Local Food Policy Councils Increase Food Security and Sustainability

It is difficult to fathom that in a country as wealthy and industrialized as the United States, over 17 million households are without proper access to fresh, healthy food. Many US cities with a large impoverished population, with little access to food, rely on a strong network of nonprofit organizations to help increase food security. While these nonprofit efforts are admirable, the best way to bring the community together to increase food access for all citizens, is the implementation of a Food Policy Council (FPC). The advent of food policy councils began in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1977, when Bob Wilson, a professor at the University of Tennessee challenged his landscape architecture class to examine planning issues related to food availability within their city. This assignment spurred a resolution to be passed within Knoxville’s local government in October of 1981 to form a food policy council. The resolution declared that food policy and issues were a governmental responsibility and concern, and that Knoxville’s food system was to be monitored and acted upon as needed. The initiation of Knoxville’s food policy council inspired the implementation of at least five other food policy councils over the past twenty years within the US. As food policy councils became more prevalent in the United States, their function became clearer. A council’s mission is to strengthen the economic vitality of the local food industry, ensure that an adequate and nutritious food supply is available to all citizens, increase local food production, and minimize food-related activities that degrade the natural environment. A council’s members consist of government officials, local restaurateurs, members of local businesses, farms, and food distributors, as well as volunteers from a diverse set of policy development and community bodies. A number of policies must to be enacted in order for an FPC to accomplish these goals. The specific state and local policies that affect the survivability of a local food system address transportation issues that hinder food access and farm viability, nutritional programs available to citizens, institutional and nonprofit involvement, and sound economic strategies that promote a sustainable local economy. The organization of urban farming programs by a city’s food policy council not only improves access to food for impoverished residents, but also improves the environment with the creation of green space, as well as provides a source of income for local citizens. One area where this is being done is Boston, Massachusetts. There, the statewide food policy alliance is supporting an extensive campaign encouraging citizens and institutions to buy and eat local produce. The promotion of urban and backyard gardens in Boston have improved the area’s land and soil quality, boosted the local economy, and provided impoverished citizens with greater access to fresh, healthy food. Meanwhile, back in Knoxville, TN, home of the first ever food policy council, members of local government collaborated with policy developers from the department of transportation, re-routing bus routes, in order to provide impoverished citizens with greater access to supermarkets. In addition to altering mass-transit routes, the Knoxville food policy council also pushed to install bicycle racks on the front of buses so that citizens without cars could access food a little easier. Without governmental sanction and strong ties to the local nonprofit network, many Knoxville residents would still be without sufficient food access, today. Bringing together specialists and key players within a food system helps to improve the system as a whole from the beginning of growth and manufacturing, to distribution, to consumption and ending with waste management. The implementation of Food Policy Councils offers the best opportunity for any urban area to accomplish the goals of strengthening the local food network, aiding in increased food and nutrition policy effectiveness, and also in creating an overall balanced food system for producers, consumers, and the environment. In addition, councils strengthen food security for the residents of an urban area. The implementation of a food policy council is the best way for a city to improve its local food system and move toward the ultimate goal of sustainability. Please welcome Haley VanderMeer who is a new addition to our team of South Philly Food Co-op volunteer bloggers. Haley first published this article at GreenAnswers.com on March 28, 2011. Haley has done work promoting various local food events including photographing food at farmers' markets for social media promotion for the Jefferson Farmers' Market and has written and distributed recipes at its educational booth.