Farm to Spork: Meet Dr.Evangeline Linkous

Evangeline Linkous, an Associate Professor for the University of South Florida’s Urban and Regional Planning department

Meet Evangeline Linkous, an Associate Professor for the University of South Florida’s Urban and Regional Planning department. With over 24 combined years of work in academia and applied urban planning, Dr. Linkous has become an emerging voice in researching Growth Management planning policies, practices, and legislation across the state of Florida. Part of her research examines how Food Systems plays a role within this equation.

In this segment of Farm to Spork, I had the privilege of sitting down with Dr. Linkous, in order to learn more about her dynamic academic background, and the applied and academic work she has done in the inter-twining arenas of Urban Planning, Land Use, and Food Systems.

[The Funky Spork]: Can you tell us about yourself, your background and why you decided to become an urban planning professor?

[Dr. Linkous]: I grew up in Sarasota, Florida, and really did and noticed some of the changes going on between the 80s and 90s, while growing up in Florida. For example, I watched my street go from horse pasture and a place where I saw wild-life all the time. I eventually noticed that my childhood community transitioned into a place with strip mall development and poorly-maintained housing. I think my own decision to go into Urban Planning dates back to me looking at my own environment. My interest goes back to when I grew up during a time during a lot of rapid growth.

But my path was meandering. I always loved literature. I have an undergraduate degree in English and wrote my Bachelor’s thesis in New College of Florida. My thesis was about the City in Japanese novels. So there was always an urban element. Afterwards, I worked in the Advertising/ Copywriting industry in New York City. I will tell you that one valuable skill to have in Urban Planning is writing and communicating. So, I draw on those skills all the time.

[The Funky Spork] What got you interested in the study of food?

[Dr. Linkous]: I eventually relocated to Philadelphia, where I pursued my Master’s and PHD in Urban Planning at the University of Pennsylvania. I think there were dual experiences going on, where my Dissertation Chair, Thomas Daniels, a well-known planning scholar who has focused on Growth Management, Food Systems, and Farmland Preservation, in particular. I spent time learning under Dr. Daniels, learning more about food systems planning and farmland preservation. I also lived near the amazing Pennsylvania countryside, which was dotted with farm stands.  

Around the time I was in graduate school, I began to think about how there was not enough fresh produce readily available in Florida. Over time, as I came back to Florida, I realized that the state at-large relied more on a wholesale tradition, and large-scale farming. It was during that time that I began asking questions about why my experiences living in Florida and Pennsylvania were so different.

While working on my PHD, I worked for the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission. During that time, I was involved in a lot of farmland preservation, and rural and agricultural planning. When I returned to Florida, I ended up at the Sarasota County Extension, where I was the Director of their office. The office had various programs-many of which related directly to Food Systems. Some of the work involved overseeing sustainable agriculture programs, market farming enterprise training, local Food System education, and community gardening.

After a few years at the extension office, I ended up at USF. Now I examine Food Systems from an Academic lens. My research looks at Urban-Rural interfaces, and large areas that are growing rapidly. I look at how these rapidly growing areas are treating their agriculture and rural lands. I also examine agricultural uses and how those are changing and evolving across different areas. For example, are these areas going to be preserved or developed?

MURP Students at a produce processing warehouse for the Food Systems Planning Course, led by Dr. Linkous

[The Funky Spork]: Can you define what the concept of food systems mean?

[Dr. Linkous]: Food Systems are all of the enterprises and activities that go into bringing food to the table and beyond. So it’s the production and the growth of the food, the packaging, the manufacturing for prepared foods, and even how it gets into the compost or trash. It’s the full system of how food is handled.

[The Funky Spork]: So it’s basically examining food from seed to waste-basically the life cycle of food?

[Dr. Linkous]: It is! The reason why that’s become important is because people want to understand all the different parts of the food system. People want a better understanding of the climate, environmental, social and equity components of food. Breaking down each component of the food system has been really important, as many people want the food they source and consume to represent their values.  

[The Funky Spork]: What is Food Systems Planning, and what does that entail?

[Dr. Linkous]: Planning tries to look at the larger picture of how communities function. Food inserts itself into so many aspects of Planning, whether it is transportation of food, health, civic and the civic and social decision-making process.

For a long time, we planners looked at food systems from a land use perspective-particularly examining agriculture and rural lands. For example, when we looked at Smart Growth planning, we looked at how we would preserve rural and agricultural land. What has changed in the past few years is that you have other types of planning coming into the landscape. For example, you have small-scale local food and farmers, espesically from the lens of urban agriculture. One question we ask is how we can integrate agricultural uses into the urban landscape.

Within the last year or two, there have been some really interesting things in Florida led by some folks in St. Pete that examine whether or not the Right-to-Farm laws need to be changed, in order to accommodate farming in urban areas. There are many nuances in food and land use.

