, offering staff support to community-based work, and integrating food system goals and actions into official plans.


Along with introducing policy that specifically enables community-led work, food systems priorities have also recently figured into official government plans.

  • Vermont Farm to Plate Plan, 2009. While a state-wide plan, the Vermont Farm to Plate Plan has been an instrumental resource to regional and municipal governments on agriculture and food systems issues. In 2009, the Vermont State Senate, House, and Governor signed the Farm to Plate Investment Program into law and tasked the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund with the creation of a 10-year food system plan. The purpose of the Farm to Plate Plan is to “increase economic development in Vermont’s farm and food sector; create jobs in the farm and food economy; and improve access to healthy local food for all Vermonters.”[xvii] The plan includes 25 goals to support all aspects of the food system, provides a number of high priority policy recommendations and actions, and uses results based accountability to measure the impacts of plan implementation.[xviii] Many local government leaders, including those from Burlington and Chittenden County, either sat on Farm to Plate working groups or contributed to their work. In conjunction with this plan, the Vermont State Legislators established the Vermont Working Lands Enterprise Initiative, which has provided over $3 million in grants since 2012 to “fund forestry and agriculture projects that enhance Vermont’s communities, economy and culture”.[xix]
  • Chittenden County Environment, Community, Opportunity, Sustainability (ECOS) Plan, 2013. In 2010, the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission (CCRPC) received a $1 million grant from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development Sustainable Communities Project (with co-sponsorship from the EPA and U.S. DOT) to develop a long-range regional, sustainability plan for Chittenden County. The three-year community planning process culminated in the ECOS Plan, which combined the Chittenden County Regional Plan, the Metropolitan Transportation Plan and Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy into one plan, allowing the CCRPC to better coordinate and align common objectives and actions. Plan steering committee members included representation from all 19 municipalities in the county, as well as 40 non-profit, institutional and governmental agencies and organizations. Three of the eight high priority strategies, several priority actions, and a number of community indicators support local food systems. As part of plan implementation, the CCRPC provided $50K in funding for a project called New American Food, a revenue-generating, culinary job skills training project to “prepare unemployed refugees…for jobs in the food preparation and processing industries”; and $50K in funding to Path to Sustainability, “a series of initiatives to transform South Burlington into a community that will be a leader in sustainable food production, housing and quality of life, transportation and transit-oriented development, energy efficiency, natural resource protection, and economic vitality.” The plan also explicitly calls out the need to support food processing industries, value-added product markets, and workforce training; protect existing farmland; improve access to healthy food; support new agricultural and homestead operations; and support implementation of the statewide Vermont Farm to Plate Plan.
  • Open Space Protection Plan, 2014. Burlington’s 2014 Open Space Protection Plan offers an inventory of different types of open space land, including urban agriculture. The plan deals with accessibility to these spaces by residents as a tool for identifying underserved neighborhoods as well as open space protection opportunities. One of the key indicators specifically analyzes the proximity of residents within a ½ mile of a community garden as well as identified prime agricultural soils for food production and opportunities for new community gardens.
  • Burlington Municipal Development Plan, 2014. The 2014 updated Burlington Municipal Development Plan includes articulation of food as a priority and basic need of Burlington’s residents that is essential for sustainability. The agriculture sector is highlighted as an opportunity for new business development and entrepreneurship in particular.

Government Staff Support

Regional and municipal government staff helped launch and support a variety of food systems initiatives in collaboration with community.

  • Burlington Food Council, 2003. Priorities around fresh, healthy, local food – particularly in schools – emerged during a 2002 town hall meeting convened by the City of Burlington’s Legacy Project steering committee. The Legacy Project exists to implement the City of Burlington’s Legacy Plan, first adopted in 200 and then updated in 2010, which outlines a vision and plan for Burlington’s social, environmental, and economic health. This gave way to the establishment of the Burlington Food Council (BFC) in 2003. The City of Burlington’s Legacy Project staff gave the BFC administrative support between 2006 and 2008 in addition to the council’s rotating volunteer coordinator. The council’s first project and resultant guiding document was a Community Food Assessment for Burlington. The council was also involved in a youth-developed food action plan for the Burlington School District as well as the City of Burlington’s Urban Agriculture Task Force.
  • Hunger Council of Chittenden County, 2006. In 2006, Hunger Free Vermont, “a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to providing nutrition education and expanding access to nutrition programs that nourish Vermont’s children, families, and communities”, piloted the launch of the Hunger Council of Chittenden County. The CCRPC supports this group by hosting and facilitating these meetings in their offices. In addition, the Community Health Improvement Director for the University of Vermont Medical Center, The Health District Director, the Community Improvement Director for United Way, and the Executive Director of CCRPC, regularly attend Council meetings to better understand the issues around food security, and assist with data collection. These 4 community leaders and the Hunger Council are currently working to transform the group from one that focuses on the sharing of information to one that is more action-oriented.
  • Burlington School Food Project, 2008. The Burlington Food Council eventually evolved into the Burlington School Food Project (BSFP) with the support of a 3-year United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant. The BSFP convenes stakeholders to implement school food programming as well as supported the creation of a 2011 Wellness Policy that incorporates farm to school goals into the Burlington school system. Although the Burlington School District is the lead on the project, municipal government was involved in the early stages of launching the initiative through its Sustainability Program and in enabling farm-to-school programs.

Support for Agriculture

Beyond the official plans already mentioned, the CCRPC and Burlington municipal government have supported area farmers throughout Chittenden County in a number of ways:

  • Intervale Center, 1988. The City of Burlington municipal government is one of over 20 official partners with the Intervale Center, a non-profit established in 1988 to improve the viability of farming, the health of water and lands, and people’s ability to engage and celebrate their local food system. The municipality was also a key driver for the establishment of the center alongside Will Raap[xx], a local garden store owner, and introduced zoning forbidding commercial and residential development in the area[xxi]. The municipal government has been a key collaborator on several policy fronts with the Center including access to land. For instance, the Intervale Center purchased 179 acres of land from the City of Burlington in 2007 and collaborates on a land management plan for the area. The Intervale Center is also embedded in the aforementioned City of Burlington Legacy Plan. A municipal staff person sits on the Center’s board, directly participating in the organization’s governance. City staff have also helped provide road access to Intervale farms. Today, Intervale continues supports farmers across the state of Vermont through its many projects and programs, including the food hub and farms program.
  • Listening Forum for Chittenden County Farmers and Local Decision Makers, 2005. In recognizing that agriculture is important to the region’s character and economy, the CCRPC and the Vermont Planners Association (VPA) sponsored a listening forum in 2005 to learn about the issues facing regional farmers and agricultural enterprises. Both farmers and local decision makers were invited to learn from each other. In small group settings, participants were asked to explain the opportunities and challenges for farming in the county. This forum revealed a number of factors related to land access and land costs, property taxes, access to farmers markets, transportation, regulations, farm suppliers and services, and farm transition.
  • Penny for Parks Fund, 2008. Penny for Parks was introduced in 2008 as a funding strategy for capital improvements to parks through its own dedicated tax with one cent of the tax rate going to the fund. Community gardens receive 5% of the total raised as a steady public investment strategy in these urban agriculture spaces. A total of eight of the 61 projects funding through Penny for Parks in the last two years are community garden improvements.
  • Urban Agriculture Task Force, 2011. Burlington City Council created the Urban Agriculture Task Force in 2011 with the mandate of creating urban agriculture policy for Burlington. A report with the task force’s recommendations was submitted to Burlington City Council in September 2012 outlining a path for regulating, governing, and supporting urban agriculture. City Council tasked the Planning Commission and Board of Health with implementing these recommendations.
  • Urban Agriculture Zoning Regulation, 2014. Following the advice of the Urban Agriculture Task Force, Burlington City Council amended the zoning ordinance in 2014 to allow urban agriculture on private land. Overall, these changes reduce barriers to urban agriculture and provide exemptions to encourage urban agriculture as a defined use.

