By Amy Scheuerman
If you’re interested in agriculture and food and planning, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Applications for the dual degree in Urban and Environmental Planning and Agriculture, Food, and Environment have been creeping upward over the past few years. Trendsetters like Marisol Pierce-Quinonez, 2011, and Molly McCullagh, 2012, are making it easier for new students to make careers out of planning healthy and sustainable food systems. But even they are following in the footsteps of Tufts alums who attended the school well before the phrase “food systems” existed.
Where do these like-minded foodie planners meet? At the American Planning Association’s annual conference of course. This year the conference was held in beautiful New Orleans and offered much to interest Friedman students. The APA has a Food Systems Interest Group (irresistibly nicknamed FIG), which is run by Friedman alumnus Kimberly Hodgson, MS RD. When the APA starts hiring Registered Dietitians you see the connection between planning and food.
Many of the people involved in FIG discussed starting a spin-off group for people interested in public health. With the conference being held in New Orleans I found this to have a kind of a backwards charm. The city is frequently cited as being the most obese in the nation (although Jamie Oliver appears to have hedged his bets in West Virginia) and between the beniets, po’boys, and cochon de lait you can see why.
However, it’s hard to deny that food, ag, planning, and health are interconnected. It’s hard to address any one of these issues without having to discuss the others. Consider food deserts, an issue Parke Wilde has eloquently blogged and written about. And the connection between public transportation and meeting the physical activity requirements set out in the Healthy People 2010 Guidelines. There’s an undeniable synergy here.
And this is what made the APA conference so exciting. Here were people who understand the challenges of building cities, and care about the issues of food and health enough to include them in their already full job descriptions. There were talks by Tufts alumnus Julia Freedgood of American Farmland Trust, Angie Tagtow who is an environmental consultant with the Food and Society Fellow Program, and Alex Hinds who is the interim director of the Center for Sustainable Communities at Sonoma State University in California.
And if this isn’t enough to interest you, here are a few more teasers: The APA accepts poster and presentation abstracts from students. This year Mari Quinonez submitted an abstract and was invited to present a poster on farmland preservation in Massachusetts. This year the APA had four sections addressing food systems, three on healthy communities, two on urban agriculture, and two incorporating rural planning and farmland preservation. Next year it plans to have more because of high demand. To top it all off– next year’s conference is going to be held right here in Boston.
Oh, and did I mention that there are student discounts?