Another area of focus planners have been delving into has been within the arena of Food Sovereignty. Food Sovereignty examines a communities’ self-determination and their right to make their own decisions about food. Planners have also been looking into similar topics, such as how to address food deserts, which are geographical spaces where there may not be convenient access to fresh & healthy foods.

Health is also another area that Planners can get involved in. For example, Planners can look at and consider the ways in which people can go out become physically active in their geographic areas.

MURP Students examining strawberries for the Food Systems Planning Course, led by Dr. Linkous

[The Funky Spork]: For those who do not know, my professional background is in Urban Planning. Prior to pursuing The Funky Spork, my planning work involved municipal zoning-related matters. Some other ways I believe food can intersect in the work of planning can involve the ways in which local zoning codes can address how food growth and production occur. For example, I think of many jurisdictions trying to figure out where a grocery can be located, or how to implement urban gardening regulations into their zoning codes.

[Dr. Linkous] Yes, I agree. Local governments do hold a lot of discretion about how they deal with food systems, through zoning. Front yards, as well as chickens and rooftop gardens are nuances that localities have been trying to tackle. For example, in my hometown of Temple Terrace, backyard chickens are prohibited, while the City of Tampa, the neighboring jurisdiction, does allow chickens.

Last year, in 2018, The Florida Legislature pre-empted local governments from regulating the growth of vegetables on front yards. No longer can a local government prohibit someone from growing vegetables in their front yard. However, some of the language within the state legislation has limited  the ways in which local governments across the state  can regulate food systems.

Another challenge we look at involves addressing what the best and safest food-related uses are for differing land-uses. Traditionally, rural and agricultural designated areas, often outside of urban areas, have applied various practices and methods for their farming, including the incorporation of manure and pesticides. An emerging challenge for local planners is questioning and determining whether the use of fertilizers is safe for urban farms. For example, will the use of fertilizers become a nuisance? Will urban farming practices smell or attract animals? Will an urban agricultural use fit with the surrounding landscape? These are all issues that a local zoning code can address. Each local community will be able to best determine what is appropriate for them.

[The Funky Spork]: We spoke about some of the different ways in which planning practices, such as Land Use, Growth Management, and Zoning tackle food. But another aspect that came to mind is Economic Development. The Agricultural industry, alone, has a major economic impact on Florida’s economy.

[Dr. Linkous]: You bring up an excellent point about Economic Development. One common example is bricks-and-mortar businesses. Another example looks at innovation and start-up businesses, such as food trucks. Planners can use economic development tools to promote local food-related businesses.

One example that comes to mind is how the City of Tampa has encouraged food truck rallies, as a form of local economic development. Under Mayor Buckhorn’s administration, Planners were able to account for the balance of respecting established brick-and-mortar eateries, by designating select areas of downtown to serve as allowable places for food truck service under restricted hours of operation.  The success of the downtown food truck rallies actually led to some food trucks vendors becoming local brick-and-mortar businesses.

[The Funky Spork]: Are you aware of any local or regional planning efforts which revolve around Food Systems Planning?

[Dr. Linkous]: There are a lot of ways in which local governments are already implementing food systems into their planning. For example, this could look like a dedicated section for food systems within a local comprehensive plan. For example, Sarasota was looking into whether food systems should be incorporated throughout different sections of their comprehensive plan, or if it should serve as a stand-alone section.

As far as our particular region is concerned, I think The City of St. Pete has served as a strong example of a local government being proactive about incorporating food systems into their planning. Additionally, the leadership coming out of New Port Richey has been incredible in their work to incorporate local food into their planning. New Port Richey specifically created an Urban Agricultural Ordinance. I would say that most cities are grappling with this topic in some shape or form.

MURP Students at a community garden site for the Food Systems Planning Course, led by Dr. Linkous

[The Funky Spork]: What two-three words of advice would you offer for the everyday person who is interested in getting involved within the local food systems planning process, or the local food movement?

[Dr. Linkous]: The most important thing people can do is to support their local farmers. We are not all going to be local farmers, or write local food policy, and we don’t need to. We just need to support the local farmers doing the work. Go shop at your local farm stands, and ask and find out if what you are buying is locally-grown.

Overall, one of the best things you can do is support your local food community. You can definitely get involved with your local community garden. But being involved doesn’t have to be limited to produce. Getting involved can mean drinking local beer, or wine, or eating local bread! Find the local vendors, and support them so that they can stay in business.

** To learn more about Dr. Linkous and the academic work she is doing in food systems planning, or are interested in learning more about USF’s Urban and Regional Planning Program, please visit http://spa.usf.edu/faculty/elinkous/ **

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