Food Access Policy

In addition to food production policy, the Burlington municipal government has used it urban land base towards achieving food access goals.

  • City Market – Burlington’s Food Co-op and City Market Vacant Property Lease, 2002. The Onion River Co-op, now City Market Onion River Co-op, entered into an agreement with City of Burlington staff in 2002 to open a grocery store on vacant city-owned land. This allowed the store to expand from 6,000 to 16,000 square feet and introduce more affordable pricing for Burlington’s lower income residents. The municipality was particularly interested in a grocery retail option that would serve groups like seniors, people with mobility challenges, and newcomers and ensured that the City Market was able to meet these communities’ needs. Staff from Burlington’s Community and Economic Development Office have also been very supportive by helping the co-op secure grant funding along with providing technical assistance to the co-op.

Other state and municipal government efforts to support community food systems work in Chittenden County include:

[i] Chittenden County Environment, Community, Opportunity, Sustainability (ECOS) Plan, 2013,

[ii] US Census 2014 estimate

[iii] US Census 2014 estimate

[iv] US Census 2012 estimate

[v] 2014 Annual ECOS Report,

[vi] “Self Governance.” Municipal Policy Paper No. 5. Vermont League of Cities and Towns. October 2014. Available at

[vii] Vermont Public Radio, “Why for Vermont County Government?”, Jane Lindholm & Ric Cengeri, October 6, 2014,

[viii] Vermont Department of Health,

[ix] Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission FY16 Annual Work Plan and Budget,

[x] United States Department of Agriculture, 2012 US Census of Agriculture, Table 1, Vermont County Summary Highlights,,_Chapter_2_County_Level/Vermont/st50_2_001_001.pdf

[xi] Agriculture and Chittenden County Communities:
A Listening Forum for Farmers and Local Decisionmakers
Topic: What is Needed for Agriculture to be Successful in Chittenden County? April 20, 2005

[xii] United States Department of Agriculture, 2012 US Census of Agriculture, Table 1, Vermont County Summary Highlights,,_Chapter_2_County_Level/Vermont/st50_2_002_002.pdf

[xiii] 2012 US Census of Agriculture County Profile, Chittenden County,

[xiv] University of Vermont Food Systems Initiative,

[xv] US Census State and County Quick Facts,

[xvi] Becot, Florence and Jane Kolodinsky. Burlington Healthy Food Assessment, Center for Rural Studies at the University of Vermont, 2014.

[xvii] Vermont Farm to Plate Plan,

[xviii] Vermont Farm to Plate Plan, Chapter 2: Getting to 2020: Goals and Indicators,

[xix] Vermont Working Lands Enterprise Initiative,

[xx] Berman, Elizabeth A. “Creating a Community Food System: The Intervale Center.” University of Libraries Faculty and Staff Publications. University of Vermont ScholarWorks. Paper 32. 2011.

[xxi] Daly, Brian. “Farming the Floodplain: Farm Incubation in Burlington’s Intervale.” Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Urban Nature and City Design Course,

City of Cleveland, Ohio

The Ohio City Farm is one of many urban farms in Cleveland promoting food access for residents and supported by city policy. Image Source:

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A Local Government’s Transition from an Urban Agriculture Focus to a Comprehensive Food Systems Policy Approach

The City of Cleveland municipal government began advancing food policy in 1976 with support for urban agriculture, namely community gardening, which has remained the city’s key area of focus. In 2008 other food systems issues, beyond urban agriculture, began receiving unprecedented municipal government support. For example, the municipal government began linking food production policies with strong food access goals. This required multi-sectoral approach to policymaking. Under the leadership of the Cleveland-Cuyahoga Food Policy Coalition, the Ohio State University’s (OSU) Cuyahoga County Extension, and the City of Cleveland – public, private, agricultural, non-profit, health, education, and other key sectors regularly collaborate in addressing food production gaps and enabling better food access for residents.

The City of Cleveland, located in Cuyahoga County, is home to 389,521 of Ohio’s 11,594,163 residents. Cleveland is a minority majority city with a 53.3% black population, a 10% Latino/Hispanic population, and a one third white population[1]. Like other industrial cities of the 20th century, Cleveland experienced major population decline and staggering property vacancies beginning in 1960.  Compounded by the 2008 recession, more than half the city population had left Cleveland by 2010[2].

Urban agricultural production in Cleveland is diverse, but focuses primarily on specialty crops such as fruits and vegetables. More and more producers are beginning to raise bees, chickens or ducks in the city. There is also potential to further develop egg and meat production in the city. The models of urban food production are as varied as the products including residential agriculture, community gardens, market gardens, as well as urban and peri-urban farms. Products are grown or raised for both personal consumption and/or commercial sale. Within the broader Cuyahoga County, demand for healthy food has increased alongside the growing number of people interested in urban agriculture. This demand and interest is mirrored by more opportunities for direct sales and marketing of local agriculture products in the county including more farmers selling directly to restaurants.

Food producers are nevertheless challenged by a limited growing season; barriers to accessing businesses licenses, land leases, insurance, and capital; as well as soil quality and water access issues. Accessing the necessary infrastructure to produce and subsequently distribute food to retail outlets is also a challenge for commercial growers. Urban farmers additionally struggle with pricing food affordably, yet high enough to cover their livelihoods, and persuading residents to make healthy choices by purchasing locally farmed goods.

Residents face their own set of challenges in accessing healthy affordable food, urban grown or otherwise. These include a lack of walkable or transit-friendly grocery store or market options as well as limited incomes with which to purchase food. As a result, Cleveland residents – 35.4%[3] of whom are living in poverty – rely on corner stores, which tend to lack the capacity to stock healthy or culturally appropriate food. Low-income residents, seniors, and children are some of the most underserved populations in Cleveland and face significant food access challenges.

Despite the challenges, the Cleveland municipal government has been able to implement a number of policies and programs to support food production and improve food security in part because of ongoing multi-sectoral collaboration largely coordinated by the City of Cleveland and Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition. What began as support for a municipal community gardening program has over three decades evolved into a high level adoption of food systems thinking within Cleveland’s local government.

Support for Urban Agriculture

In the late 1970s, Cleveland’s municipal government began supporting urban agriculture with the inaugural Summer Sprout community gardening program. This was the first of several important policy efforts of the municipal government to increase opportunities for urban food production and improve food access within city limits.

  • Summer Sprout, 1976. Summer Sprout is the City of Cleveland’s longstanding community gardening program dating back to 1976, which is funded in part by the City of Cleveland Department of Community Development. Today, the program currently supports 197 gardens on 43.32 acres of land throughout Cleveland by providing equipment and technical assistance in partnership with Ohio State University Extension.
  • Series of Urban Agriculture Regulations (2007 to 2011). Between 2007 and 2011 the City of Cleveland adopted a number of urban agriculture policies to promote urban agriculture as a land use and to reduce barriers to urban agriculture for those wishing to grow food in the city. These policies build on one another as well as Cleveland’s pre-existing urban agriculture practice and legacy.
  • Gardening for Greenbacks, 2008. The City of Cleveland Department of Economic Development has been leading Gardening for Greenbacks since 2008. The program was initiated in 2008 under Mayor Frank G. Jackson as a health promotion initiative in the form of an urban agriculture incentive program. Led by the Department of Economic Development, Gardening for Greenbacks provides grants of up to $5,000 to entrepreneurial agriculture organizations such as farmer cooperatives and other types of community supported agriculture programs for equipment related to growing and selling produce. A major objective of the program is ensuring residents have access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. The City of Cleveland is an original funder of the program. Additional recent funders include AgriBank, CoBank, and Farm Credit Services of Mid-America.

