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Planning toward sustainable food systems - An exploratory assessment of local U.S. food system plans

Journal Title Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development
Published Date September 02, 2022
Research Topic
Research Type
Authors Jill Clark


National planning and health organizations agree that to achieve healthy and sustainable food systems, planners must balance goals across a spectrum of sustainability issues that include economic vitality, public health, ecological sustainability, social equity, and cultural diversity. This research is an assessment of government-adopted food system plans in the U.S. that examines which topics, across the three dimensions of sustainability (social, environmental, and economic), are included in local food system plans and conducts an exploratory analysis that asks whether the community capitals (built, cultural, social, financial, human, and natural) available in a community are associated with the content of food system plans. The research team first developed a Sustainable Food System Policy Index made up of 26 policy areas across the three dimensions that, in aggregate, define and operationalize sustainable food systems. With this index we evaluated a sample of 28 food system plans for inclusion of these policy impact areas. We then performed an exploratory regression analysis to examine whether the availability of community capitals was associated with the content of food system plans. Findings indicated that jurisdictions integrated a broad range of issues into their food system plans; however, there are certain issues across every dimension of sustainability that are much less frequently included in plans, such as strategies related to participation in decision-making, financial infrastructure, and the stewardship of natural resources. Regression analysis identified statistically significant linear relationships between particular capitals and the proportion of policy areas included in plans. In particular, higher metrics associated with poverty were associated with the inclusion of fewer policy areas and with a potentially narrower policy agenda. This study adds to the plan evaluation literature as one of the first attempts to document the content of a sample of U.S. food system plans through a sustainability lens, contributing to the knowledge of what types of issues are advanced by local food system plans and the policy implications of current gaps in planning agendas.