Putting Good Food on the Policy Table
Food is powerful because everyone eats. Yet, in the municipal daily grind, food doesn't rank high on the priority list, competing with budget decisions, emergency services and the crisis of the moment.
December 8, 2015
By Amanda Edmonds, Executive Director, Growing Hope – Ypsilanti
This article was first published in the November 2015 e-publication of the Michigan Chapter of the American Planning Association.
Food systems touch every part of a community. A “food system” is more than agriculture; it covers food production (crops and livestock), processing, distribution, retailing, consumption, and waste management. How people get their food and how their food gets to them affect transportation planning. Food waste from household and businesses directly impacts the volume and type of trash or recycling facilities and the scale of services needed in a community. Zoning dictates what type of food-based businesses – little, medium, and big – can go where. In the era of mobile markets, food trucks, and pop-up restaurants, zoning can determine whether these new types of businesses are present in a community.
Food is a power house for economic gardening. Growing Hope manages two farmers markets and a mobile farm stand in Ypsilanti. Those markets support over 80 small businesses. Spread out on the state-wide scale, a study done by the Center for Regional Food Systems suggests that food grown, processed, and consumer in Michigan in 2011 supported 18,627 jobs and led to over $680 million in wages and income. That food represented less than 18 percent of Michigan’s total food consumption sales in an economic downturn. Increased supply chains for good food from Michigan from field to fork will result in more jobs and wages in Michigan.
Michigan is a national leader in good food work, as guided by the Michigan Good Food Charter. This framework, developed in 2010, is a roadmap for a food system that is rooted in local communities and centered on good food. The document and associated resources are excellent, including research, case studies, and goals that connect across sectors and across the food system. Hundreds of businesses, local governments, organizations and individuals have signed the resolution of support for the Michigan Good Food Charter.
These groups and individuals are ready to help. On the policy level, the Michigan Association of Planning and the American Planning Association have created food systems planning policies with proven initiatives for the state, county and local level (see Resources below for links to the policies.)
The Michigan Local food Council Network has a list of organized good food groups across the state that can provide assistance with local food issues. The Center for Regional Food Systems (CRFS) at Michigan State University support this network, as well as several others working towards good food in farmers markets, food hubs, and institutional purchasing. CRFS also provides a listserv, research, webinars and meetings to advance the Michigan Good Food Charter. Michigan State Extension has educators and programs dedicated to community food systems. And local organizations like Growing Hope in Ypsilanti provide advice to countless people on local policies dealing with good food, such as backyard chicken ordinances.
Local policy change can affect good food in a community. Take weed management for example, Ypsilanti’s Downtown Development Authority board included organic practices in landscape maintenance contract bids, thus making the downtown safe for people, pets, and pollinators. The contractor already had a protocol that was substituted for the services previously contracted. The impact was a better environment for Ypsilanti residents as well as less synthetic chemical contamination. Not every issue is as easy to address, but each step closer to a food system delivering healthy, green, fair, and affordable food means healthier residents and businesses in our communities.
Here are a few steps to bring good food work to the table:
- With every decision, ask how this action advances healthy, green, fair and affordable food.
- Support your local food policy council. This action may be as simple as asking your staff to attend a monthly committee meeting or it may mean sponsoring the creation of a council, as the City of Detroit and Washtenaw County have done.
- When your municipality buys food, buy good food from Michigan. Washtenaw and Macomb County governments require a certain percentage of any food purchases be locally sourced.
- In your next master plan update, ask your planning commission to examine whether everyone in your community has access to safe, affordable, culturally appropriate food. If not, analyze why and take action. The City of Detroit, working with the Detroit Food Policy Council and other partners, has adopted plans and policies to bring good food across the community.
- Examine your zoning ordinance to assess whether food production, processing and sales are enabled at small, medium, and large scales. The recent zoning ordinance update in Ypsilanti included allowances for community gardens, food trucks selling produce and small to medium scale food processing in previously retail only corridors.
At the end of the day, we all need to eat. Let’s put good food squarely on the table for debate, discussion and change.
Amanda Edmonds was elected mayor of the City of Ypsilanti in 2014. She is the founder and executive director of Growing Hope, a non-profit helping people improve their lives and communities through gardening and increasing access to healthy food. She was an appointee to the Michigan Food Policy Council and currently serves on the Steering Committee of the Michigan Good Food Charter.
Michigan Association of Planning’s Community and Regional Food Systems Planning Policy
American Planning Association’s Food Policy Guide
The Michigan Good Food Charter
The Michigan Good Food Charter list of Signatories to the Resolution of Support
The Michigan Good Food Charter Connections at the local and state level
Michigan Local Food Council Network
The MSU Center for Regional Food Systems
Michigan State Extension Community Food Systems