Integrating Food Systems Thinking

Beyond urban agriculture, the City of Cleveland has also integrated broader food systems thinking into its policy, evidenced by the Cleveland Food Charter, close collaborations with the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition, and the integration of food systems issues in the Re-Imagining a More Sustainable Cleveland Plan.

  • Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition, 2007. The Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition was founded in 2007 with funding support from the Cleveland Department of Public Health Steps to a Healthier Cleveland initiative in 2007 and 2008. While the coalition is no longer funded by the City of Cleveland, instead accessing private funds, and is not an official advisory group to government, City and County staff are still largely involved in the coalition as part of its leadership team. The coalition supports a large number of program and policy areas, including developing the Cleveland Food Charter, and brings together a broad scope of public, private, and agricultural partners.
  • Cleveland Food Charter, 2008. The Cleveland Food Charter was authored in 2008 by the Community Food Assessment working group of the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition and subsequently presented to Mayor and Cleveland City Council. The Charter was passed by City Council through Resolution 1563-08 demonstrating the municipality’s commitment to ensuring adequate food access for all citizens, support for local farmers and food businesses, the reduction of climate impacts and urban greening through food systems, and a strengthened economy, among other broad goals.
  • Re-Imagining a More Sustainable Cleveland Plan, 2008. This 2008 plan for re-purposing vacant land in Cleveland includes strategies for improving local food security, among other goals. Many of these include making land available for urban food production as a way of improving food access for residents such as by creating an urban agriculture land use category and ensuring residents are within walking distance of farm and garden space.

In addition to the urban agriculture and food systems policies highlighted above, the City of Cleveland boasts a strong collection of additional food production, food security, and other food policies:





City of Minneapolis, Minnesota

Image Source: City of Minneapolis, Minnesota

Image Source: City of Minneapolis, Minnesota

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Mayoral Leadership Sparks Lasting Food Systems Policy Change in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Building on existing community food system efforts and public interest in local foods, the City of Minneapolis, Minnesota has successfully developed a broad range of food systems related policies. The municipal government and its strong non-governmental partners take a full systems approach, addressing food system areas ranging from urban agriculture to local food business, community kitchens, public markets, food retail and access, and neighborhood connections. This feature highlights Homegrown Minneapolis, an innovative, city-wide local foods initiative launched in 2008, and subsequent administrative, regulatory, financial, and programmatic changes responsible for institutionalizing food systems issues across municipal government departments, effectively engaging community partners, and supporting the local food system.

Minneapolis is home to approximately 400,000 residents.[1] The majority of residents are white with a growing population of color – at least 40% of the Minneapolis-St Paul Twin Cities region population is expected to be non-white by 2040.[2] Almost a quarter of current residents (22.5%) live below the poverty line with a median household income of $49,885.[3]

The city is surrounded by a dairy farming sector that produces primarily milk, cheese and other value added products. A sector of small and mid-sized fruit and vegetables growers are also clustered around the Twin Cities region. Within Minneapolis city limits, urban agriculture is prominent including backyard gardens, community gardens, commercial urban farmers, and other forms of urban food production. Minneapolis’ community-minded urban farmers employ people from the neighborhoods in which they are located, donate produce to local food shelves, and give back to the community in other ways. There is also strong demand and interest in organic, sustainably grown, and local produce among Minneapolis consumers. The city is home to 7 natural foods cooperatives, the largest group of natural foods cooperatives in the country, which has enabled smaller growers access to this consumer market. Minneapolis also hosts more than 30 farmers markets and mini markets and three licensed incubator kitchens.

Small urban growers, however, also face a number of challenges. For starters, there is a lack of infrastructure to support the regional food system. Land is expensive and difficult to access; land tenure is unpredictable; food processing equipment is challenging to finance; and aggregation infrastructure is in short supply. Minneapolis’ urban farmers are often hard pressed to make a living, with many working a second job and lacking health insurance.

Low-income residents also face major barriers to accessing affordable, healthy food, which is unevenly available across the city. Along with inequitable income distribution across Minneapolis, transportation and car ownership play a major role in food access in the city as those without a car face difficulty traveling to food stores.

As a result of these opportunities and challenges, the Minneapolis municipal government has developed a number of policies, programs and projects to support food production and improve food security. A number of these specifically focus on urban agriculture or access to healthy food; however, a few innovative plans and policies take a comprehensive and holistic approach to addressing these issues and consider the linkages between the two:

Homegrown Minneapolis, 2008, Phase I. In November 2008, then Mayor R.T. Rybak convened a meeting with staff from various municipal government departments to propose a citywide, local foods initiative called Homegrown Minneapolis (HGM). This initiative focused on ways in which the municipal government could facilitate more growing, processing, distribution, eating and composting of healthy, sustainable, locally grown foods in the city and the surrounding region. HGM showed leadership in food systems efforts and engaged the public; utilized a co-leadership model to effectively engage community partners; made city departments accountable and responsible for addressing food; and provided dedicated staff time and funding to implement specific recommendations. Some of the most significant outcomes of HGM include:

  • Adoption of several resolutions that acknowledged the importance of local foods to the economy, environment and health of residents paved the way for city departments to work on food issues; provided the means to develop and implement a number of recommended actions; and established the Homegrown Minneapolis Task Force and Food Council.
  • Securing of state and federal public health grants to initially support a Homegrown Minneapolis Coordinator position and fund the implementation of specific recommendations like the Market Bucks Incentive Program.
  • Amendments to farmers market regulations, which included the creation of Mini Markets.
  • Development of the Urban Agriculture Policy Plan, including urban agriculture zoning text amendments.
  • Creation of the Homegrown Minneapolis Business Development Center and Loan Program, Local Food Resource Hubs Network, and Market Bucks Program.

Homegrown Minneapolis Coordinator, 2009. In May 2009, the Health Department incorporated aspects of the HGM initiative into their grant writing processes in order to fund the Coordinator position. The department competitively applied for and received a grant, which funded a two-year Center for Disease Control Prevention Specialist who served as the initial HGM Coordinator. The position has since become a permanent full-time position housed in the City Coordinator’s Office within the Sustainability division.

Homegrown Minneapolis Task Force, City of Minneapolis Resolution 2009R-283, 2009.

Part of HGM’s implementation involved the creation of a short-term, 16-member task force to pursue priority actions, make recommendations and report progress to City Council. A key recommendation was to advise the City Council to establish the Homegrown Minneapolis Food Council, which has since been launched.

Local Food Indicators, 2009. Building on the Minneapolis Sustainability Program of 2003, the municipal government developed key “local foods” indicators in 2009 to measure and track change related to local food system goals and objectives. These indicators, along with other sustainability indicators are part of the municipal comprehensive plan, and their use is mandated across all 18 city departments. The indicators are being updated in 2015.

Homegrown Minneapolis Food Council, City of Minneapolis Resolution 2011R-445, 2011. This resolution established the Homegrown Minneapolis Food Council and required the Food Council to provide annual progress reports and development of subsequent annual work plans to the city government. The Food Council was created to build on HGM efforts, and collaborate with residents, local businesses and organizations, other partners, and city staff and elected officials on the advancement of food policy in Minneapolis. The Homegrown Minneapolis Food Council is structured to include 17 community members and six municipal government representatives from the Mayor’s Office, City Council, Health Department, Community Planning & Economic Development Department, Environmental Services, and the City Coordinator’s Office. The Food Council also includes staff representatives from the Minneapolis Public Schools and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, which are both free standing governmental entities.

