Healthy Comprehensive Plan Director, Terra Soma
Policy connoisseur, communicator, collaborator, social justice advocate, and food lover. Add it all together, and you get Nadja Berneche, Healthy Comprehensive Plan Director with Terra Soma.
In her role of Healthy Comprehensive Plan Director, Nadja says a big part of her work is to bridge communication gaps. As a self-proclaimed policy nerd, she often finds herself in the role of interpreter—explaining policy jargon to city and county planners, health advocates, and community members working to increase healthy food access.
“This is fun and important work, because policy affects everyone’s lives, and I love to see people understand policy processes, find their voices, and get excited about policy change,” Nadja explained. “Community members are the best experts of their own communities, so those voices are essential in creating these long-range visions.”
Community Planning for Healthy Equity
To create those long-range visions, Nadja uses local community planning as tool to strategically identify and implement initiatives to increase access to healthy food and physical activity and to promote health equity.
“We’re working to build relationships between city and county planners, public health staff, and community food advocates to promote improved food environments in cities’ comprehensive plans,” she said. “A comprehensive plan is a long-range vision for a community. By ensuring these visions include improved health and food access, we’re creating a roadmap for meaningful change over the life of a plan. Community members and health advocates can work with planners and their elected officials to implement changes supported by the plans.”
Specifically, Nadja uses the Minnesota Food Charter’s Food Access Planning Guide to help others better understand the comprehensive planning process. The Food Access Planning Guide provides tools, resources, proven policy strategies, and recommended planning language for comprehensive plans, so planners and community food advocates can collaborate to design communities that promote access to healthy, safe, affordable food.
Your Voice Matters
The best part about community planning, according to Nadja, is that anyone in the community can participate. Even the smallest amount of effort can have lasting outcomes.
“Small policy changes can have big systems impacts. Start by identifying a small piece of the system that you connect with such as growing food or disposing of food waste,” she suggested. “Talk to other groups who are impacted by these issues. Start asking questions such as: What is possible here? How do we get there together? As you find allies and chart a course, connect with people who have a deep understanding of the legislative process and tap their expertise. Check into your own city’s comprehensive planning process. Find out how you can give your input into the food priorities for your city. Believe your voice matters.”
On an individual level, Nadja says to vote with your fork. Participate in systems that improve our food environments and disinvest in ones that don’t. “Systems are the result of our collective behaviors and choices,” Nadja said. “Talk with friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues about the rationale behind your choices. Be mindful that not everyone can necessarily follow in your footsteps. Reflect on what you can do to help remedy those access and availability gaps.”