Knowledgebase Collection

Food Systems

Diagram of food system components

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Food systems planning is concerned with improving a community's food system. A food system is generally understood to be the chain of activities connecting food production, processing, distribution, consumption, and waste management. Food is a necessity; along with air, water, and shelter, it is a basic essential for life. Yet only in recent years have food systems been a focus of serious professional planning interest. 

Food system activities take up a substantial amount of urban and regional land and represent important parts of community and regional economies. Access — or the lack thereof — to affordable, healthy food can have significant impacts on communities, and both hunger and obesity are nationwide public health concerns. The environmental impacts of industrial farming practices and food waste as well as the energy and resources consumed by growing, harvesting, processing, and transporting our food are also significant.

From this page you can search numerous resources that provide background, policy guidance, and examples of local plan recommendations for food systems planning from across the country. And you can filter these search results by various geographic and demographic characteristics. 

APA Resources

APA Policy Guide ON Community and Regional Food Planning

This Policy Guide, adopted in 2007, describes the importance of community and local food systems and presents seven general policies that support food systems planning, each divided into several specific policies.

Read more

A Planners Guide to Community and Regional Food Planning

This PAS report shows how planners can play a significant role in shaping the food environment of their communities.

Read more

Community and Regional Food Planning

This PAS Memo article uses the first six general policies of APA's policy guide as a framework to present concrete examples of what planners and planning agencies are doing to support community and regional food systems.

Read more

Community Food System Assessments

This PAS Memo article offers guidance for planners on conducting a community food system assessment, featuring a case study of Buffalo, New York, to demonstrate how planners are using this tool.

Read more

Food systems Planning

This edition of PAS QuickNotes provides a primer on how planning affects the development of healthy, sustainable local and regional food systems.

Read more

The Food System: A Stranger to the Planning Field

This 2007 JAPA article discusses the absence of the food system from most planning practice, research, and education and offers reasons and ideas for planning involvement to strengthen community food systems.

Read more

Planning for Food Access and Community-Based Food Systems

This report from APA's Planning and Community Research Center examines how and why some local governments have addressed food access and food system issues in the comprehensive or sustainability planning process and identifies common themes and innovative features for implementing plan policies and achieving plan goals.

Read more

Principles of a Healthy, Sustainable Food System

This web page presents a concise set of shared principles for sustainable food systems that promote health.

Read more

Growing Food Connections Planning and Policy Briefs

This set of six briefing papers highlights promising planning and policy strategies used by local governments across North America to strengthen their communities' food systems by promoting agricultural viability and healthy food access.

Read more

Collaborative and Inclusive Food Systems Planning

This APA Learn course explores the challenges and strategies in building and maintaining an inclusive grassroots-driven food system.

Read more

Bread and Butter: Planning for Farms

This APA Learn course discusses strategies and tools for farmland protection, targeted growth, and optimal land-use in response to housing-density and climate-projection scenarios.

Read more

The Planner’s Strongest Allies: Successful Farmers

This APA Learn course examines the relationship between farmers and urban communities through policies and strategies that limit encroaching suburban sprawl, promote preservation, and incentivize urban development.

Read more

Safe Routes to Healthy Food

This APA Learn course explores the integration of active transportation infrastructure and healthy food access and furthering the two for more comprehensive public health and safety.

Read more

Incentivizing the Sale of Healthy and Local Food

This APA Learn course reviews the policies, programs, and projects that are expanding access to healthy, affordable, and locally-produced food while also boosting economic benefits and improving public health.

Read more

Recipe for Resiliency

This Planning article argues that planners must collaborate with public and private stakeholders to create sustainable community food systems.

Read more

Legal Lessons: Zoning to Fight Obesity

This Planning article explores the role planners have in improving community health through food system interventions.

Read more

Planning Equitable and Safe Routes to Healthy Food

This Commissioner article highlights the relationship between transportation and food access.

Read more

Evergreen: Urban Agriculture and the (New) Land-Grant University

This Planning article considers how a land-grant university with a traditionaly rural-oriented mission can thrive in an urban setting.

