UBC Graduate Research

Are BC municipalities planning for food? : an evaluation of official community plans Youmans, Jason


This project was undertaken to assess whether—and how—municipalities in British Columbia are incorporating food systems planning into their official community plans (OCPs). A literature review of current trends and recommended best practices in local government food systems planning, as well as research into the state of the food system in British Columbia communities and readings on plan quality content analysis, informed the development of a plan evaluation protocol that was used to assess 30 randomly selected official community plans from municipalities across the province. Application of this 61-item protocol tests whether OCPs include specific examples of planning related to food systems across four categories: fact base, goals, policies, and implementation/monitoring. Statements in each plan that corresponded to one of the evaluation protocol items received a score of 1. Each protocol item was scored only once for each plan, allowing for a maximum score of 61 for any plan. The author also undertook basic inferential statistical analysis to assess whether any correlation could be found between a municipality’s food system planning score and four independent variables. Results from the 30-plan evaluation suggest that British Columbia municipalities are not using their OCPs to plan for food in a manner that is either broad or deep. Where they are planning for food, examples come most often in the form of general policy statements about supporting a sustainable local food system or supporting urban agriculture, rather than targeted statements about the policies governments intend to enact to achieve the sustainable food system they aspire to, or how they will measure progress on the path towards their food system goals. Sample plans in the study generally scored highest in the policy category, while very few provided a strong food system fact base on which to build their goals and policies. Only two plans demonstrated targets for any of their chosen food policies by which success could be measured. The protocol evaluation results show that none of the sample municipalities scored above 80 percent in any of four planning categories, so at best even those who scored highest on the evaluation protocol are planning only moderately well for food systems in their OCPs. The author’s inferential statistical analysis revealed only one moderate positive correlation score between food systems planning score and any of the four independent variables tested; a Pearson’s R value of 0.50 between a municipality’s food systems planning score and its population size. Constraints limiting the reliability of this study pertain to issues of subjectivity. First, the plans were coded by a single researcher, rather than using the double-coding method prescribed by planning academics (e.g. Krippendorff, 2004; Baer, 1997). This means the results are based on a single researcher's interpretation of the evaluation protocol and the differentiation between general and specific statements within the sample plans. Second, despite being informed by the literature on the subject and contact with experts in the field, the evaluation protocol remains a subjective list of what an OCP that plans for the food system should contain. Whether there are too few or too many items, or whether all items should be equally weighted as they are in this study, is a matter for debate. The low scores achieved by most sample municipalities in this study suggests that food systems planning is not commonly or comprehensively incorporated into the OCPs of British Columbia communities despite the food system’s intersection with numerous subjects typically considered to be in the planner’s purview. Recognizing this fact, the most important recommendation to emerge from this research is that the province's towns and cities would all benefit from the inclusion in their OCPs of a goal to create a more self-reliant food system and a supportive general policy in each of the five food systems areas—production, processing, distribution, access, and waste. The inclusion of such a goal and policies would provide elected officials a touchstone with which to guide their decision making in situations, for example, when a community group comes before them to request a zoning change to allow backyard chickens, or city staff recommend implementing curbside food-waste pick-up. In the absence of such policy statements in their guiding OCPs, elected officials may hesitate to allocate the resources or make the regulatory changes required to strengthen the local food system.

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