Farmers Market & Mini-Market Ordinance 2011-Or-095, 2011. This ordinance amended the Minneapolis Code of Ordinances related to farmers markets and other market types, supporting the dual goals of increasing access to healthy foods and supporting local farmers. Amendments included the following: (1) established 3 different categories of public markets – farmers markets, mini markets, and produce/craft markets; (2) specified the types of vendors and delineated licensing and permitting requirements for each; (3) required at least 60% of vendors at farmers markets to be agricultural producers licensed by the City of Minneapolis as opposed to plant vendors, craft producers, and other; (4) required all farmers markets to become authorized to accept FMNP (Farmers Market Nutrition Program), S/FMNP (Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program), WIC-CVV (Women, Infants and Children Fruit and Vegetable Vouchers) within twelve (12) months of licensure; and (5) formalized mini markets – a type of small farmers market that already existed but hadn’t been recognized officially by the municipal government – and streamlined the permitting process, making it easier and less expensive for organizations to bring fresh and affordable produce to underserved neighborhoods. By formalizing mini-markets this ordinance implemented a key recommendation of HGM to make local foods more available in communities that have historically had limited access to healthy foods.

Urban Agriculture Policy Plan, 2011. Developed by the city’s Community Planning and Economic Development Department, this plan was recommended by HGM and subsequently adopted by city council and incorporated into the city’s comprehensive plan. The plan examines existing urban agriculture policies and facilities (farmers markets, community gardens, etc.), outlines issues and opportunities, and offers recommendations. Key recommendations centered on altering the zoning code to allow urban agriculture activities; incorporating urban agriculture into long range planning and encouraging it to be integrated with new construction projects as appropriate; and reviewing the city owned land inventory to make land available that is not desirable for development, but well-suited for urban agriculture.

Urban Agriculture Text Amendments/Zoning Code Updates, 2012. In response to the adoption of the 2011 Urban Agriculture Policy Plan, numerous zoning code and text amendments were adopted by city council to codify recommendations from this plan.  As a result of the amendments and for the first time since 1963, people in Minneapolis are now allowed to grow food for sale in market gardens and urban farms. Commercial growing and aquaculture are allowed on a larger-scale at urban farms on property zoned for industrial use. Arbors, trellises, raised planting beds, cold frames and hoop houses are also allowed. An additional amendment extending allowable days of farmstand operation was adopted in 2014.

Homegrown Business Development Center, 2011. Established by the Community Planning & Economic Development department in partnership with the Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers, this program “provides financing and technical assistance for Minneapolis based businesses that process and manufacture local food products.” The program fosters the development and expansion of business ventures that promote sustainable agriculture and food production within Minneapolis and the surrounding region by providing matching loans and technical assistance for food related businesses based in Minneapolis who use a minimum 10% threshold of local ingredients.

Mobile Food Stores, Ordinance 2014-Or-022, 2014. This ordinance amended Chapter 295 of the Minneapolis Code of Ordinances to allow a larger selection of healthy foods and expand the locations available for mobile food stores. Previously, mobile food vendors were allowed to only sell pre-packaged foods at designated senior citizen high rises that did not have a licensed grocery store on their premises. The ordinance removed this requirement and allows for the selling of fresh produce (raw, uncut fresh fruits and vegetables) at additional locations beyond senior citizen high rises; and created a requirement that all mobile food stores offer at least 50 items of fresh fruits and vegetables in at least 7 varieties.

Staple Foods, Ordinance 2014-Or-092, 2014.  A 2008 ordinance requiring corner stores to sell 5 varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables was considerably strengthened in 2014. The updated ordinance is a first in the country and requires Minneapolis stores that hold a grocery store license to stock a certain number of items from the following categories: milk/milk alternatives, cheese, eggs, canned fish and meat or vegetable proteins, nut butter, 30 lbs. or 50 items of fresh and/or frozen foods with no added ingredients—7 out of the 5 varieties must be fresh, 100% juice, whole grains including whole grain cereals, canned beans, and dried peas, beans, and lentils. The Minneapolis Health Department is helping stores to comply with the new ordinance by providing technical assistance and education.

The City of Minneapolis has made considerable investments in achieving food system goals in relatively few years since the inception of Homegrown Minneapolis and the launch of the Food Council. These range from stand-alone to comprehensive policies and plans with a strong emphasis on addressing the food production and access issues facing the city. Other notable City of Minneapolis food policies include:

Additional information is available on the Homegrown Minneapolis website



[1] US Census 2013 Population Estimate,

[2] Minnesota Compass,

[3] US Census 2009-2013,

City of Lawrence and Douglas County, Kansas

Gardeners gather at the Garden Incubator at John Taylor Park, one of the many community gardens that make up the City’s Common Ground program. Image Source:

Gardeners gather at the Garden Incubator at John Taylor Park, one of the many community gardens that make up the City’s Common Ground program. Image Source:

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Healthy Food System in the Heartland: Intergovernmental Cooperation in the City of Lawrence and Douglas County, Kansas Advances Food Policy

The local governments of Douglas County and the City of Lawrence, Kansas work collaboratively to strengthen their food system through planning and public policy. This innovative, intergovernmental partnership along the urban-rural continuum recognizes that food system challenges and thus their solutions cross jurisdictional boundaries. Food policy collaborations across the city and county governments span comprehensive planning, shared staff positions, funding for programs, and joint food systems studies. Both local governments also pursue unique policies within each jurisdiction where appropriate. The Lawrence public school district, the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, and various community groups and organizations are also key partners on several policies and programs supporting this intergovernmental approach.

In 2013, Douglas County was home to 114,803 people, of which 90,811 lived within the City of Lawrence—the sixth largest city in Kansas.[1] Lawrence is home to the University of Kansas (KU) and Haskell Indian Nations University, the only inter-tribal university for Native Americans in the U.S. About 28,000 students attend KU, and students from more than 150 Native American tribes across the country attend Haskell.[2] The majority of the population is white (82% in Lawrence, 85% in Douglas County). A significant number of residents, 22% in Lawrence and 19% in Douglas County, are living below the poverty line and have limited food access.[3]

The county boasts strong agricultural communities, producing mostly commodity crops but also supporting animal grazing and some specialty crop production. Fruit and vegetable production constitute less than 0.1% of total crop production. The number of small and medium sized specialty crop producers is however growing and these producers are constantly diversifying their product. The region’s rich soils, even terrain, and easy access to water make it well suited for this emerging specialty crop production. Most county producers grow for the retail market with only a few growing for wholesale and institutional markets.

Lawrence is home to a diverse range of urban agriculture projects focused primarily on vegetables as well as some fruit production and chicken-raising for eggs. The city and county experienced a recent growth in direct local food sales marked by an explosion of interest in local farmers markets and the desire to re-localize the food system. There are about 90 vendors at the downtown Lawrence farmers market alone and between 10 and 40 vendors at five additional farmers markets across the county. The local food cooperative grocery store in Lawrence– the Community Mercantile or Merc – provides stability for farmers; in 2014, the Merc purchased approximately $1.3 million in local food. Over a dozen restaurants within the county also eagerly stock, market, and sell local foods to consumers.

