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'FoodPlan CNY' Aims To Connect And Strengthen Food System Stakeholders

Scott Willis
Onondaga County Legislature Chairman Dave Knapp (behind County Executive Ryan McMahon) and Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh unveil FoodPlan CNY as SUNY ESF Professor and principal author Matthew Potteiger looks on behind the podium.

Years of collective effort at the institutional and governmental levels right down to individual farmers and residents have resulted in the creation of the first comprehensive food system plan in the region. It’s called FoodPlan CNY, and it aims to coordinate and connect all parts of the system, from the farmers to the distributors to the retailers and finally to the consumers. Matthew Potteiger has dedicated years to the plan…he’s the principal author and SUNY ESF professor of landscape architecture. He says we need to start with the people and resources we already have and bring them together.

" collectively assess the challenges, but really develop new opportunities for creating a stronger food system. The FoodPlan is a framework for realizing those opportunities, especially for coordinating and relationship building. People don't have to do it alone anymore."

He says they interviewed 50 people from farms, kitchens, food pantries, warehouses, and markets, and held focus groups and meetings to get input on ideas for change. SU professor of Community Geography Jonnell Robinson says much of FoodPlan CNY looks at challenges through a social justice lens.

"This is a roadmap for us to go forward and improve access to land, improve wages in the food sector. Many of us learned that our food providers were essential personnel during COVID. Well, now we know what some of those folks are lacking, and this gives us an opportunity to think about some of these inequalities."

Robinson is also a board member of the Syracuse Onondaga Food System Alliance, or SOFSA, a new food policy council that emerged out of FoodPlan CNY. Professor Potteiger at ESF says despite having some of the richest farmland in the northeast, the food produced there doesn’t always find its way to tables just a few miles away.

"The City of Syracuse really situated within all this abundant farmland and productive farms. Much of that produce ironically doesn't get into many of the neighborhoods in the city and the countryside. Too many people, especially children, experience food insecurity."

Researchers found the region’s food system is massive, and has the potential to grow even more. It directly generates over 30,000 jobs; and, those jobs are supported by $4 million spent per day on food in Onondaga County alone. In the end, the plan aims to strengthen distribution infrastructure to get food from fields to tables, grow community based healthy food environments in every neighborhood, and expand public participation.

Correction: Jonnell Robinson was spelled as Janelle Robinson in a previous version of this story.