Category Archives: Publications

Food Lab researchers release major U.N. report on food systems planning

Researchers from the University at Buffalo Food Lab were the driving force behind the publication today of a major report that details strategies local governments in low- and middle-income countries can use to create more innovative and equitable community food systems.

The 164-page report — titled “Local government planning for community food systems” — was published in early February 2021 by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a United Nations agency that leads international efforts to defeat hunger.

Cover of a major report published by the United Nations in February that was written by UB researchers.

“To my knowledge, this is one of the earliest documents outlining how local governments can take action to create innovative and equitable food systems in low- and middle-income countries,” said Samina Raja, PhD, director of the UB Food Lab, who shepherded the initiative.

The report was co-produced by researchers and community partners in the case study countries, along with authors Raja, Erin Sweeney, Yeeli Mui and Emmanuel Frimpong Boamah of UB’s Community for Global Health Equity and the Food Lab. It includes contributions from 10 students and six community partners from Ghana, Jamaica, and India.

Sweeney coordinated the work in Odisha (India), while Mui led in Kerala, India, and Frimpong Boamah in Ghana. Mui was a postdoc at UB when the project started and is now an assistant professor in the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University.

UB researchers were the driving force behind this report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

A food system is the rich and complex web through which a community gets its food.

Despite major developments, local governments in low- and middle-income countries continue to face significant challenges in integrating food security, nutrition and sustainable food systems in their agenda, FAO directors Anna Lartey and Vimlendra Sharan note in the foreword to the report.

“This publication invites us to rethink food systems and supply chains through the lens of a ‘community,’ as a reminder that people and their everyday practices and relationships with food are central to the design of these processes,” they write.

The report comprises six sections featuring contributions from UB and other global food systems researchers. Topics covered include describing the many ways in which local governments influence a community’s food system, an overview of the field of food systems planning, examples of local government policies from across the globe, and case studies from a number of low- and middle-income countries where food systems present an opportunity for equitable innovation.

“In its conclusion, the report reinforces the critical role of community food systems for broader social transformation in cities and regions,” says Raja, who also serves as co-director of UB’s Community for Global Health Equity.

The report is unique in that it is centered around the experiences of smallholder farmers in low- and middle-income countries. These farmers are responsible for growing food for the world and yet they are often the most food insecure, Raja points out.

“It is with this premise that we went about this work,” she says, adding that the team interviewed smallholder farmers in Ghana, India and Jamaica. “It became certain that it is impossible to prepare plans and policies without understanding the successes, challenges and adaptations made by smallholder farmers to do their job and survive. They feed the world, they fight climate change, they protect our ecologies — smallholder farmers are truly on the ‘frontline.’”

Raja says local governments have the ability and a responsibility to collaborate with stakeholders to harness and amplify the opportunities available within their jurisdiction to develop more innovative and equitable community food systems.

“There is no one-size-fits-all approach to food systems planning,” she says. “Each community’s opportunities and challenges are unique. Building community trust, designing inclusive planning processes, and conducting contextually scoped community food system assessments that center smallholder farmers’ experiences are key to planning, strengthening, and leveraging food systems for community well-being in low- and middle-income countries.”

The report was the result of a collaboration between FAO and UB, which have partnered to build the capacity of local governments to engage in food systems planning. UB began work with partners at FAO in 2016 with an expert summit focused on drawing attention to food in the New Urban Agenda, an initiative of the U.N. that aims for a better quality of life in the urbanizing world.

With support from FAO, researchers at the UB Food Lab are conducting transdisciplinary research in Ghana, India and Jamaica to document opportunities and challenges in planning for food systems, especially from the perspective of smallholder farmers.

“UB’s Community for Global Health Equity, which supports UB Food Lab’s global work, is committed to supporting those who most influence global food equity – leaders, organizations and policymakers who can affect systemic change,” said Venu Govindaraju, PhD, UB vice president for research and economic development.

“The FAO-UB partnership accelerates our faculty’s ability to translate their research in the domain of community food systems into policy and action,” Govindaraju added.