Despite these opportunities, several economic, ecological, and cultural challenges inhibit food production. For example, the best soils are on land that has already been developed or is under significant development pressure. This results in high land costs per acre, a major barrier for new farmers. While direct market opportunities are plentiful, farmers wishing to sell wholesale face a lack of infrastructure. There are limited food processing businesses, distribution channels, vegetable packing warehouses, and aggregation facilities within the region for local small to mid-scale growers, preventing farmers from scaling up and selling to institutional buyers. Some, very motivated chefs and grocers, develop one-on-one relationships with farmers selling at farmers markets and negotiate directly with them. This arrangement, however, does not work for large, institutional buyers.

Some of the biggest food security challenges facing the city and county are limited access to food retail, limited access to healthy food, and the limited affordability of local foods. While there is a wide spectrum of grocery retailers within the county, not all stores stock locally produced items or a large range of healthy food items and most of them are geographically concentrated in Lawrence and other nearby cities. Limited availability of proximate food retail requires owning a car, or having access to a car, for grocery shopping. Additionally, countywide Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) participation rates are very low – only about 27% of eligible people apply for and receive SNAP benefits.

Through a unique collaborative model, the Lawrence and Douglas County governments have developed a number of policies, programs, and projects both in partnership with one another and as separate governing entities to address many of these challenges and build on opportunities. Some of these specifically focus on food production or access to healthy food, however a few programs and policies take a comprehensive and holistic approach to addressing these issues and consider the linkages between the two.

Horizon 2020 Plan, 2009. In 2009, the county and city governments adopted an environment chapter to a joint comprehensive plan, which includes a food system component providing direction and a framework for subsequent county and city food systems initiatives. The plan is currently being updated under the leadership of a steering committee. The update process involves extensive community consultation, including with food system stakeholders such as the Douglas County Food Policy Council. Local food is one priority issue that is being considered by the steering committee.

Douglas County Food Policy Council, 2010. The food policy council is a joint city/county council that was established in 2010 by the county government and joined by the city government in 2013. Two staff positions, the Sustainability Coordinator and the Food Systems Coordinator, provide staff support. The council has been instrumental in providing policy advice to both the city and the county governments on a variety of public projects, policies, plans, and programs.

Food Policy Paid Staff Positions, 2010 & 2015. In 2010, the county government established a full-time Sustainability Coordinator paid position. Funding for the position is provided 60% by the county and 40% by the city. About 25-30% of this position is devoted to food systems work including working closely with the Douglas County Food Policy Council and the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department. The Sustainability Coordinator is a liaison between policymakers and citizens, often helping the latter navigate the policymaking process. The position has a holistic mandate including transportation, water, economic development, and other sustainability issues along with a primary focus on energy and food systems.

And more recently in 2015, with funding from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Lawrence and Douglas County established the Food Systems Coordinator position. This position reports to the Sustainability Coordinator and works largely on policies and programs around food access and healthy food initiatives, especially for youth and low income residents. This position works closely with the Douglas County Food Policy Council, city and county staff, and other food system stakeholders.

Food Systems Studies, 2011 & 2014. The county and city governments commissioned two important studies: the Food System Analysis in 2011 and more recently the Food Hub Feasibility Study in 2013/2014. The food system analysis provided the region with a better understanding of its food systems strengths and weaknesses, including the lack of supportive food systems infrastructure – particularly distribution, storage and packaging infrastructure. This led to the Food Hub Feasibility Study, which explored the feasibility of establishing a food hub within the region to provide the necessary infrastructure to enable small and medium-size producers to sell their product to large institutional markets, such as schools. A team of representatives from Douglas County and the adjacent Kansas City Metro Region is currently implementing recommendations from this study, including the development of a business plan for a food hub.

Indigenous Food Day Proclamations, 2011. Since October 2011, the Douglas County Commission has passed a proclamation to designate a specific day in October as Indigenous Food Day. These proclamations highlight the socio-cultural importance of food, acknowledge the contributions of the local and regional farms and food producers to the physical and economic health of the community, and recognize the heritage and food traditions of the region’s indigenous populations.

Common Ground Agricultural Program, 2012. Established by the Lawrence municipal government in 2012, this program leases vacant city-owned property to gardeners and farmers. The program currently includes an incubator farm, a teaching farm, several community gardens, and a free you-pick orchard. In addition to land, the municipality helps prepare each site by providing water access and other supportive infrastructure. In exchange for free access to land, lessees provide a Community Benefit Plan with their application detailing how many pounds of produce they will donate to food banks and numbers of workshops they will host, for example.  Last year over 500 residents participated in growing food or educational programs at these 8 Common Ground sites.

SNAP Market Match Program, 2014. In 2014, the Douglas County Food Policy Council garnered $25,000 in funding support from the City of Lawrence, Douglas County, and Livewell Lawrence, a coalition of community leaders aimed at improving people’s diets and physical activity, to create a dollar-for-dollar SNAP matching program at regional farmers markets. The pilot SNAP Market Match program launched in June of 2014 at 2 Lawrence farmers markets. The city and county matched $9,000 in SNAP benefits, equating to approximately $18,000 worth of sales for local farm vendors. In 2015, the program received $40,000 in funding support and is expanding to 5 additional markets in the region.

In addition to the policies summarized above, the City of Lawrence and Douglas County governments have a range of others that together tackle food production, food security, community health, farmland preservation, and other key food system challenges along the urban-rural continuum:






City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Fresh food comes to corner stores in Philadelphia under the Department of Public Health’s Get Healthy Philly program. Image Source: http:// foods/

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A Mayor’s Office and Health Department Lead the Way in Municipal Food Policymaking

Beginning in 2008, the City of Philadelphia introduced a series of food policies – plans, regulations, and programs – to respond to the many opportunities and challenges facing its residents. Under the leadership of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, one of the most impoverished cities in the United States now has a suite of food policies connecting food access challenges related to poverty with the city’s food production potential. This includes a food charter, food policy advisory council, as well as the inclusion of food systems in comprehensive sustainability planning and health promotion programming.

With a population of 1,553,165, Philadelphia is the biggest city in the state of Pennsylvania. It is also one of the most racially mixed cities in the state with over 43% black residents, compared to the state average of 10.8%. Asian, Hispanic, and Latino residents collectively account for 18.6% of the city’s ethnic makeup[1]. And, the city is a majority minority city; only 41% of the population is white. Although Philadelphia is now the fifth largest city in the US, its population experienced a marked decline towards the end of the 20th century following the downturn of its once thriving industrial sector. The city is still dealing with the significant number of vacant properties resulting from population loss, which total approximately 40,000 parcels.[2]

Philadelphia is located in the heart of the Delaware Valley region where agricultural production focuses on fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs. Complementing production is Philadelphia’s rich history of gardening, which dates back to the 1970s and 1980s. Today, the broader Philadelphia region has several small to medium sized farms focused more on the production of consumable products and less on commodity crops such as corn and soy. Within city limits, production focuses on fresh fruits and vegetables. Livestock is also permitted on city parcels over 3 acres. These agricultural opportunities are paired with urban density and therefore proximity to markets as well as a growing immigrant community with technical gardening knowledge.

Food producers in Philadelphia and the greater region face challenges due to a lack of local processing capacity, soil contamination, and limited access to water. Urban growers also find it difficult to be profitable. Oftentimes this means selling urban-grown food to restaurants rather than to food insecure residents, presenting a gap between local food production and food access. This is significant given that Philadelphia suffers from one of the highest poverty rates in the United States with 26.5% of households living below the poverty line[3] – a major challenge that is closely tied to food insecurity. Low-income residents, people of color, older adults, children, and people with disabilities are many of the populations struggling with food insecurity in Philadelphia.

