Growing Food Connections

Building Local Government Capacity to Alleviate Food Deserts

In recent years, planners have become more involved in issues surrounding food and the development of equitable policies on issues that affect the food system. Efforts include enhancing access to healthy foods, promoting food security, and preserving agricultural land. Such strategies can have a significant impact on public health, and in particular impact the health of vulnerable populations. Those groups include children, people with disabilities, minorities, and individuals and families with low incomes, among others.

Growing Food Connections logo Planning is the starting point to inform new methods for re-integrating the food system by increasing food security in vulnerable areas, strengthening the sustainability and economic resilience of urban and rural communities, and supporting farms engaged in local and regional food systems that use sustainable practices.

About the Project

Growing Food Connections will target 20 urban and rural communities across the U.S. that are significantly underserved by the nation's food system. With APA's support, the project will develop research-supported policy tools and trainings to help local governments reconnect vulnerable consumers living in food deserts with local farmers. The target audience for these activities includes agricultural educators, land grants and cooperative extensions, planners, public health departments and rural and economic development agencies.

vegetables and fruitAPA's Planning and Community Health Research Center (PCH) has undertaken significant previous work in the area of food systems planning. Through Growing Food Connections, PCH will build upon this work and support a major research and training initiative to strengthen local and regional food systems in the United States. The $3.96 million initiative, funded by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) at the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, an agency of the USDA, will build the capacity of local governments to reconnect farmers with underserved consumers.

The goals and outcomes for Growing Food Connections connect directly with APA's goals to promote social equity and policies and actions that help traditionally underserved populations. It is being led by co-investigators Samina Raja, Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab, University at Buffalo (project lead); Julia Freedgood, managing director of the American Farmland Trust; Kimberley Hodgson, founder and principal of Cultivating Healthy Places; and Jill Clark, assistant professor, Ohio State University. Support from APA will be carried out under the direction of PCH Manager Anna Ricklin. The project launched on October 1, 2012, and will run for five years.

APA's Role

Working with project partners, PCH staff will undertake the following:


PCH will initiate research for Growing Food Connections by conducting a survey of APA members to identify policies that raise barriers to food availability as well as innovative policies that connect local farmers with vulnerable consumers. PCH will work closely with project leaders to develop and implement the survey to assess how local governments are using policy and planning tools to foster a healthy local agricultural sector.

Case Studies

As a supplement to the survey, PCH will also develop in-depth case studies of selected communities to more fully examine their policy tools and reveal the opportunities and challenges experienced by food systems stakeholders.

Technical Assistance

PCH will participate in technical assistance to selected communities and collaborate with project leaders to collect APA, American Farmland Trust and related publications for development of resource guides for dissemination to both selected communities and a national audience. These materials will be available on the APA website.