In a state known for its robust agricultural economy, many Vermonters still face serious challenges and barriers to getting food, particularly, fresh, healthy food that is affordable. The new toolkit Local Planning for Food Access aims to help Vermont towns, cities, and regions increase access to food. Released in November 2019, this easy-to-use resource provides local and regional planning commissions (and community members) with ideas, background information, and language to integrate food access into municipal and regional plans.
What do you do when you look for a resource and can’t find it? You write it! Realizing no such resource to guide food access into local planning existed to fit Vermont communities, a task force of the Farm to Plate Network formed. Spearheaded by Faye Mack of Hunger Free Vermont, a collaborative and dynamic group met quarterly to review existing plans and creative community efforts, then to create this guide with the leadership of Network consultant Taylar Foster. The task force included members of the Food Access Cross Cutting Team and Farmland Access and Stewardship Working Group, plus outside leaders from several state agencies, regional planning commissions, and other organizations.
Because it is not a legislative requirement, food access is often overlooked in local and regional plans. But the planning process brings together representatives from a community to envision a future for their community, and food access should be a part of that vision. Furthermore, many food access strategies also serve other goals commonly found in local plans: walkable neighborhoods; centrally located grocery stores; economic stability; healthy kids, adults, and senior citizens; sensible land use; community resiliency… There are many places in the plan where food access overlaps and this toolkit helps you figure out where, how, and what works for where you live, and to recognize opportunities for shared resources and collaboration.
Available online, this toolkit is the latest in a series of planning modules for volunteer and professional planners looking to include food systems in ongoing planning work. Find Faye and members of the task force around the state this winter and spring as they work with community groups to implement this resource. Together we can make sure all Vermonters have access to healthy food while making sure our cities, towns, and villages stay strong, vibrant, unique, and well-planned!