Food policy councils across the nation are making recommendations and changes to positively impact the food system. This section provides specific examples of what FPCs can do – from updating zoning laws to establishing food literacy campaigns.
In most governments, many different departments work in some way with food. Because there is no one Department of Food, however, efforts are often uncoordinated, or even at direct counter productive purposes. A food policy or systems council can be an effective body to examine all food-related policies and departments and make recommendations for how they can better work together.
Government departments that can fall under the examination of a food policy council often include the public schools, housing and urban development agencies, boards of health, public works, transportation, planning, parks and recreation, law enforcement, and cooperative extension. These departments can also all be important partners and/or members of food policy councils. For further research on what food policy councils can do, review the ENACT local policy database, which provides concrete examples of strategies adopted in other communities, shares actual policy language and demonstrates the range of food-related policies that are emerging across the country.
As examples, specific food policy council recommendations and actions have included:
• Oakland’s Food Policy Council has persuaded their city’s Planning and Zoning Department to update zoning laws that prevented growing food for consumption in certain areas of the city. Their recommendations support urban agriculture and help the city increase its access to healthy locally grown food.
• Chicago’s Food Policy Council Advisory Board has a slate of recommendations which includes improving food access in underserved neighborhoods; tax incentives and technical support to small food businesses; a food literacy campaign; development of compost drop-off sites; and more.
• The Hartford (Connecticut) Advisory Commission on Food Policy worked with transit agencies, government, and community residents to expand bus service to bring transit-dependent, low-income residents directly to affordable food stores. The Hartford Commission also serves as a supermarket industry watchdog, publishing regular surveys of grocery prices and advocating for fair pricing policies.
• The Portland/Multnomah (Oregon) Food Policy Council worked with the City Council to conduct and analyze an inventory of potential urban agriculture sites on city land. Three urban agriculture pilot projects in public vacant lots are underway.
Food policy councils across the nation are making recommendations for zoning laws to support supermarkets or farmers’ markets; city procurement to allow more local product; and policies to support sustainable working farmland. Many outdated land use and zoning policies can deter a community from having full access to fresh and healthy foods. Establishing Land Use Protections for Farmers’ Markets can be an efficient way for a council to positively change the local food system by bringing fresh produce to a community.
Other issues food policy councils can focus on to better their communities include: community gardens, food desert solutions, and adopting farm to cafeteria programs to improve the food at local schools.