Planning for Food Systems: Community-University Partnerships for Food-Systems Transformation


  • Jennifer R. Whittaker University at Buffalo
  • Jill K. Clark The Ohio State University
  • Sarah SanGiovannni Clark University
  • Samina Raja University at Buffalo



Community-university partnerships, Buffalo, Chautauqua, Urban planning, Regional planning


The United Nations estimates that by 2050, more than 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas. In the face of continuing urbanization, how will communities meet the fundamental need for good food? What kinds of public policies, structures, and systems will ensure equitable and just access to food? We argue that urban universities have a responsibility and an extraordinary opportunity to help create equitable community food systems by amplifying community-led planning and policy to strengthen such systems. Drawing on case studies involving the University at Buffalo State University of New York system and its community partners, we describe the ways in which community-university partnerships can leverage policy change to support stronger food systems. We conclude with lessons for such partnerships: the importance of building lasting relationships for policy change, shoring up community capacity, understanding the benefits and burdens for universities and communities, and reimagining universities’ responsibilities to their regions. 

Author Biographies

Jennifer R. Whittaker, University at Buffalo

Jennifer Whittaker is a Research Associate with the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. She conducts research on the role of local government policy and planning in facilitating sustainable food systems and healthy communities in rural America, as part of the federally funded Growing Food Connections project. Prior to joining the Food Lab, Jenny served as the Program and Outreach Coordinator for Grassroots Gardens WNY. 

Jill K. Clark, The Ohio State University

Jill K. Clark, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University. Her research focuses on agrifood system policy and practice, centering on community and state governance of food systems, the policy process, and community engagement. She is active in the Ohio Network of Food Policy Councils, the Johns Hopkins Food Policy Network, and the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems. She is also a co-investigator of the Growing Food Connections Project. 

Sarah SanGiovannni, Clark University

Sarah SanGiovanni is a graduate of the Master of Urban Planning program at the University at Buffalo, SUNY, where she also served as a Research Assistant for the Growing Food Connections project in the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab. She is currently a doctoral student in Clark University’s Graduate School of Geography, where she focuses on the areas of Nature-Society Relations, Urban Geography, and Urban Political Ecology. 

Samina Raja, University at Buffalo

Samina Raja, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Urban and Regional Planning and an Adjunct Associate Professor of Community Health and Health Behavior at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. Her research, teaching, and civic service focus on the role of planning in building equitable food systems and healthy communities. She is the Principle Investigator at the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab and the Principal Investigator of the Growing Food Connections Project.


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