Mapping the Food System

By Jenn Burka

The Johns Hopkins Center for the Livable Future  (JHU CLF) has two main research platforms that connect to the Food Day mission: farming for the future and  eating for the future. The CLF developed out of a multi-disciplinary interest in food as it pertains to the environment and has developed into a premier research institution in the world of food systems.

For Food Day, the CLF is planning a day long “teach-in” at JHU on October 24. From 9am-3pm, they will have a range of lecture on different topics focusing on food production in the morning, diet and food security in the afternoon, and ending food hunger in Africa during the lunch hour. They also brought Olivier De Schutter, , United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, to speak at the university as part of their 11th Annual Edward and Nancy Dodge Lecture on Food Systems, Famines & Human Rights at the end of September. Schutter has previously spoken in many other countries, but his lecture at JHU represents the first time he has been able to engage Americans in the same way. He wants to play a part in the conversation surrounding the up-coming Farm Bill, emphasizing the significance of the bill from a global perspective. His lecture can be watched on the JHU CLF website.

I had the chance to speak with Amanda Behrens, who is leading the CLF’s Food System Mapping program. After attending graduate school at Tufts University and obtaining a degree in Agriculture, Food and Environment, she worked on a farm in Montana for a year. While she was there, she became interested in mapping out local food resources in the area, and she was able to apply those ideas in the CLF mapping program.

The program resides within the Eating for the Future initiative and it looks at infrastructure of food systems in Maryland, as well as access to healthy food in Baltimore City. Ideally, Behrens and her team hope to create a model for what other states could create: a complete food system map for the region. The target audience of this venture is broad with the idea being that the site would be a resource for anyone working to improve the local food system. The beta version of their website is set to be released toward the end of the month, and then the primary job will be to market the site so that it is used as a primary resource and keeping it current.

Behrens hopes to use the site to help define the environmental impact of agricultural systems from production to consumption: the entire food chain. The date is acquired from an array of places. They originally began compiling data from public listings (such as business directories), but there were a lot of errors in these records. Behrens’ team then reached out to health departments for comprehensive permit lists, which Behrens could then categorize and code. The city also provides valuable data regarding urban agriculture and community gardens and farms.

Eating for the future focuses on looking at the disconnect between farming and eating. Behrens hopes that the mapping work that she is doing will help highlight the impacts of the public on the local food system. Behrens’ group is just one group at the JHU CLF. Their website is full of information about other food related initiatives, and their Food Day speakers are sure to provide a comprehensive look at the many different facets of food politics.


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