And sadly, on average, most communities do not have access to the most healthy and locally produced food. Some communities are actually 'food deserts' where there is no access to locally grown produce or even shipped in healthy food.
If there is one aspect critical to community development, it would be access to healthy local food and water. By establishing a food policy council in your community, you create the leverage that needs to happen in order to ensure access to this vital resource, demand accountability and improve the local economy- due to shifting economic support from out-of-town big-business industry to your local farmer's and market worker's pockets. Establishing a food policy council also encourages the spread of awareness and consumer education and inspires the same to happen in other communities. You would be part of the growing movement sweeping across the US.
So, how does a community initiate a food policy council?
Our Durango community recently had the opportunity to become more educated on this topic with a visit from Mark Winne, Community Food Activist from Sante Fe, New Mexico. Mark was the keynote speaker at the local Homegrown Retreat presented by The Growing Partners of SW Colorado in collaboration with Fort Lewis College's Environmental Center- a local group working towards sustainable food systems in the greater community. This retreat serves as a great example for what other communities can put on to educate the masses and also gather citizens together to start a food policy council!
Starting a Food Policy Council (FPC) all depends on what your community needs and what type of capacity is present to support your council. A FPC can be anything from a very structured politically-active council to a loose coalition. It is important to see the fundamental underpinning of Food Democracy- we all have the ability to make decisions and vote with our money for what we want to see happen in our local food system. For example, either you can go to Wal-mart and buy food- it may appear cheaper, but the ripple effects of that action in the community is a major detriment. Whereas, if you take your money and 'vote' with it at a local farmer's market or local food co-operative, then that money is 'multiplied' in the community by at least 5... meaning that money spent there is worth five times as much, if not more.
Maybe start by asking:
- What does our community need?
- What type of structure would work best to begin?
- Who's already doing what we want to do- who has a model community FPC?
In our workshop, our question of need was based on the following:
- More educational programs
- Increased visibility in the community (current projects and new projects to begin)
- Increased transparency in community politics, school systems and organizations working
- Increased collaboration between groups doing food-related projects
- Encouraging the creation of local government and business incentives
- Increased demonstrations of bottom-up- grassroot action to show success
We also looked at the levels (local, State, Federal) of policy action needed in our community:
- Working with USDA regulations (especially around organic poultry)
- Colorado Department of Health and Environment
- Food Safety Monitorization
- Connecting welfare to work and business- integrating services
The purpose of a FPC is to engage policy and leverage policy in whatever way a community can do that. An FPC acts as an advisory to local politicians and decision-making bodies. Whatever level of action your community chooses, there's five strategic steps to follow:
- Define your need of action (what is your community needing most)
- Act on your need (coordinate a core FPC group and initiate projects and programs that fit)
- Monitor your FPC's action in the community
- Adapt as needs of the community evolve and more people become interested in helping
Also remember that a community consists of a collective knowledge with expertise in numbers. Everyone is an expert in something and a FPC could be dynamic in highlighting this intrinsic nature.
Start the leveraging in your community today by purchasing local healthy food from the right places- vote smart!