Ottawa County Food Policy Council moving forward with 3 year master plan

The Ottawa County Food Policy Council is hard at work to achieve their goal of providing healthy food for all county residents.

As educators and food professionals, we often think of the problem of access to healthy food as an urban or a racial problem. However, many Michigan residents that struggle to find access to healthy food live in the rural areas of the state. One of those rural counties that is working to increase its resident’s access to healthy and nutritious food is Ottawa County.

The county sits between Kent County (and the City of Grand Rapids) and Lake Michigan. Its county seat of Grand Haven has a population of 10,000 and its largest city, Holland, has a population of 33,000. Like many of the counties that border Lake Michigan, it is a primarily rural area and faces challenges related to food access and availability for its lower income residents. To help develop solutions to these challenges, several community and county organizations have banded together to create the Ottawa County Food Policy Council (OCFPC).

The Council began when the Ottawa County Health Department met in February 2011 to bring together county stakeholders to discuss the needs, gaps, and strategies related to food insecurity within the county. The group decided that there was a definitive need to move forward with actions that would provide solutions to the issues discussed. The first action was for the Health Department to apply for a Building Healthy Communities Grant through the Michigan Department of Community Health. A funding priority of this grant was the creation of a local food policy council that would be responsible for implementing policy or environmental changes which increase access to fresh affordable produce for low income populations. With the inaugural meeting held in April 2011, the OCFPC was born.

According to the OCFPC coordinator Lisa Uganski, a registered dietitian and wellness coordinator with the Ottawa County Health Department, “the council exists to reduce food insecurity in Ottawa County. It is the vision of the OCFPC that there is an available supply of well-balanced meals for all. Since 2011, the OCFPC has examined needs, gaps and strategies related to food insecurity in the county. Based on analysis of the data, the OCFPC established the following priorities to be addressed by 2015:

  • Improve the level of cooperation between food resource providers
  • Improve food quality in the non-profit food distribution system
  • Increase food resources to meet dietary restrictions, health/medical conditions, and ethnic preferences
  • Expand access to farmers’ markets
  • Address food availability issues for children outside of school
  • Strengthen the Ottawa County Food Policy Council

It is clear to anyone looking in on a council meeting that they are passionate and dedicated to these six goals and are well on their way to making increasing residents access to fresh and nutritious food.

The Michigan State University Extension Community Food Systems Team is dedicated to helping communities across the state take action against similar issues that are facing counties like Ottawa. If you would like more information on ways to start a food policy council in your community or county visit the  Find an Expert website for Michigan State University Extension and search using the key words “community food systems”.

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