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Planning for Sustainable Food Systems in Canada

Findings from a Survey of Canadian Planners


Click here to read the survey summary report (coming soon!)

Click here to read the survey report (coming soon!)

Key Findings

Knowledge about the food system is limited amongst planners: Few planners have a broad range of expertise about food systems topics and knowledge about some critical topics such as food infrastructure, Indigenous food sovereignty, and food systems labour are limited. Planners may also have limited knowledge about how to integrate food systems into their other planning work and available legislative and regulatory tools to support food systems planning. 
Formal education and training opportunities in food systems planning are limited and inadequate: Some respondents engaged in education and training opportunities to build skills and knowledge about food systems, however these opportunities were narrowly focused and nor widely available. Planners expressed interest in learning more about emerging issues such as food security, food justice, urban food policy and Indigenous food sovereignty. They also identified a need for training and resources that help planners to communicate better with decision makers and the public, and integrate food systems planning into their work. 
There is a lack of clarity around who is responsible for food systems planning: While food systems cut across a number of policy domains, it is recognized that there is often no clear “home” for food systems in planning departments and agencies. The lack of clarity when it comes to jurisdictional responsibility for food systems planning was also noted. Information and resources to help them better support community based food system initiatives a well as allocation of appropriate resources and funding for governments to support food system development and community based initaitives is needed. 
Food systems planning is perceived as a rural issue, not and urban one: There is also evidence that food systems planning is perceived as primarily a rural issue with rural land use planning and agricultural planning were top areas of food systems planning focus. While there is also focus amongst planners on urban agriculture and community gardening survey results suggest that urban food planning remains narrowly focused in these areas. There lack of training and education opportunities in the area of urban food policy and planning was also noted.
A recognized lack of racial diversity and lived experience in the planning field could impact how food systems are understood and limit how they are addressed in planning: Equity and justice were identified as important outcomes of food systems planning. Emerging equity based planning approaches and work to address anti-Black racism, decolonization and Indigenous reconciliation present new opportunities to mitigate systemic inequities to improve food system outcomes for all. 

About the Survey

Food systems are integral to community health and well-being. However, food systems have been overlooked in contemporary planning activities and processes in Canada. To address an exiting research gap, Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Institute for Sustainable Food Systems (ISFS) partnered with the Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP) to develop and deliver a survey about food systems planning to Canadian planners and planning practitioners. This critical partnership allowed the ISFS to engage directly with the planning community.

This survey gathered information  about planners preparedness to engage in food systems planning, their knowledge and expertise about food system areas, and how they address food issues in their work. The survey also assesses perceived barriers and knowledge gaps that impact the advancement of food systems planning. Findings from this study will contribute to the planning profession by providing information that could support the development of new education opportunities and training resources to better prepare planners to participate in and advance food systems planning in Canada. 

This survey has been co-developed by the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems (ISFS) and an advisory committee of professional planners from across Canada. Here is some of what our advisors had to say about the work.

“Food is a connector and an important lever for sustainability and systems change. Food is also a basic human right and what we do as planners impact peoples’ ability to access and grow food, and to close the loop in the nutrient cycle. In a nutshell, planners influence the food system from the point of production to waste management and beyond. Amidst the pandemic, food issues should be one of the key priorities in the planning field and this initiative by KPU and CIP is a good first step to get this issue on the radar", Dr. Tammara Soma, MCIP, RPP, Assistant Professor (Planning) Simon Fraser University

“While planning is a broad field and not all planners may have a direct focus on food systems planning, I believe there are still ways for us to integrate it into the various areas of our work, especially since it is an emerging topic that is becoming increasing important. With the information gathered from this survey, we can get a better picture of where food systems planning is currently at in Canada, and identify supporting tools that may be helpful for planners and practitioners!", Dilys Huang, MCIP, RPP, LEED Green Assoc., Development Planner, City of New Westminster

"My experience with trying to adjust and plan for food security issues in real time during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic illustrated the importance of expanding the dialogue about food and how it is used and viewed within our society. Participating in this project was a first step in helping me understand the knowledge gaps and assets that exist in the planning profession across the country." , Carla Stewart, RPP MCIP MCAHP, Senior Policy Planner, City of Surrey 

« La participation au sondage sur les systèmes alimentaires mis en place par KPU m’a permis de mieux comprendre la définition et l’enjeu du défi alimentaire dans ma pratique d’urbanisme. Cette question est trop souvent limitée à l’agriculture et aux contraintes en aménagement. Elle mérite d’être mieux enseignée à la relève et intégrée dans notre réflexion sur la gestion du territoire. La participation au sondage de la communauté d’urbanistes est importante pour faire avancer cette réflexion. », Jean-François L. Vachon, urbaniste - OUQ, CIP

This survey is part of a 3-year, SSHRC funded research project exploring the state of food systems in planning practice in Canada. For more information about this survey and the other phases of this research, please read the PDF icon project brief, or contact ISFS Research Associate, Emily Hansen:

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