Evidence of this is found in the 2013 Philadelphia Department of Public Health report which states that 307,000 of Philadelphians are living in neighborhoods with high poverty and limited access to healthy food retail[4].This is increasingly difficult for residents who depend on public transit to do their grocery shopping as public transit does not always connect with food retail destinations.  While the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), which provides public transit service within Philadelphia, is a partner on food system efforts, the authority is underfunded and therefore unable to adequately expand its service.

In the face of these challenges, Philadelphia has been able to implement a number of policies to support food production and improve food security. The municipal government has demonstrated a renewed interest in food systems policy, especially under the leadership of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. Policies that particularly connect both food production and food security led by these two departments are highlighted below.

Leadership from the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability

After he was elected in 2008, Mayor Michael Nutter pledged to make Philadelphia the greenest city in America. The Mayor’s Office of Sustainability was created shortly after and champions several sustainability programs, including many related to local food, as well as the overarching Greenworks Philadelphia plan.

  • Philadelphia Food Charter, 2008. On October 7, 2008, Mayor Nutter announced a Food Charter that articulates the City’s commitment to providing safe, affordable, locally grown, and healthy food for Philadelphians. One notable goal of the Charter is its call to create a food policy council.
  • Greenworks Philadelphia, 2009. Community advocacy group, the Next Great City in Philly, motivated the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability to launch the Greenworks Philadelphia Sustainability Plan in 2009. Target 10 of the Greenworks Plan is to “provide walkable access to affordable, healthy food for all Philadelphians.” The plan bridges food production opportunities with food access needs by calling for the integration of anti-hunger efforts into food and urban agriculture goals.
  • Philadelphia Food Policy Advisory Council, 2011. The Philadelphia Food Policy Advisory Council was established in 2011 following the aforementioned recommendation of the Food Charter. The council’s mandate is to facilitate the development of responsible policies that improve access for Philadelphia residents to culturally appropriate, nutritionally sound, and affordable food that is grown locally through environmentally sustainable practices.  Two staff positions, a Food Policy Advisory Council manager and a coordinator, are housed in the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability.

Leadership from the Department of Public Health

The City of Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health is responsible for several food policies under a chronic disease prevention umbrella. Along with work related to preventing smoking, health promotion and the prevention of chronic diseases are approached through a food and nutrition lens as part of the Get Healthy Philly program. Staff time for this program was originally funded under a Communities Putting Preventing to Work (CPPW) grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and subsequently transitioned to a civil service position.

  • Get Healthy Philly, 2010. Established in 2010, Get Healthy Philly (GHP) started as a collaborative initiative between academia, local government, the private sector, and community organizations to address physical activity, smoking, and nutrition in Philadelphia. GHP has since become the Chronic Disease Division of the Department of Public Health. Food Fit Philly is the umbrella for GHP’s nutrition and physical activity efforts. The program’s leadership team is chaired by the mayor who sits alongside city staff, academics, healthcare professionals, and private sector representatives. GHP initiatives are implemented across city departments, including the Healthy Corner Store Program, Healthy Carts Program, Philly Food Bucks, as well as funding for the establishment of 9 new farmers’ markets in low income communities.
  • Philly Food Bucks, 2010. This healthy food incentive program, introduced in 2010, encourages SNAP recipients to use their benefits to purchase fresh, local ingredients at participating farmers’ markets throughout the city. For every $5 spent using SNAP at participating markets, customers receive a $2 Philly Food Bucks coupon for fresh fruits and vegetables, increasing the purchasing power of lower income farmers’ market shoppers by 40%.
  • Healthy Carts Program, 2011. Philadelphia Public Health worked with government and community partners to develop a city-wide Healthy Carts Program. The carts sell fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, and whole grains. Carts can accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits a way to increase healthy food access for low income residents. The program pilot ran from 2011-2012 with carts now being managed by partner organizations.

The City of Philadelphia has also developed several other food policies aiming to promote urban food production, food access, and other food system goals. These range from zoning amendments to programs, research, a staff position, and the inclusion of food priorities in municipal planning.






City of Seattle, Washington

“Seattle’s public pea patches such as Beacon Bluff Community Gardens provide local children a close look at how food grows and thrives and promotes healthy relationships to nutrition and the natural world.” Image Source: Kristie McLean, City of Seattle Office of Sustainability and Environment.

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Championing Food Systems Policy Change in Seattle, Washington

Through a combined approach of visionary leadership, long-range planning, departmental coordination, public-private partnerships, and public funding for innovative programs, the Seattle municipal government is taking a leading role in strengthening the regional food system. The following feature highlights a few of the municipal government’s landmark efforts to improve access to healthy food for its residents while simultaneously improving the viability of regional agriculture.

Seattle is located in the Puget Sound region, an agriculturally rich area in the Pacific Northwest. The region produces a wide range of agricultural products, including fruit, vegetables, berries and grains. The city itself has a long and robust history of backyard and community gardening. Since the inception of the P-Patch Community Gardening Program in 1973, there has been strong public support and enthusiasm for urban food production. The public continues to value the educational, social and ecological benefits of urban agriculture, particularly its ability to unite and educate residents, improve societal understanding of what it takes to grow food, provide ecological services, and connect immigrants with the greater community.

Despite these strengths, the cost of land and water, and the lack of large, contiguous parcels of urban land create challenges to profitable in-city farming. The cost of land and issues related to drainage and farm infrastructure create challenges for farmers throughout the region. There are many support services for farmers in the region, but there is a need for business support and access to capital.  While there are several strong, small networks of food systems stakeholders in the city, a larger, more coordinated network where stakeholders can more fully share resources does not exist. While most of the city has very good access to healthy food and culturally appropriate foods, physical and economic access to healthy food continues to be a challenge for low-income residents – for those with and without cars. As a result, access to affordable, healthy food has emerged as a critical issue in the city.

“With over 80% of the US food consumers living in cities, it is more important than ever for cities to take action to make healthy, sustainably produced food the norm, rather than the exception, in our cities.  Seattle’s goal is that all people have access to healthy, affordable, sustainably produced food, and we are taking steps with our partners in the region to make that goal a reality,” said Sharon Lerman, Food Policy Adviser for the City of Seattle Office of Sustainability and Environment.

Over the past 6 years, the municipal government has developed a number of coordinated plans, policies, programs and projects to tackle these challenges. Listed below are a few of these.

Local Food Action (LFA) Initiative, City of Seattle Resolution 31019. In 2008, the city council adopted and the mayor signed a resolution enacting the Local Food Action Initiative. The initiative established a core framework for food related policies in municipal government, and provided direction and authority to municipal government departments to work on food issues. Most importantly, the initiative institutionalized food as an important municipal government topic and led to the creation of (1) an interdepartmental food system team to coordinate food systems efforts, and (2) a food policy coordinator position to allow deeper city work related to food systems.

Seattle Food Action Plan. Building upon the momentum created by the LFA initiative, the Seattle Office of Sustainability and Environment and the Seattle Food Interdepartmental Team developed a stand-alone food system plan – the Seattle Food Action Plan. In 2012, the city council adopted this citywide plan that established an overarching food policy for municipal government, by providing guidance to all city departments on the development of specific strategies to achieve the higher-level goals of the LFA.

In addition to these landmark policies, the municipal government developed and provided funding for two innovative programs that aim to improve food access for low-income residents, while supporting regional farms.

