Phoenix, Arizona is a top producer in agriculture with the county ranked number one in the state for the total value of agriculture products sold including milk, poultry, and eggs, with 60% of the farms in the county fewer than nine acres in size. Like many cities in the West, the city has found itself a victim of climate emergencies, like drought and excessive heat. One of the ways the city is committed to fighting climate change is to shift the environmental burden of food production by incorporating a local system objective into its 2021 Climate Action Plan (CAP). By incorporating and encouraging locally grown food, the city hopes to provide more nutrient-dense food for all its citizens in addition to lightening the environmental burden on food transportation, refrigeration, and preservation. Many cities are following Phoenix’s lead by incorporating local food systems into their climate action plans as well.


Adopted in 2016, the Climate Action Plan subdivides the local food initiative into five stated target areas. The first target area is focused on equitable access to affordable, healthy, local, and culturally appropriate food; the second target is to support businesses that produce, process, and distribute local food as central to the economy and community; the third is to grow food in the city to be used for personal and business use;  the fourth, to limit food waste and encourage composting and recycling; and the fifth, to develop food policies and actions that address challenges posed by climate change, urbanization, political and economic crises, and other factors. In response to the CAP, the municipal zoning ordinances were amended to reflect these stated objectives. Chapter 6, §649 Mixed Use Agricultural (MUA) District of the municipal zoning ordinance, for example, was adopted to, “…help preserve the character of the agricultural areas of Phoenix while allowing appropriate development, including compatible commercial uses…”

CRD Objectives Achieved

Adaptation and Mitigation: Goal five is specifically committed to properly responding to the challenges of climate change by researching forward-looking policies that can respond to climate-specific emergencies and completing a GHG emissions inventory for the local food system. CHG emission testing and food waste diversion efforts stated in goal four also contribute to the mitigation of future greenhouse gases.

Equity: Beyond the CAP’s Equity and Environmental Justice six-page introductory portion, Phoenix analyzed known food deserts, and initiated the adaptive reuse of 10 identified brown spaces within those food deserts in low-income communities and redeveloped them as urban farms, community gardens, and food hubs with a $400,000 grand awarded from the EPA in 2015. After a 158 million dollar surplus in 2021, Phoenix has also budgeted to use existing funding for food production infrastructure and rezoning efforts.

Methods to Ensure Resilience

Phoenix has partnered with local community groups like the Maricopa Food System Coalition to better understand the local challenges of accessing healthy food and has coordinated with economic development professionals to better evaluate the potential of the food systems as local industries. Phoenix also plans to strengthen local commerce through increased retailing opportunities and preferencing future city contracts to local vendors and including this in the city’s existing Sustainable Purchasing Policy.

To ensure ecological resilience, Phoenix is rezoning to develop urban agriculture in food deserts already within irrigation districts. Furthermore, the city will evaluate existing policies impacting agricultural land uses to ensure the zone’s preservation.

Methods to Avoid Maladaptation

Goal two focuses its efforts on protecting the existing agricultural industries and businesses to avoid adverse economic effects. Beyond Goal 4’s plans to reduce food waste and the proposed emissions testing strategies, the CAP lacks the scientific research to understand the expected and recommended practices for the most ecological implementation of urban agricultural practices.

Feasibility Analysis

Following a sweeping vote expressing community favor of environmental action prioritization in 2015 and again in 2022, the CAP has outlined a best practice guide for successful implementation including communication and education strategies and planned partnerships with existing organizations. Phoenix has also included accessible graphics of project timelines and government structure. The city created a climate liaison board for continual monitoring, biennial reevaluation of the CAP, and annual reporting through uniformed reporting systems which transmit the data to top carbon commitment organizations. All these initiatives are transferrable to other localities. Some of the budgeting options available to Phoenix may not be available to municipalities with smaller budgets, but external funding exists.

Overall, Phoenix’s CAP is a robust and incorporated document in which the local food system objective is supported by overwhelming community backing, economic analysis, and available funding, zoning, and government restructuring to accommodate the increased urban agriculture. The local food initiative successfully incorporates all CRD criteria and proves to be a feasible strategy for potentially all localities.

This article is part of a series from the Land Use Law Center that explores how local governments can implement Climate Resilient Development (CRD) as defined in the Sixth Assessment Report of the IPCC. CRD requires innovative reform of land use planning and regulation by local governments. The series presents and analyzes numerous local laws and policies capable of adapting to and mitigating climate change to create equitable and sustainable neighborhoods, achieving “sustainable development for all.” 

Author: Madison Routledge Pettus, 1L Land Use Scholar