Eight graduate students in the Department of Urban and Regional
Planning have spent months mining the complex network of
activities, actors and resources that enable the production,
processing, wholesaling, distribution, consumption and disposal of
the food in Erie County.
They did so at the behest of the Erie County Department of
Environment and Planning, with the aim of informing the development
of a new farmland preservation plan for the county, which currently
can produce only 12 percent of the food required by its population
The students will present their report, “Room at the
Table: Food System Assessment of Erie County,” to members of
the Erie County Industrial Development Agency on March 28. They
were enrolled in a fall 2011 planning studio in the School of
Architecture and Planning under the guidance of food security
expert Samina Raja, associate professor of urban and regional
The report presents an ambitious plan for strengthening Erie
County’s $9.9 billion food system and offers detailed reasons
for doing so.
The authors say their aim is to assure economical and viable
agriculture in the county, promote access to local food by county
residents, ensure lasting food security in the county, promote the
overall health and wellness of residents, and educate the general
public about the Erie County food system.
In the report, the research team argues that Erie County
government is poised to rejuvenate the farming sector, promote the
health of residents and foster economic development. Specifically,
they say, efforts must be made to call attention to the need to
protect existing farmland, reduce the adult obesity rate in the
county (which currently is at 26.9 percent) by promoting healthy
local food and increase local revenues by adding new cropland for
local food production.
The plan also suggests a new and greater emphasis in Erie County
on agritourism—the practice of attracting visitors and
travelers to agricultural areas, generally for educational and
Popular in Europe and throughout the U.S., agritourism already
has a presence in the county. It can involve such things as farm
stands or shops, U-pick options, overnight farm stays and holiday
rentals, farm tours and on-farm classes, horseback riding, honey
tasting, maple harvesting demonstrations, guest ranches, barn
dances, pumpkin patches, youth camps, tree farms, fairs, festivals
and orchard dinners.
All this helps rebuild a relationship between producer and
consumer that has just about vanished with the rise of heavily
industrialized farming methods.
The report also observes that if the county were to satisfy
federal food-intake guidelines for its entire population, it would
have to allocate 4.5 times more land to growing crops. It also
points out that increased consumption of locally grown fruits and
vegetables would provoke significant economic impact.
The researchers say a 20-percent increase in total demand for
locally grown fruits, for instance, would result in an economic
impact of nearly $1 million, they say. Add locally grown fruits and
vegetables to the mix, and the impact would be $2 million.
Among the plan’s high-priority recommendations are a
county Web site on agricultural resources because there currently
is no online food site to connect people in the food business or
facilitate community feedback; the development of a master
food-system contact directory to highlight existing local networks
and minimize food supply chains originating outside the county;
creation of a county food-policy council; and reorganization of
business practices to express a preference for locally grown
The students also recommend the county establish a food charter
or food action plan, develop food-procurement policies for public
institutions and set up a food system development fund.
They were motivated by an underlying premise that
“thriving food systems ensure food security, agricultural and
economic vitality, and county governments can do much to strengthen
food systems through innovative policies and plans.”
This, in particular, might be of interest to the many Erie
County residents who suffer from diet-related diseases that
disproportionately impact people of color. Erie County has a higher
rate of adult diabetes (9.8 percent) and obesity (26.9 percent)
than the rest of the state and the availability and affordability
of healthy food is uneven across the county.
The authors of “Room at the Table” are Brian Conley,
Jonathan Falk, Taylor Hawes, Yoon Hee Jung, Gun Hyoung Kim, Tony
Maggiato Jr., Naoka Takahashi and Tamara Wright. Hawes served as
lead editor, assisted by Falk, Takahashi and Wright.
The report was prepared with input from a number of local
farmers and academic, county and private entities, including the
Lexington Cooperative Market, Promised Land Community Supported
Agriculture, the UB Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities
Lab, American Farmland Trust, Cornell Cooperative Extension and
Erie County Department of Environment and Planning, as well as
planning experts from UB, Columbia University and the University of