Revisiting Revitalization: Community Health Lessons from Baltimore’s Vacants to Value Initiative

By Yeeli Mui, PhD, MPH, University at Buffalo, State University of New York; Brian Bieretz, MA, Urban Institute; Joel Gittelsohn, PhD, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Joseph Schilling, JD, LLM, Urban Institute

Neighborhoods undergo constant change when local governments, philanthropists, and community organizations invest resources to mitigate declining trajectories. The success of such efforts, however, is often measured in economic terms, such as through property value increases, with less attention to the health of residents who remain in the community.

This research aims to shift those priorities by examining a range of community health impacts from a strategic revitalization effort in Baltimore City: the Vacants to Value (V2V) initiative. While local studies have assessed some dimensions of the V2V initiative, including process and policy effectiveness, the initiative’s community health impacts have yet to be explored. To address this gap, the research team developed three case examples of V2V in different neighborhoods in order to examine communities’ expectations, engagement with V2V, and how community health could be better achieved. The report offers a preliminary scan of V2V’s community health impacts, to set the stage for a future Health Impact Assessment (HIA), a tool commonly used by planners and other decision-makers to evaluate potential positive and negative public health impacts of a plan, policy, or initiative.

This report includes five sections:

Section 1 provides a brief literature review on the relationships between vacant properties and community health, summarizes prior studies of the V2V initiative, and explains the usefulness of Health Impact Assessments in the context of neighborhood revitalization efforts.

Section 2 describes the methodology of this study.

Based on our cross-case analysis, Section 3 compares findings regarding V2V’s community health impacts across three communities.

Section 4 proposes a framework for a future Health Impact Assessment of new Community Development Clusters that V2V decision-makers can use before the start of revitalization efforts.

Section 5 offers recommendations to local government for strengthening V2V’s revitalization process by advancing community health in more place- and health-conscious ways in the future.

Finally, the Annex of the report includes a deep dive into community health lessons from Baltimore City’s V2V initiative in three different neighborhoods:

1. Restoring the Social Fabric: Challenges and Opportunities to Strengthen the Revitalization Process and Community Health in Park Heights, Baltimore

2. Community-Driven Revitalization: Building on Historic Strengths to Restore and Preserve Community Health in Eager Street Commons, Baltimore

3. Coalition of the Willing: Advancing Community Health Through Collaborative Revitalization in Greenmount West, Baltimore

Planning for Food Systems: Community-University partnerships for Food-Systems Transformation

Jennifer R. Whittaker, Jill K. Clark, Sarah SanGiovannni, Samina Raja

The United Nations estimates that by 2050, more than 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas. In the face of continuing urbanization, how will communities meet the fundamental need for good food? What kinds of public policies, structures, and systems will ensure equitable and just access to food? We argue that urban universities have a responsibility and an extraordinary opportunity to help create equitable community food systems by amplifying community-led planning and policy to strengthen such systems. Drawing on case studies involving the University at Buffalo State University of New York system and its community partners, we describe the ways in which community-university partnerships can leverage policy change to support stronger food systems.

Read Online: https://journals.iupui.edu/index.php/muj/article/view/21471

Kid Corridors: An Active Commuting Plan for the Williamsville Central School District (Fall 2009)

The purpose of this planning studio was to develop materials that would encourage and educate children to walk and bicycle to school, and create a “Kids Corridor” plan. Graduate students in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning worked in collaboration with officials of the Town of Amherst, which had received a federal Safe Routes To School grant in conjunction with the Williamsville Central School District. The studio focused on strategies to make walking and biking to school safe and engaging K-8 students and parents in the Williamsville School District as active players in the plan development. The final report recommended the creation of a Town Youth Board subcommittee to oversee the plan and its ongoing development, as well as designating Kids Corridor zones around elementary and middle schools which would be facilitated by policy changes and physical improvements. In addition, the report recommended the distribution of maps of safe walking routes to all parents living within one mile of schools in the district. This project was awarded  the 2010 Outstanding Student Project Award from the Western New York Section of the American Planning Association (WNY APA).

