Gallery Archives

Growing Food Connections featured in Desert Exposure

Desert Exposure recently highlighted the work of the Growing Food Connections grant in Luna County, NM.  See the full article below.

Luna County Combats Food Insecurity

 Luna County is one of eight counties across the nation selected to begin a new grant- funded program intended to link family farmers with members of the community who lack healthy access to food.

Every county in the nation, 3,007 of them, was invited to apply for the Growing Food Connections funding, and Luna County was among 27 other appli-cations accepted to argue for the award. The highly competitive process was capped by Luna County Manager Charles “Tink” Jackson fighting for bringing the program and funding locally. Jackson’s passionate argument for the program, coupled with research and fact-finding by county staff, secured Luna County’s place in the nationwide effort.

“This county was built on the hard work of farmers, ranchers and the others involved in the complex world of agriculture,” Jackson said. “We plan to sup-port the hard work of today’s ag community in Luna County while addressing the serious issues around healthy food access.”

Luna County’s rich agricultural traditions, coupled with the county’s vision to increase access to healthy foods for area residents, create an ideal environment to strengthen the local food systems. This new pro-gram will join the county’s existing multi-pronged approach, through Luna County Healthy Kids Healthy Communities, to combating food insecurity and healthy food access.

“We have found that our local leaders want tools and resources, not handouts,” said Julia Freedgood, Assistant Vice President for Programs with American Farmland Trust.

American Farmland Trust is a national organiza-tion dedicated to promoting sound farming practices and keeping farmers on the land. The group is one of the partners under the program funded by the United States Department of Agriculture.

The partnerships will bring national expertise in food policy and planning to Luna County to assist with the creation of locally created and controlled plans and policies to support family farmers and en-hance food security.

At the county level, the process will be facilitated by a committee of local residents currently being cre-ated. If you are interested in serving on the committee, contact Jessica Etcheverry at 575-546-0494.

“I’m excited to begin working with members of our community to address the issues they see and the problems we can alleviate together with good planning and teamwork,” Etcheverry, Luna County’s community projects director, said. “Don’t be shy; please contact me so we can begin collaborating toward these important goals.”

Luna County is one of two counties in New Mexico awarded the program. The other is neighboring Doña Ana County. With the exception of the New Mexico counties and a county in Kansas, all of the other sites are located in the Southern United States or east coast.

“The selected local governments will blaze a path for more than 30,000 local governments in the United States that have traditionally overlooked the problems and opportunities in their communities’ food systems,” Dr. Samina Raja, GFC Principal Investigator and Associate Professor at the University of Buffalo, said.

Office of Global Health Initiatives Partnering with UB School of Medicine for Spring Clinical Day

 The Office of Global Health Initiatives is partnering with the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences for Spring Clinical Day 2015: Lessons learned in global health. The Office of Global Health Initiatives is facilitating a panel discussion Global is local: caring for refugees and immigrants in Western New York as well as presenting Survivors, a photo exhibit portraying survivors of a massacre that occurred at the Gatumba refugee camp in 2004 in Burundi.

The event will take place on Saturday, May 30 at Statler City in Buffalo. Dr. Dan Kelly, an infectious disease specialist, will be the keynote speaker.  The program will include discussions on clinical healthy systems and social pathologies of Ebola and how Ebola research can be a vehicle for global health equity. A review of improving delivery of culturally engaged healthcare for global communities in Buffalo will also be discussed.

To registercontact Jessica Scates at or 716-829-5371 

Food Lab Members Recipients of Several Awards at 2015 Commencement Ceremonies

The end of the 2014-2015 school year brought numerous celebratory moments in the Food Lab.  Three students, Nathan Attard, Kelley Mosher, and Jenny Whittaker graduated on May 15th and all were honored with awards at the commencement ceremony and at the School of Architecture and Planning’s awards celebration.  

Nathan graduated with a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning with a specialization in GIS and spatial analysis.  He received the Chairs Award for his consistent, high-caliber work during his time in the program.  Currently, he is coordinating the evaluation of the Buffalo Neighborhood Food Project, a partnership between Grassroots Gardens of Buffalo and Massachusetts Avenue Project. 

Kelley Mosher graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Design and a Bachelor of Science with a concentration in Environmental Studies. She was inducted as a member of Tau Sigma Delta honor society and won the Public Service Award from the School of Architecture and Planning. 