Read more

Viewpoint: Fast Food’s Bad Rap

This Planning article challenges the dominant narrative surrounding fast food's role in our food ecosystem.

Read more

Eat Better, Move More, Work Together

This Planning article introduces energy balance as a concept that can be used to frame planning and public health conversations about activity and nutrition.

Read more

Evergreen: The Ten-Foot Diet: The Emerging Hyperlocal Food System

This Planning article tracks the emerging commercial scale of the hyperlocal food system.

Read more

Viewpoint: Planning for Agriculture, Not Just Around It

This Planning article encourages planners to move agriculture out of the periphery and into the center of planning conversations.

Read more

Planning for Food Trucks

This edition of PAS Quicknotes outlines the opportunities and challenges of food trucks and discusses several policy considerations.

Read more

Institutionalizing Urban Agriculture: Process, Progress, and Innovation

This edition of PAS Memo considers how to formalize urban agriculture, including zoning, inter-agency collaboration, engagement, and evaluation.

Read more

On the Health Track

This Planning article examines four communities where local coalitions have addressed lack of physical activity and lack of access to nutritious food through a planning and public health lens.

Read more

Welcome to Beer Country

This Planning article addresses the emerging role of small breweries in economic development and tourism.

Read more

Healthier, Wealthier, and Wiser

This Planning article explores the economic development dimension of food systems planning.

Read more

evergreen: Restorative Farming

This Planning article urges planners to consider restorative farming as a tool to maintain the health of land.

Read more

Food Groups

This Planning article examines local food systems planning and policy in Los Angeles, California.

Read more

Find Your Foodshed

This Planning article follows the emergence of foodshed planning in three California cities and explores the planner's role in the process.

Read more

The Farmland Protection Toolbox

This edition of PAS QuickNotes outlines various tools planners can use to protect agricultural land from conversion.

Read more

A Moveable Feast

This Planning article takes a look at Portland's food cart culture and the policy environment that facilitates and challenges it.

Read more

Farming at the Fringe

This Planning article discusses the ways exurban areas are facilitating family farm operations.

Read more

Portion Control

This Planning article highlights creative solutions to food waste.

Read more


The August/September 2009 issue of Planning is devoted to an examination of the food system, with articles covering the relationship between food systems planning and public health as well as several urban and rural case studies.

Read more

The Supermarket as a Neighborhood Building Block

This Planning article highlights the evolving, yet still central, role of the supermarket in a community.

Read more

Oyster As Superhero

This Planning article explores the relationship between food systems planning and the environment through oysters in the Chesapeake Bay.

Read more

Growers' Gamble

This Planning article discusses the challenges and opportunities of farmers markets and how cities can better support them.

Read more

Safe Routes to (More Than) Schools

This blog post introduces Safe Routes to Healthy Food, a multi-agency effort to increase access to nutritious food via transportation interventions.

Read more

Bringing Food to an Aging America

This blog post focuses on how to address the specific food access needs of older adults.

Read more

Hunger in the Arctic

This Planning article chronicles the waning food supply among Inuit communities in the Canadian Arctic due to climate change.

Read more

Faces of Food Systems Planning

This blog post introduces the APA's Food Systems Planning Interest Group (FIG) and their efforts to make food systems planning mainstream among academics and practicing planners.

Read more

Growing Local: Strengthening Food Systems Through Planning and Policy

This blog post highlights Growing Food Connections, a five-year multi-agency effort to study food systems innovations through local planning and policy.

Read more

New Resources for Local Food Systems Planning

This blog post introduces the first two briefing papers in a six-paper series by Growing Food Connections that will highlight food systems issues.

Read more

The Evolution of Food Systems Planning in Kansas

This blog post examines the food systems planning scene in Douglas County, Kansas and lists various policies and projects taken to improve the food system.

Read more

Touring Regional Food Systems in Cincinnati and Kentucky

This blog post chronicles a tour designed by the Greater Cincinnati Regional Food Policy Council to highlight the local food system's strengths and opportunities.

Read more

Beacon Hill’s Enchanted Food Forest

This blog post features an interview with Sandy Pernitz, who works with the first large-scale public food forest in the neighborhood of Beacon Hill in Seattle, Washington.

