"Schaumburg's Farmers Market," by Mary Jo Follert,
2007 CMAP Photo contest winner
Food systems are becoming an integrated component of regional planning throughout the country. The food system is composed of a vast set of complicated relationships among growers, processors, distributors, retailers, researchers, advocates, and policy makers; however, consumers are often unaware of the intricate web that sustains us.
The GO TO 2040 plan gives the region an opportunity to plan for a diverse and robust local food system that exists along with the national and global food system and that is economically, environmentally, socially, and culturally sustainable.
In coordination with an advisory committee of regional experts, the Chicago Food Policy Advisory Council and the City of Chicago have prepared general recommendations for actions to improve food systems within the long-term context of the GO TO 2040 plan. These recommendations cover:
- Food infrastructure
- Food education
- Food data and indicators
A report that provides more details on these recommendations is forthcoming and will be posted in this space when available; an executive summary is currently available.
Effect of physical planning decisions on food systems
The purpose of the questions below is to understand how today's planning policy and investment decisions – covering transportation, land use, housing, economic development, and the natural environment – might affect food systems in our region in 2040.
How would food systems be affected by different economic development policies: focusing on investments in human capital (improving the region's workforce); infrastructure (investing in physical infrastructure such as transportation facilities); or innovation (including but not limited to technological innovation)?
- In the case of human capital, workforce training could support transitioning and future farmers and agricultural workers, both to replace current farmers (average age of 59) and provide job opportunities for lower-skill workers, including ex-offenders.
- Existing facilities should have the ability to be used for both the global food system where source of origin is not a concern as well as for the local and organic ones where it is critical to track a product from its source through processing and distribution.
- Research could introduce new farming methods that will further improve the efficiency and sustainability of our region's farming practices .
- We need to educate people on healthier lifestyles and eating habits and growing and preparing nutritious foods. Potential major markets for local food consumption are institutions such as schools, hospitals, or jails. Local, state, and federal food procurement standards should include a place for spending on local food.
- Food processing has been an economic engine in the seven-county region since the 1840s and Chicago has long been a transportation and food hub of the United States. Greater revenue and more jobs could be retained and generated by strengthening further the investments in manufacturing and distribution systems.
- At a more local level, ‘food deserts' (areas with limited fresh food availability) are often caused by lack of financial investment and physical infrastructure. These underserved communities would benefit from the expansion of incentive programs for grocers, farmers markets, CSAs, community gardens, and other outlets for fresher, healthier foods.
- Farmers markets, CSAs , and other alternative food delivery systems should be tracked more consistently (licenses, permits) and the information collected should be readily available for the public. When farmers realize where the gaps in the market are, they will be more willing to fill them.
How would food systems be affected by different transportation investment alternatives: focusing on major infrastructure investments (road or rail expansions); low-capital operational improvements (improved bus service, sidewalks, and trails); or technology (including real-time information or improved traffic signal timings)?
- Transportation investments that incorporate methods to significantly reduce the loss of regional agricultural land should be encouraged.
- Adaptive reuse of our existing transportation infrastructure to support our regional food system should be encouraged when making regional transportation infrastructure investments.
How would food systems be affected by different land use policies: focusing on dense, infill development; moderate densities with emphasis on community-centered design; or low-density new development?
- From 1997 to 2007, all seven counties within the region lost farmland acreage. Land use policies often prohibit or simply create no option for agriculture in developed areas. Urban sprawl and transportation investments also contribute to the decrease in peri-urban farms by increasing market pressure on farmers to sell off remaining agricultural land further reducing the region's ability to produce food. Farmland preservation efforts, identifying areas for growing food, and weighing the impacts of future transportation investments should all be addressed in local land use plans.
- A local food system should be able to utilize existing transportation infrastructure without additional infrastructure investments.
- In urbanized areas, opportunities for community gardens or urban agriculture should be encouraged. Proximity of agriculture to urban areas is helpful for education, so that urban residents, specifically children, are exposed to agriculture.
- Access to fresh and healthy food choices should be considered in housing development related decisions.
How would food systems be affected by different land conservation policies: focusing on preserving large areas of open space for biodiversity; providing parks for community access; or providing open space as part of new development?
- Much of the farmland in Illinois and specifically in the Chicago region where it is most threatened, is still considered high quality. Agricultural preservation policies could directly support food systems if they were designed for this purpose; currently this is generally not the focus. Subsidies often require set aside acres for commodity crops and do not provide crop insurance for specialty crops. Also, many easement programs/preservation policies require a minimum acreage in order to be eligible. Such restrictions as these limit the number of farmers/growers able to participate in such programs.
- Small-scale agriculture may be appropriate to add as a category of land conservation but should not take away from other conservation efforts such as forest preserves and open space.
How would food systems be affected by energy policies: focusing on adopting clean energy sources; reducing the energy consumption of buildings; or reducing the energy consumption of the transportation system?
- Much research should be done on the effects of food transportation, biofuels, and food processes on the food system and the environment.
How would food systems be affected by housing policies: preserving existing affordable housing; creating new affordable housing near transit and jobs; or reducing housing costs through energy efficiency improvements?
- (Affordable) Housing should always attempt to be infill development when possible to decrease urban sprawl which tends to lead to the development of more farmland.