Jenny also graduated with a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning with a generalist specialization in research methods. She received the AICP Excellence Award from the Western New York Division of the American Institute of Certified Planners for having the highest promise for professional excellence.  She was also the recipient of the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence.  

We are proud of the hard work of all our students in the Food Lab!

Food Lab Graduate Student Receives SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence

Jenny Whittaker, a research assistant in the Food Lab and recent MUP graduate was awarded the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence via a nomination from Dr. Samina Raja.  University of Buffalo’s School of Architecture and Planning featured the award in an article by Rachel Teaman shown below.

‘A Force of Transformation’

Emerging leader in food systems planning earns SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence

By Rachel Teaman

Published April 22, 2015

It didn’t take long for Samina Raja, a nationally recognized expert in food systems planning, to know Jennifer “Jenny” Whittaker was someone she wanted in her research lab.

The two first met four years ago through Grassroots Gardens of Buffalo, where Raja served as a board member and Whittaker, an AmeriCorps volunteer just out of college, was managing programs for the organization’s 70 community gardens.

“Despite her young age, Jenny was wise, hardworking, professional, incredibly competent in her work, and deeply committed to community-based work,” says Raja, associate professor of urban and regional planning and founding director of the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab, a leading center for research in this field. “I was so impressed by her across-the-board qualities that I asked her to apply to our [Master of Urban Planning] program.”

Jennifer Whittaker (left) with Samina Raja at the SUNY Chancellor's Award Ceremony in Albany earlier this month.
Jennifer Whittaker (left) with Samina Raja at the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence ceremony in Albany earlier this month.

Today, Whittaker is one of Raja’s go-to research assistants for a national-scale food systems planning grant. Already a published scholar, she’s on the front line of food access and policy research for rural communities and recently co-authored Western New York’s first-ever food systems plan.

The emerging leader has now just been honored with a SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence in recognition of her academic achievement and community leadership. She’s also the first urban planning student to receive the award since SUNY started the program in 2012.

Ever so modest, Whittaker says she owes it all to Raja. “She’s the reason I am here.”


Whittaker wasn’t even interested when Raja first suggested she apply to the MUP program. “At the time, I didn’t plan to go back to school at all,” she says. Having just earned her undergraduate degree in geography and international relations from SUNY College at Geneseo, she was exploring her options through travel and volunteering.

Yet food and health had always interested Whittaker, who grew up in Chautauqua County surrounded by dairy farms and orchards.

It was a year later when Raja called Whittaker with a proposition she couldn’t pass up. The Food Lab, along with the American Farmland Trust, Ohio State University and Cultivating Healthy Places, an international consulting business, had just won a $3.96 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to work with county-level governments across the U.S. to strengthen connections between food insecure communities and small and medium farmers. The effort, “Growing Food Connections,” included funding for a graduate fellowship with a full-tuition-plus-stipend award and the opportunity to serve as a researcher in the Food Lab.

“The project definitely drew me in,” says Whittaker, adding that Growing Food Connections’ balanced focus on rural and urban areas was a critical factor.

“Food insecurity is actually just as high in rural areas as it is in urban areas,” she says, citing rural poverty and the relocation of grocers to big-box plazas, often far removed from the town center.

This rural “paradox” has become the focus of Whittaker’s research as she works under Raja and the Growing Food Connections team to create plans, policies and partnerships that support both family farms and consumer access to healthy food. Growing Food Connections will focus its efforts on eight communities across the U.S., from New Mexico to Maine, working on the ground with local government and grassroots organizations.

The idea of tailored policy is fundamental to the effort, adds Whittaker, particularly because food policy looks very different for urban and rural areas. “Urban policies don’t work for rural areas,” she says, referring to largely urban origins of the food movement. “There needs to be innovative, grassroots solutions tailored to rural communities.”

With Raja as a co-author, Whittaker is finalizing an article on public policy responses to rural food insecurity and declining agricultural viability. To be submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, the research fills a major gap in literature on rural food systems planning solutions. Whittaker just presented her findings to planning practitioners at the 2015 American Planning Association conference and will present new research on rural food retail at the Agriculture and Human Values Conference this summer.

Whittaker exhibits the same drive when it comes to her coursework. During her first year in the MUP program, she developed a farm-to-school plan for her hometown – Frewsburg, Chautauqua County – to enrich school lunches with food grown by nearby farms. Working with the UB Regional Institute on One Region Forward, a regional sustainability planning effort, Whittaker co-authored a food access and justice plan for Western New York. Through focus group research in Buffalo Public Schools – an extracurricular endeavor – Whittaker found evidence that suggests enhanced federal nutritional standards for school lunches are being undermined at the local level. She’s handed the data over to local organizations and will submit her findings for publication.