Fresh Bucks Program. The Fresh Bucks Program was established by the Seattle Office of Sustainability and the Environment in 2012 to increase the buying power of food stamp recipients by matching up to $10 spent at one of the city’s 21 participating farmers markets or farm stands. Similar to other farmers market incentive programs across the United States, this program was initially established with private funding; however, due to its success, the municipal government now contributes approximately 80% of the budget (or $200K) from the general fund and provides staff time towards management of the program.

Farm to Table Partnership Project. Rather than instituting a local food purchasing requirement for the 300 plus child care and senior meal sites that use city funding to purchase and prepare food in some of Seattle’s most under-served neighborhoods, the municipal government intentionally decided to develop the Farm to Table Partnership Project, which provides technical support and assistance to link these sites with local farms for the purpose of providing access to healthy, local food. Funded in part by the municipal government, the project focuses on identifying and developing sustainable purchasing models for fresh local produce, and providing meal program providers with necessary education and training to implement the purchasing models and make changes to their meal preparation to incorporate seasonal, from-scratch foods. This project is considered a necessary step to help test the feasibility of a local food procurement policy within the City.

Armed with an understanding that food system issues extend beyond jurisdictional boundaries, in 2013 the municipal government of the City of Seattle entered into a public-private partnership to support the greater King County food system.

King County Farms and Food Roundtable. This roundtable is a collaborative initiative between the Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority (PDA), the City of Seattle, and King County to identify strategies to preserve farmland, increase food production, and expand farm to consumer marketing opportunities in King County. This public-private partnership takes a systemic, holistic approach to addressing key food systems issues, including food access. In June 2014 the roundtable released a report detailing their recommendations for preserving additional farmland in the county and increasing market and distribution opportunities for local farmers.

Beyond these innovative efforts, the Seattle municipal government has (and continues to) support a number of other food systems related issues through public planning, policy and funding decisions, including but not limited to: urban agriculture zoning regulations, land tenure provisions for farmers markets, the P-Patch Community Gardens Program, the Seattle Market Gardens Program, the Large Tract Gardening Program, the Urban Orchards Stewards Program, the Parks & Green Space Levy for Community Gardens, the Seattle Parks Good Food Program, the Rainier Beach Food Innovation District, green building incentives, the Puget Sound Regional Food Policy Council, and the Regional Transfer of Development Rights Program.



Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

Amish working a farm in Lancaster County, PA. Image Source:

Amish working a farm in Lancaster County, PA. Image Source:

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Lessons From an Agricultural Preservation Leader: Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

Lancaster County, Pennsylvania is known for its well-regarded agricultural land preservation program. Located in southeastern Pennsylvania, the county of a half-million people uses plans and policies to support agriculture and other components of their economy.

The Lancaster County government has long recognized the importance of agriculture to the vibrancy of its community. Roughly 25% of the county’s entire land area is used as farmland—primarily for dairy, poultry, or specialty crop production. The majority of agriculture production efforts qualify as industrial or large-scale agriculture designated for distribution outside the county. However, the county is also home to Sect (Amish and Mennonite) farming operations: smaller-scale dairy and lucrative specialty crop productions including vegetables, bedding plants, etc. In addition there is an active community supported agriculture community.

Approximately 10.5% of the county’s population lives at or below the poverty level compared to 13.3% for the state of Pennsylvania. According to the Lancaster County Council of Churches, food banks and community rural providers in the County have reported an increase in the number of individuals and families seeking food assistance. Currently, the nonprofit community, rather than the county government, is largely addressing these challenges. There are a number of nonprofit and community groups that are tackling these issues through programs such as community supported agriculture and local food distribution options.

Since 2006, the county government has taken significant steps to support agriculture as essential to the vibrancy of the community. Listed below are a few of these programs and policies:

Agriculture and Rural Lands Planning Program. Lancaster County has one of the leading agricultural land preservation programs in the country, with approximately 25% of farmland (approximately 100,000 acres) under permanent conservation easement. The Agriculture and Rural Lands Planning Program was developed to help the county achieve the goals and implement the policies of the county’s growth management and green infrastructure elements of the comprehensive plan – Balance and Greenscapes, respectively.

  • Balance: Adopted in 2006, Balance is the growth management element of the county’s comprehensive plan. This element is designed to help achieve and sustain Lancastrians’ vision of a balanced community where urban centers prosper, natural landscapes flourish, and farming is strengthened as an integral component of our diverse economy and cultural heritage.
  • Greenscapes: Adopted in 2009, Greenscapes is the green infrastructure element of the county’s comprehensive plan. This element highlights the importance of protecting large blocks of contiguous land and improving connectivity to provide a blueprint for accommodating appropriate growth and development while preserving the region’s most valuable natural resources, native species, cultural assets, and agricultural economy

The Lancaster County Planning Commission (LCPC) oversees this program and a county government staff person, the Agricultural and Rural Planning Analyst, is responsible for program development and implementation. The program focuses on guiding county and municipal policy regarding agricultural and natural conservation, as well as sustaining the viability of the agricultural economy.

Agricultural Zoning District Guidelines for Lancaster County. While the LCPC has no regulatory authority over local governments within its boundaries, the LCPC provides guidance on how to implement the planning framework set by the county comprehensive plan. In 2010, the LCPC adopted agricultural zoning district guidelines that the 60 municipalities within the county can incorporate into their zoning code to ensure farmland is available for agriculture production. As a result of these guidelines, the rural townships have largely adopted what the LCPC refers to as “effective agricultural zoning,” which limits the amount of land that can be taken out of agricultural use. In addition, some local governments are getting involved through Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) programs, and some are funding their own preservation programs. The county government’s success is due in part to its stakeholder engagement in regional comprehensive planning efforts, particularly municipal officials and other decision-makers.

Blue Ribbon Commission on Agriculture. In addition to the county comprehensive plan, the Blue Ribbon Commission on Agriculture (BRCA) advances a proactive rural strategy, which goes beyond land preservation to support agriculture and other components of the rural economy. The Board of Lancaster County Commissioners established the BRCA in 2005 to find creative and innovative ideas to “ensure the viability of Lancaster County agriculture for years to come.” The BRCA serves as a citizens advisory body to County Commissioners on agricultural issues related to economic development, communications and leadership, farmland preservation, tax equity, and zoning. Over 100 citizens have been involved in various working groups.

Blueprints. Another innovative county plan is Blueprints, the Water Quality and Quantity Element of the Comprehensive Plan. Adopted in 2012, Blueprints addresses the impacts of agriculture on water quality, an important issue because of the County’s location within the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The Lancaster agricultural community – both large and small-scale farmers – continue to face a number of economic, environment and cultural challenges. Most of the larger-scale operations ship raw products outside of the county to be processed elsewhere. The rising cost of land prices threatens the financial viability of crop-based farms, making it harder to make a living from just farming. Animal husbandry operations are required by the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement to abide by strict nutrient loading regulations. While these regulations are clear for large-scale concentrated animal feeding operations, they are less clear for smaller scale farms.

Given these challenges, there is an opportunity for the county and municipal governments to support the expansion of local processing and distribution options within the county for larger farming operations, and the expansion of local and regional markets for smaller farming operations. The county government plans on addressing some of these challenges by encouraging local government to provide zoning and regulatory incentives. But, the county government also recognizes that connecting local food production to local consumption in an agricultural economy where most products are shipped out of the county will be a major challenge in the future.

Marquette County, Michigan

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Image Source: Marquette Food Co-op.

Image Source: Marquette Food Co-op.

