THE PUBLIC VOICE AND SUSTAINABLE FOOD SYSTEMS: Community Engagement in Food Action Plans
Sears, Laurel Birdsong
University of Kansas
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Abstract This project explores the definitions of sustainable food system planning and how it is approached through the disciplines of Urban Planning and Human Geography. It evaluates an emerging tool in food system planning, the food system action plan, using public participation as a baseline to understand its possible sustainability. Finally, this project seeks to add to the understanding of food system planning tools with primary research using the photovoice technique with members of the Lawrence, KS community. The food system is intricately tied to economic systems, to social structures or systems that affect all peoples’ ability to access what they need and the systems of nature and the environment. The way cities and regions are constructed or planned deeply affect how people get their food. Changing from global to more locally proximate production and consumption, from invisible to visible food producers is part and parcel of a sustainable food practice. Cities and regions are turning to the planning process to address how communities get their food. One technique to address food system issues is the creation of food system plans. As an emerging technique, I address whether these food plans support sustainability and how these cities, counties and regions have developed these plans. I evaluate adopted food plans nationwide based on their stated public participation measures, using public participation measures as a way to understand community sustainability. Overall, public participation measures are expanding and maturing nationally, with over half of the food system plans documenting their public participation processes well. Using a community based research method, photovoice, I engage seven Lawrence KS community members to document how they experience food in their lives. The City of Lawrence has spent 1.5 years research and creating a food system plan. In the planning process, these seven community members were trained as community data gatherers. In this project, they continue that work. They were instructed to critically engage in the food system and their own experiences, using photography and critical captions with the end goal to affect local food policy. The outcome is heightened engagement and understanding among those creating policy and stakeholders experiencing local food policies at the grassroots level.
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