Again, she reflects on Raja’s influence, both professionally and personally: “She’s invested in her students, both as a teacher and as a researcher. She’s influenced me tremendously in the work I do and the way I do it,” says Whittaker, adding that Raja, who exercises daily and tries to leave the lab by 5 p.m., is also a model for healthful living.

Raja, whose instincts about Whittaker have been dead on thus far, says she has no doubt Whittaker will be a leader in the profession. “Jenny is a force of transformation – she has demonstrated that force in her own life and in her WNY community. Given her performance so far, I expect Jenny to emerge as an outstanding national/international planner/scholar of repute someday.”



7th Annual AESOP Sustainable Food Planning Conference

The Association of European Schools of Planning is announcing their 7th International AESOP Sustainable Food Planning Conference on localizing urban food strategies.  The conference is being hosted by the Polytechnic University of Turin and will take place on October 7th-9th in Torino, Italy. The conference will provide opportunity for cross disciplinary dialogue, networking and identification of important and emerging research related to sustainable food planning.  International cross-disciplinary researchers in the fields of planning, agronomy, design, geography and administration  and more will attend as well as new and early career researchers. The conference has a dual goal of ‘farming cities’ and ‘performing rurality’ to highlight innovative roles for agriculture in the cities while equally supporting the important role of agriculture in rural areas. The conference will be organized by five tracks: spatial planning and urban design, governance and private entrepreneurship, relevant experience and practice, training and jobs, and flows and network.   Abstracts will be accepted until May 31sth via the AESOP website and students and young scholars are encouraged to apply. 

Growing Food Connections Announces our ‘Exploring Stories of Innovation’ Series

Growing Food Connections is excited to announce Exploring Stories of Innovation, a series of short articles that explore how local governments from across the United States are strengthening their community’s food system through planning and policy.

Beginning in 2012, Growing Food Connections (GFC) conducted a national scan and identified 299 local governments across the United States that are developing and implementing a range of innovative plans, public programs, regulations, laws, financial investments and other policies to strengthen the food system. GFC conducted exploratory telephone interviews with 20 of these local governments. This series will highlight some of the unique planning and policy strategies used by these urban and rural local governments to enhance community food security while ensuring sustainable and economically viable agriculture and food production. The first four articles in the series feature Seattle, WA; Baltimore, MD; Cabarrus County, NC; and Lancaster County, PA.

For more information and to download these free articles, visit

Marquette County, part of the Growing Food Connections Project, Featured in Upper Peninsula Matters

Marquette County Food Supply Plan Gains National Recognition

By Esther Kwon, Upper Peninsula Matters

April 30, 205

Marquette County’s work to improve the community’s food system is creating attention at the national level.

Thyra Karlstrom, Senior Planner for Marquette County, was recently invited to speak at the American Planning Association’s National Planning Conference in Seattle, Washington. The opportunity was a result of Marquette County being identified as a “community of innovation” by Growing Food Connections (GFC), a USDA-funded project that is conducting research on how local governments are improving food security and strengthening agriculture and food production in their communities. “We are impressed with the food systems planning and policy work of Marquette County government, namely the leadership of staff on food systems issues; long-range food systems planning efforts; coordination and collaboration within and outside the local government; and government support of food systems related projects and programs,” said Kimberley Hodgson, Co-Investigator of GFC and Principal of Cultivating Healthy Places.

As part of a GFC-hosted workshop (focused on advancing food systems planning and policy), Karlstrom spoke about Marquette County’s Local Food Supply Plan. The Plan was adopted by the County in 2012 and explains what a food system is, our regional challenges which include a short growing season, why a strong local food system is essential, and what the community and policy makers can do to strengthen ours.

“Representing rural communities and sharing Marquette County’s story at a national planning conference was an incredible opportunity,” Karlstrom said. “Our community has countless people and agencies dedicated to increasing healthy food consumption, providing opportunities for agriculture, and connecting food growers and consumers. Local governments have a key role and that is to set policy that encourages food production, processing, and even consumption.”

Marquette County is committed. Goals identified in the Plan include an improved economy, improved health, and reduced dependency on imported foods. The Plan can be found under comprehensive planning documents on Marquette County’s website.