It goes without saying that America is a melting pot of different cultures, customs and people. Traveling from one state to another or one region to another can be like entering a new country. But for all of our differences, we’re united by one thing: Our love of food.
And although the type of food varies by state, we all want access to the best — which, for many, means local food. But for others, that isn’t a viable option due to the lack of access or inability to afford it.
That’s where food policy councils come in. A phenomenon found in every state in the country, these conglomerates of stakeholders work to create policies and laws to help develop the economic, environmental and social infrastructure needed in a local food system.
Of all of the councils in the county, Sustainable Cities Collective recently highlighted their top six champion councils. Here’s a look at a few of these pioneers.
1. Knoxville-Knox County Food Policy Council, Knoxville, Tenn.
This group got things started back in 1982, as the first food policy council in the world. It was created by a government law, and when first recruiting members, it had three main criteria: “ties to government, working knowledge of food industry and experience in neighborhood and consumer advocacy.”
Since then, it’s definitely proved its worth. In order to make grocery stores more available to its citizens, it expanded the city and county bus routes and mapped out the local grocery stores. It also worked in the schools, expanding breakfast and lunch programs for students. Local food projects such as farmer’s markets and community gardens have been supported by the council as well.
The Council hasn’t stopped there, though. In addition, it has worked to pass ordinances to ease the local food movement, such as allowing residents to grow hens on their property.
2. Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition, Cleveland, Ohio
In 2007, the Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition popped up. Their focus has been on legislation, as well as creating and operating food programs.
So far, the coalition boasts Urban Garden District Zoning and Farm Animals and Bees legislation and an Urban Agriculture Overlay District Zoning policy on its list of accomplishments. And that’s just at the legal level.
As far as programming, the coalition is working to make farmer’s markets more accessible for low-income residents. Farmer’s markets now accept EBT (electronic benefit transfer) and SNAP as payment. Further, under Produce Perks, customers who use EBT at the market can get up to a $10 match on what they purchase.
Additional resources for residents include community food assessments and guidebooks such as Local Food Guide and Cleveland’s Healthy Food Guidelines.
3. Milwaukee Food Council, Milwaukee, Wis.
The Milwaukee Food Council is another group focused on policy and programming. It’s responsible for the 2010 honey ordinance allowing residents to keep bees and the 2011 eggs ordinance giving people the ability to grow chickens for eggs.
In addition to partnering with many local groups, it works with the University of Wisconsin Extension and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with which it created the Milwaukee Urban Agriculture Audit that finds the possible legal barriers to urban agriculture.
And through its Healthy Food Access Work Group, it works to make local food accessible to low-income residents through incentives and programs.
To check out the other top councils, click here.
MORE: How Salvaging the Food in Your Own Backyard Can Help Your Community and the Environment