February 15, 2011

Building movement toward a nourishing D.C.

This post is the fourth in a series from Bread for the City intern Allison Burket exploring the basics of food, hunger, and politics in the District.

In my previous post about food and hunger in the District, I began to explore the political landscape of DC's food system. We learned there is no shortage of DC agencies that shape how we get food – at least 13 agencies deal with food in our city! – yet no one agency or governing body is responsible for ensuring that DC residents have access to healthy, affordable food.

Meanwhile, moving beyond the public sector, there are numerous efforts throughout the food system to ensure DC residents can enjoy healthy and affordable food.

Here at Bread for the City, we provide fresh, healthy, and tasty groceries for residents through our new-and-improved food pantry, as well as programs like Glean for the City and our new rooftop garden.

And we know of (and work with) many other exciting programs in the community. Healthy Solutions manages a produce buying co-op and runs fresh produce markets in public housing sites East of the River. DC Central Kitchen combines meal preparation for area shelters with innovative job training programs and employment opportunities for its clients, while also supporting local farmers. Common Good City Farm is growing and selling food right in the city, using its farm in LeDroit Park as a community space for sharing food production and preparation skills with neighbors. These and many other groups are improving both the health of our bodies and the health of our communities. (Emphasis on "many": more than 460 food-related entities are mapped in the DC Food Finder.)

What if they and others could work together better to tackle the interconnected issues of nutrition, employment, poverty, hunger, and the degradation of our environment? What if these groups had a unified voice in the halls of City Council?

A Food Policy Council in DC?

Cities across the country face similar challenges as those in DC – a fractured food policy-making environment, separate organizations addressing different pieces of a broken food system, and lack of transparency and community input in policy decisions. In response, many areas have brought together some combination of non-governmental organizations, citizens, advocates, and government, forming what are often known as food policy councils. (See this DC Food For All post about the Detroit food movement, and the policy council in that city.)

Food policy councils can serve as a forum for food issues, a network to coordinate community action, and a space to address some of the tangible injustices at work in our food system. They do a wide range of work in other cities, counties, and states -- from gathering and communicating information about a food system, to crafting policy platforms, to developing collaborative projects to address immediate needs.

Bread for the City is interested in seeing something like a food policy council form in DC, but we also recognize that it will need to include more than policy wonks and non-profit providers if it is to be truly reflective of the interests of our diverse communities. A food policy council would ideally be born of a grassroots, city-wide movement for wellness and food sovereignty that includes residents who themselves have the most at stake in radically changing the food system.

That’s why we’re part of a larger conversation with groups like Groundwork Anacostia, the Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Collaborative, Ecolocity, and ONE DC. Together, we’re hosting a series of brainstorming sessions around the city, starting 3:30-4:30 pm this Saturday at Coolidge High School, as part of Rooting DC – an annual, free urban gardening forum. (Register for Rooting DC by calling 202-638-1649, or learn more about the whole conference by visiting the website.)

We'll be discussing and envisioning: What would it look like for all DC residents had access to healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food? What is an idea you have for moving the city, your neighborhood, or your self in that direction? The hope is that the discussion generated from this and upcoming sessions can then shape the formation something like a food policy council – or something completely new and different – in DC. We hope to see you there!

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