Private-Public Partnerships: Cornerstone of Food Systems Planning and Policy in Rural Marquette County, Michigan

Marquette County, a small picturesque county located on the shores of Lake Superior in the northern part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP), has taken significant steps to strengthen its food system. The county is home to 22 local units of government – 3 cities and 19 townships ranging from the largest city of 21, 441 people – the City of Marquette – to the smallest township of 153 people – Turin Township.[i],[ii] The Marquette county government and several of its local units of government are actively engaging in planning and policy efforts across disciplines to establish a local food system that serves the community. From supporting the innovative work of key non-profit groups and businesses, like the Marquette Food Co-op, to adopting long-term, comprehensive plans, these local governments are laying the groundwork for future food systems change.


Most farms in Marquette County are small – approximately ¼ to 10 acres in size – and grow a mixture of vegetables and raise some animals. According to the 2012 US Agriculture Census, the average size of a farm in Marquette County has decreased by 12% between 2007 and 2012, while the number of farms has increased from 144 to 168.[iii]

One of the most diversified farming operations in the county is the Seeds and Spores Family Farm, located in Chocolay Township. The farm grows 10 acres of vegetables as well as shiitake and oyster mushrooms, raspberries, strawberries, apples and ginseng; and raises laying hens, cattle, pastured pigs and turkeys. The farm sells its product through farmers markets and a community supported agriculture (CSA) program.[iv] In addition to this farming operation, many homeowners grow vegetables and berries in their backyards.

County farmers face a number of challenges. The majority of farms (147 of the 168) gross less than $20,000 per year. Farmers face a very short growing season (June through September) and unfavorable soil types (83% of the county is forested and not suitable for farming).[v] In addition to these issues, the UP is vulnerable to drought. Due to the limited and scattered population in the region, transporting farm goods to population centers is also a challenge. Currently no organized transportation and distribution system for food exists in the UP. Beyond these challenges, the UP cannot sufficiently handle all the meat processing needs of UP farmers, especially for poultry and pork. Small and medium sized dairy farmers and vegetable growers also have no place to process and add value to their products.

Despite these challenges, there is a real demand for local products among consumers and institutional buyers, especially in the population centers of the county. Currently, not enough local products are being produced in the region to meet this demand, creating an opportunity for farmers. Additionally non-governmental and quasi-governmental entities, such as the Marquette Food Coop, and Michigan State University Extension, provide a wealth of research, resources, and assistance for farmers wishing to connect with consumers.

Food Security

Marquette County serves as the regional hub of services for the geographically isolated Upper Peninsula. While Marquette County is more affluent than other counties in the UP, there are still pockets of concentrated poverty. Transportation and household economics are barriers to healthy food access for the populations of Marquette, especially the elderly and those in rural areas. Physical access to food relies heavily on personal car ownership, often requiring long trips to reach a food retail location. The county-wide transit bus system runs on a limited fixed-route hourly schedule and offers door-to-door specialty service, but these services either come at an additional cost to residents or are unavailable at convenient times, and only service a small array of food retail options. Beyond transportation, affordability and the perception of affordability pose challenges for food access in the county. Many families, low-income residents and older adult residents are not fully aware of programs that offset the cost of produce at many of the county’s farmers markets, such as double up food bucks programs and Project Fresh for seniors or that both Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) can be used at farmers markets.


Over the past 4 years, the Marquette county and city governments, Chocolay Township staff, and several key business and community leaders, particularly the Marquette Food Co-op and Michigan State University (MSU) Extension, have both independently and cooperatively developed a number of plans, policies, programs and projects to tackle these food system challenges, outlined above, and further support opportunities for strengthening the local food system.

Upper Peninsula Food Exchange, Central UP Food Hub, Food Policy Committee, 2012. In the fall of 2012, the Marquette Food Co-op, MSU Extension, and the Western UP Health Department collaborated to support local food activities across the UP. This joint effect, called the Upper Peninsula Food Exchange (UPFE) established three regional food hubs with the mission of serving as a resource center for participants looking to be more active in the local food system, focusing on connecting farmers, businesses, policy makers, and individuals. Following a series of focus groups, the UPFE formed the Food Policy Committee. The Committee is tasked with ensuring policy is at the forefront of food system discussion and informs the work of decision makers and the choices of citizens in the UP.

Local Food Supply Plan – A Chapter of the Marquette County Comprehensive Plan, 2013. The Marquette County Planning Commission prepared a Local Food Supply Plan as a chapter of the county’s updated comprehensive plan, which was officially adopted by resolution on September 4, 2013. The plan pursues a vision of a vibrant local food system focusing on enhancing the local economy, improving health and increasing food security, and takes a comprehensive approach in identifying and addressing the gaps in the current food system. The Marquette County Planning Commission uses the Local Food Supply Plan as a reference document to advise decision makers regarding the role of local government in supporting a community-based food system.

Charter Township of Chocolay Master Plan Update, 2015. Beginning in 2010 Chocolay Township staff led a process to update the township’s master plan. Officially adopted on May 18, 2015, the plan update incorporates the concept of resilience according to three systems: community systems, private systems and natural systems. Food is integrated throughout numerous sub-sections of the plan, but the food systems as a whole is called out as ‘critical infrastructure’ much the same way as water, waste and the environment. The plan update explicitly addresses food in sections devoted to infrastructure; managed development and growth; the economy; watershed planning; floodplains, wetlands, dunes and other areas of particular concern; and farmlands, forests, and other productive lands.  The plan details specific administrative and regulatory tasks and capital projects related to improving the local food system, through mechanisms including fiscal incentives and investments for producers, committed human resources for collaborative work with surrounding jurisdictions on food system issues, and zoning ordinance changes.

Chocolay Permaculture Park, 2014. On June 10, 2014, the Chocolay Township government entered into a 5-year land use agreement with the Chocolay Community Farm Collaborative to lease 14 acres of township property to the non-profit for the purpose of preserving the land for public agricultural use or a permaculture park, including “farm incubator plots, large plot community gardens, hoop houses, public u-pick bramble patches, food forest, agricultural support structures, and associated public spaces including trails.” As part of the agreement, the township government is responsible for serving as the fiduciary agent for grants and assisting with grant-writing to obtain funding for the development of the permaculture park as well as programming and educational activities.

Resolution Approving a Commercial Rehabilitation Exemption Certificate for the Marquette Food Co-op Expansion and Relocation, Co-op Resolution 210-2014. Under the Michigan State Commercial Rehabilitation Act 2005, which “affords a tax incentive for the rehabilitation of commercial property”, the City of Marquette passed a resolution to approve a 5-year property tax abatement for the expansion of the Marquette Food Co-op in downtown Marquette. The resolution acknowledges the need for increased food retail options in the city and supports earlier zoning updates by providing for a greater mix of food business uses downtown.

City of Marquette Community Master Plan, 2015. As part of the master planning process, the city of Marquette held numerous community meetings to gain feedback on the vision and goals of the community. The community expressed tremendous interest in local food systems. As a result, the adopted plan integrates food systems goals as part of the public health section, including the goals to: develop and amend regulatory documents to support the local food system; support urban food production; and create more opportunities for access to healthy foods.

Additional Policies

In addition to these policies, there are several projects and regulatory changes currently underway within the county government and several local units of government, contributing to the food system change:

  • Chocolay Township zoning ordinance, nuisance ordinance, and animal control ordinance updates
  • Marquette County is administering a UP-wide USDA inspected multi-species processing facility feasibility study expected to be completed in 2016
  • UPFE documents “Guide for Decision Makers” and “Guide for Citizens” to inform and educate on the importance of community food systems.


[i] US Census 2014 Population Estimate,

[ii] Michigan Township Association, Turin Township,

[iii] 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture County Profile, Marquette County, Michigan

[iv] Seeds and Spores, Family Farm About the Farm,