Community food policy council: Getting started

Communities interested in starting a food policy council often begin with a food charter or a community food assessment.

In 2010, the C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems (now the Center for Regional Food Systems) at Michigan State University, the Food Bank Council of Michigan and the Michigan Food Policy Council collaborated to create the Michigan Good Food Charter (MGFC). The MGFC provides the guiding principles to advance the economic contribution of Michigan’s food and agriculture system, along with a vision for protecting Michigan’s natural resources and improving the health of our residents – both young and old.

Although the MGFC is a state-level charter, communities interested in starting a local food policy council often begin the process with the creation of a local food charter. Simply put, a food charter is a statement of guiding values, principles and vision that brings together the diverse group of community food and agricultural interests. The food charter becomes the catalyst addressing barriers in food access; promoting healthy food choices, increasing public awareness of healthy food availability; educating about the local food system; and advocating for nutritious food offerings in schools and institutions, to name a few. After completion, a food charter becomes a guiding document to aid in decision making and community action.

A community food assessment is also a typical first step of a newly formed food policy council; it’s may also be another avenue for bringing together diverse food and agricultural interests. Here, all components of the food system (food production, processing, distribution, consumption and waste management) are assessed to determine how social, economic and cultural factors influence the local food system.

Ultimately the information collected during an assessment identifies how the different components are linked or not, and how the food issues tie back into the vision, values and principles of the community. The assessment will often bring a much broader awareness to many of the community food assets and needs to the various interest groups. With this awareness, a new food policy council can gauge access to fair, affordable, green and healthy food in the community.

Michigan State University Extension staff members on the Community Food Systems team are found throughout the state and are available to assist communities interested in learning more about community food systems, food policy councils and farm-to-institution programming.

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