Read more

Turning Blight to Beets at the Roosevelt Row Growhouse

This blog post highlights a creative urban agriculture project in Phoenix, Arizona.

Read more

Chicago's Pullman Neighborhood Ventures into a Greener Industrial Age

This blog post explores how Pullman, a neighborhood on the southeast side of Chicago, Illinois, is incorporating urban farming into its industrial future.

Read more

Plan4Health Success Story: Food Systems Planning in Rhode Island

This blog post includes a webinar and video that details the data-driven work being done to address food access and health in Rhode Island, in partnership with APA's Plan4Health.

Read more

Plan4Health Success Story: The F.R.E.S.H. Project

This blog post explores how the Food Resources Education Security Health Project (F.R.E.S.H.) partners with county government, Native American Nations, and community organizations to improve food access in east central Wisconsin.

Read more

Plan4Health Success Story: Mount Hope Coalition to Increase Food Security

This blog posts includes a video that shows how the Mount Hope Coalition to Increase Food Security educates residents on locally growth food in Providence, Rhode Island.

Read more

Plan4Health Success Story: Healthy Corner Stores in Tarrant County, Texas

This blog post describes how Plan4Health Tarrant County implemented a Healthy Corner Store initiative, along with other projects, to address food security in their community.

Read more


Elements of Food Systems Planning

Community food systems planning is the collaborative planning process of developing and implementing local and regional land-use, economic development, public health, transportation, and environmental programs and policies to: (1) preserve existing and support new opportunities for local and regional urban and rural agriculture; (2) promote sustainable agriculture and food production practices; (3) support local and regional food value chains and related infrastructure involved in the processing, packaging, and distribution of food; (4) facilitate community food security, or equitable physical and economic access to safe, nutritious, culturally appropriate, and sustainably grown food at all times across a community, especially among vulnerable populations; (5) support and promote good nutrition and health; and 6) facilitate the reduction of solid food-related waste and develop or manage a reuse, recovery, recycling, and disposal system for food waste and related packaging.

The Benefits of Food Systems Planning

Healthy, sustainable local and regional food systems bring economic, environmental, and social benefits to local communities. Planning for local food systems helps maintain and grow economic opportunities in the agricultural and food sectors through jobs and production on farms and in farm support businesses, food processing, food transport, food marketing, food distribution, food retail, and other food-related areas. Community food systems that stress local and regional food production and sales as well as ecologically friendly, sustainable farming practices reduce the amount of energy and resources needed for food production and distribution as well as the negative environmental impacts of agricultural production on land, water, and air. Planning to promote better access to and availability of healthy, fresh food impacts health at both the individual and community level, as does attention to community food security and equitable food access issues. Educating and engaging local residents in community food systems can improve health outcomes, increase social capital, strengthen sense of place and community character, and offer entrepreneurial opportunities.  

Planning for Local Food Systems

Planning for local food systems starts with a community food assessment, a comprehensive tool that provides a clear picture of the food system resources, assets, challenges, and opportunities in a community. It can be conducted at the neighborhood, city, or regional level, and emphasizes community participation throughout the process.

The information provided by a community food assessment on the status and needs of the local food system can be used to inform further food planning efforts, including the development of food system plans or the integration of food systems considerations into the comprehensive plan. As part of these processes, planners can engage communities in visioning exercises to identify problems and opportunities related to the community food system; engage and educate community residents about these issues; establish food systems goals and objectives; develop strategies to implement these goals and objectives; and ultimately promote the long-term health and sustainability of the community.

The inclusion of food issues in a comprehensive plan helps connect food systems with land use, transportation, economic development, natural resources, health, and other elements of local policy and planning. When included in comprehensive plans, food is often addressed through the lens of community health and access to healthy food, but food systems can be linked to other plan areas, including land use, economic development, natural resources, and energy, among others.

Background Resources

Food System Planning Guides

View all guides

Local Food System Assessments

View all reports

Local Food System Planning Policies

View all policies

Comprehensive Plans

View all comprehensive plans

Functional Plans

View all functional plans

Related Collections

Support for this collection was provided by the Growing Food Connections Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2012-68004-19894 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.