Food for Growth: A Community Food System Plan for Buffalo’s West Side (Fall 2003)

The purpose of this planning studio was to create a community food systems plan for the West Side neighborhood in Buffalo, New York.  Students from the Department of Urban and Regional Planning worked on behalf of the Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP), a non-profit dedicated to revitalizing urban neighborhoods and improving food security through urban farming and youth leadership development. The students conducted an extensive survey of food stores in the West Side that revealed challenges for residents to access fresh, nutritious foods. The final report made recommendations to strengthen the West Side’s community food system to meet four strategic objectives which include enhancing local food production through supportive land use planning, promoting economic development related to the food system, increasing access to transportation to food sources, and promoting youth development through food-based programming. MAP’s Growing Green program was integral in demonstrating the role of youth in urban farming projects. The report strove to demonstrate the ways in which planning can be used to address food insecurity and strengthen a community food system, and the power of urban neighborhood residents to work towards community revitalization and well-being.

Read the report here.

Queen City Gardens Plan: Planning for Community Gardens in the City of Buffalo (2009)

Graduate students in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning PD 525 “Planning for Food Justice” course wrote the plan on behalf of the Buffalo City Council Community Gardens Task Force. The goal of the Queen City Gardens Plan is to foster and protect sustainable community-based garden projects throughout the City of Buffalo. The graduate student team researched the state of community gardens in the City of Buffalo, reviewed municipal policies on community gardens in other cities in the United States, and made recommendations on how best to create and sustain community gardens in the City of Buffalo. The Queen City Gardens plan aimed to provide the task force with information to “enhance the cultural, physical and social environment and provide means for stimulating interaction between community members through the creation and continuance of community gardens”. The plan outlines recommendations to enhance the City’s Comprehensive Land Use and Zoning Code that was in review at the time, and suggests a partnership between City Hall and the greater community to protect and enhance community gardening across the city.

Read the report here.

Kid Corridors: An Active Commuting Plan for the Williamsville Central School District (Fall 2009)

The purpose of this planning studio was to develop materials that would encourage and educate children to walk and bicycle to school, and create a “Kids Corridor” plan. Graduate students in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning worked in collaboration with officials of the Town of Amherst, which had received a federal Safe Routes To School grant in conjunction with the Williamsville Central School District. The studio focused on strategies to make walking and biking to school safe and engaging K-8 students and parents in the Williamsville School District as active players in the plan development. The final report recommended the creation of a Town Youth Board subcommittee to oversee the plan and its ongoing development, as well as designating Kids Corridor zones around elementary and middle schools which would be facilitated by policy changes and physical improvements. In addition, the report recommended the distribution of maps of safe walking routes to all parents living within one mile of schools in the district. This project was awarded  the 2010 Outstanding Student Project Award from the Western New York Section of the American Planning Association (WNY APA).

Read the report here.

Room at the Table: Food System Assessment of Erie County (2011)

The purpose of this planning studio was to develop a county-wide food systems assessment of Erie County, New York on behalf of the Department of Erie County Department of Environment and Planning Students to inform the county’s farmland preservation planning process. Working in partnership with public and civic agencies, students developed a report that outlined the challenges and opportunities within Erie County’s food system. The report offers twenty-eight recommendations for strengthening the food system. Recommendations include the creation of a Food Policy Council, establishment of a regional food hub in Erie County, and creation of a county website on agricultural resources. Information generated through the studio was incorporated into the county’s official farmland preservation plan.

Read the report here.

Invest in Fresh: A Plan for Promoting Healthy Food Retail in Jamestown, New York (2013)

The purpose of this planning studio  was to develop a planning report to improve access to healthy, affordable food in the small city of Jamestown in the rural Chautauqua County in Western New York. Prepared on behalf of the Chautauqua County Health Network, the report aimed to improve the health and wellness of residents as well as respond to the city’s economic challenges. The report highlights three objectives: 1. To assess the food retail environment in the City of Jamestown; 2. To analyze the potential of the city to support additional healthy food retail; and, 3. To outline strategies that create or improve healthy food access and economic development in Jamestown. The studio team found that particular sections of Jamestown had a limited number of food retail locations, few offered healthful food options, and that it was difficult for residents to travel to food retail locations. Recommendation included the creation of a healthy corner stores initiative to improve food access, and the launch of a food policy council to shape and steer policy changes through the existing governance structure. The Chautauqua County Health Network and its partners used the information generated by the report to design and implement a Healthy Corner Store effort in Jamestown.