Better food for all: Oakland Food Policy Council prioritizes goals for 2010

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Tonight I attended a meeting of the Oakland Food Policy Council, whose mission is to promote a sustainable and equitable food system. It was the council’s second public meeting of the year and the top agenda items included reviewing a first draft outline of its strategic plan, hearing reports from working groups and narrowing its goals to a manageable list for the year.

Formed last fall, the council’s goals are to increase healthy food access and security, cultivate public health, support regional agriculture, promote energy efficiency, support protection of natural resources and promote a “closed-loop” food system.

Figuring out how best to achieve those goals is the challenging part and what the council will work on during the coming year.

The 21-member group discussed various food policy goals it had previously ranked in terms of expected impact, on-the-ground momentum, opportunities for implementation and other criteria, then voted to prioritize one goal in each of six categories: Justice & Fairness, Thriving Local Economies, Strong Communities, Vibrant Farms, Healthy People and Sustainable Ecosystems.

The close ranking of two goals–sustaining stores and small businesses that sell healthy, affordable food and ensuring that schools and other public institutions serve healthy food–prompted a discussion of whether to prioritize the public or private sector.

Partly because there is already significant momentum in certain public arenas (for example, the proliferation of school gardens and increased attention to healthy food and nutritional education in schools), the group decided focusing on public institutions would offer the path of least resistance to effect change.

That prompted another question.

“Which of the public institutions will give us the most bang for our buck, policy-wise?” Councilman Aaron Lehmer asked.

The council prioritized “the promotion of local and regional affordable and sustainably grown or harvested agricultural products within the food system and promotion of local businesses to distribute these in every community” under the category “Thriving Local Economies.”

Throughout the discussion, the phrases “access for all” and “equity” continually resurfaced. The council has as its goal a sustainable food system, not just with regard to environment, but also with regard to people. Questions it keeps front and center: Is every community able to participate? Are we doing what we can to include everybody?

Do people feel they can find the right person or public agency to address their food or health concerns? Not nearly enough, so the council adopted “improving access to local government agencies that can support the stability of local/regional food infrastructures according to community’s interest” in the category called “Strong Communities.”

Two other council priorities for 2010 are developing policies to encourage the success of small and medium-sized urban and rural farms that honor fair labor practices and protect the health of farm workers, and taking steps to eliminate pesticides, genetically modified organisms and other contaminants that disrupt ecosystems and human health.

The details of how best to implement these priorities will unfold as the council refines its goals and receives public comment throughout the year. These will be incorporated into its strategic plan and part of the recommendations it will make to the city in the fall. While public commentary is welcome at meetings, the council expects a draft of the strategic plan to be open to commentary this summer.

Rafael Campos, from Oakland’s Community and Economic Development Agency, gave a brief report about the city’s mobile food vending ordinances. The city gives out 60 permits in a prescribed geographic area in East Oakland. However, even more food vendors operate without a permit, Campos said. Many produce cart operators sell to seniors on a fixed-income who find it easier and cheaper to buy from them than take a bus to a distant grocery store. Yet technically it is not allowed. Campos expressed a need for revised zoning laws and more flexible ordinances.

A final issue discussed was whether to participate in Whole Food’s “Nickels for Non-Profits” program. Consumers at Whole Foods who bring their own bags are credited with five cents toward one of three local non-profits.

Councilman Hank Herrera said he was strongly opposed to sponsorship by Whole Foods and that he would rather see the council spend time doing other types of fundraising. Councilwoman Heather Wooten commented that she was not in favor of green-washing efforts on the part of any company trying to ally itself with the council, but said she is in favor of raising money and promoting the council to a wider public.

Ultimately, the measure didn’t pass.

Finally, the Energy and Climate Action Plan that City Council will discuss March 30 was raised by Lehmer. The Oakland Climate Action Coalition’s food sub-committee is making recommendations on food access and urban agriculture. Lehmer, who is also a member of the Climate Action Coalition, suggested the Oakland Food Policy Council should publicly support the committee’s recommendations.

The next council meeting will be May 20 and is open to the public.

For more information:

Previous Oakland Local coverage (giving background on both OFPC and issues surrounding food security in Oakland)

Oakland Food Policy Council

Who’s on the council?

[First Published on Oakland Local]


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