Concerns about food security have led to incredible growth in local food movements, including a rise in the number of farmers markets, and local foods available in restaurants, communities and school cafeteria gardens. To better coordinate these often disconnected efforts and bring city and state officials to the table, several cities, states and counties have started their own food policy councils. The North American Food Policy Council (NFPC) offers the following definition of what such councils are all about:
“Food Policy Councils (FPCs) bring together stakeholders from diverse food-related sectors to examine how the food system is operating and to develop recommendations on how to improve it. FPCs may take many forms, but are typically either commissioned by state or local government, or predominately a grassroots effort. Food policy councils have been successful at educating officials and the public, shaping public policy, improving coordination between existing programs, and starting new programs.”
The uniting feature among the various forms of food policy councils is the connection they establish between food producers and consumers, working to create relationships for a strong, local food web. The mission statement of the food policy council in Knoxville, Tenn. — the first established FPC in the country — succinctly describes its goals: “to improve the quality, availability, and accessability [sic] of food delivery systems for all citizens.”
By bringing all the players together, a sustainable food system can be developed that works for farmers, gardeners, businesses, government officials and the general population. Food policy councils also work as advocates for their area’s residents, working to create government and business cooperation to make the food system changes the citizens are campaigning for. Many councils also work to blur the lines of production and consumption, by encouraging and empowering urban dwellers to become engaged and involved in their food production.
Food policy councils operate at different levels, usually with the city, county or state governments. For example, the Kansas Food Policy Council (KFPC) works with the Governor for funding and coordination with other state health and agricultural organizations. This relationship helps the KFPC pull in both the public and private sectors to make stronger policy recommendations regarding their goals for a sustainable regional food system. In contrast, the Portland/Multnomah Food Policy Council works within the city of Portland and the surrounding county: “The Council brings citizens and professionals together from the region to address issues regarding food access, land use planning issues, local food purchasing plans and many other policy initiatives in the current regional food system.” The National Food Policy Council, a grassroots organization developed by the Community Food Security Coalition in response to the lack of any federal government department of food, supports the development of councils nationwide.
To find out if there is a food policy council in your area, you can access the NFPC’s council list. If there is no council nearby and you want to start your own, they also have pages with resources and tools, complete tips on government affiliation, sample council resolutions and success stories from existing food policy councils. If you have a success story or experience with developing or working within a food policy council, please share in the comments section below!