Healthy Food Connect offers educational series

The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan hosted the first of an educational series on food topics. The first gathering focused on food policy.

Healthy Food Connect | Photo by CFSEM
Healthy Food Connect | Photo by CFSEM

On December 9, the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan (CFSEM) hosted the first of five education and training series under the umbrella of its new initiative, Healthy Food Connect. The aim of the education and training series is to engage stakeholders, both community and professional, with many food-related topics to advance healthy food access for southeast Michigan.

Held at Macomb County Community College, the first of the series focused on food policy. The day was a mixture of updates from Healthy Food Connect grant recipients, food policy speakers and networking among participants.

The food policy speaker agenda began locally, with Amanda Edmonds, the executive director of the non-profit Growing Hope and mayor of Ypsilanti. Amanda spoke about her personal transition from interacting with policy makers about Growing Hope’s work and goals to making policy changes on local and statewide scales.

Next up was Kate Fitzgerald, a Washington D.C. based consultant, working on food and farm policy. Kate spoke to the anticipated federal food policy priorities under the incoming administration and Congress. She shared that the two major bills that govern food and farm policy are the Farm Bill and the Child Nutrition Act. The Farm Bill will take first priority, after approving a secretary of agriculture, due to the declining farm economy and quality of life for farmers across the nation. To demonstrate these statements with some data, she shared that:

  • Net farm income is down 50 percent in the last three years.
  • The debt to equity ratio for farmers is the highest that is has been since the 1980s.
  • The dairy industry is facing a high rate of farmers going out of business.

Due to these serious factors, working on the Farm Bill will take precedence over the Child Nutrition Act, which expired earlier this year and has recently been extended. Kate shared that, from her perspective, the tone of Congress is that the Child Nutrition Act appears to be working well and doesn’t require immediate attention.

Representing another local level was Winona Bynum, of the Detroit Food Policy Council (DFPC). Winona spoke to the history of and need for the DFPC and how it has devolved over time to address the evolving needs of the food system within the city of Detroit. She pointed to the importance of having city employees and city council members on their council to enhance linkages between the DFPC and local policy makers. Winona also shared the strategy of the DFPC members to attend other policy events, seemingly unrelated to food, to surface the connections of food policy to other policy sectors.  

Jean Doss from Capitol Partners spoke about issues on the state level. Capitol Services connects their clients to legislative representatives through lobbying and/or education. Jean shared Michigan updates about a number of food-related bills from the last calendar year and their status as Michigan’s Congress wraps up their last 2016 session. She also engaged participants in an activity about how important it is to get to know your representatives to advance your work. Jean was careful to clarify the difference between lobbying and educating, which was relevant for those who are employed by an entity that prohibits lobbying, such as county or university employees.

The session was wrapped up by including all policy speakers on an engaging panel, facilitated by Oran Hesterman, the executive director of the Fair Food Network.

For more information on the remaining education and training series events hosted by the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, check out their events page.

Michigan State University Extension supports efforts to increase healthy food access to promote healthier futures for all Michiganders.

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