Cutting Through the Red Tape: A resource guide for local food policy practitioners & organizers

Annie Shattuck and Beth Sanders | 12.01.2011

December 2011, Policy Brief No. 19


Efforts to create a fair and sustainable food system are underway across the U.S. While large-scale policy change at the national level has failed to adequately address growing hunger, diet-related disease, economic inequality and structural racism in the food system, many local initiatives are gaining ground on these issues. Increasingly, the food system is seen as an engine for local economic development and community health, as well as a platform for social justice.

Levers of change exist in municipal and county governments around the U.S. Community organizations are using local policy to develop a better food system through farm to school programs, local business incubation and food policy councils—citizen advisory boards to city and state governments. This document is a collection of resources for local food policy assembled from groups across the U.S. Many organizations, both local and national in scope, have developed tools, informational resources, or successful model policies that support an integrated, sustainable and equitable food system at the city or regional level. We have collected a sample of those experiences and resources to provide community advocates with practical tools and ideas for creating local food policy change.

Around the U.S., community organizations are using local policy to develop a better food system through farm to school programs, local business incubation and food policy councils—citizen advisory boards to city and state governments.

Long-time activist and expert on food policy councils, Mark Winne describes local food policy as “the actions and inactions by government that influences the supply, quality, price, production, distribution and consumption of food….what government doesn’t do, whether by design or neglect, is as much a policy as a specific action like a city regulation that prescribes the location of farmers markets or a state statute that protects farmland.”

What local governments do or do not do can make or break community efforts at food system change. Local policy changes are multiplying around the country as innovative food policies focus on issues ranging from reducing waste to increasing the accessibility of fresh food in underserved communities. The advocates and policy makers engaged in this movement hail from a variety of backgrounds, such as anti-hunger, labor and social justice activists; sustainability, public health and city planning experts; or farmers, restaurateurs, chefs, nutritionists and schools.

There has also been a growth in networks and  resources aimed at supporting local food policy. The Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC) mounts national conferences and provides excellent networking opportunities, consultation services and information. Public Health Law and Policy (PHLP), the National Policy & Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity (NPLAN), the National Farm to School Network, Policy Link and the Center for Food and Justice at Occidental College, California, all have extensive resources and support networks for local food policy.

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This document is organized with policies and tools for each area of the food system: production, processing, distribution, consumption, and food waste recovery. The types of actions that are highlighted consist of city?level ordinances and zoning changes as well as pilot projects. Each of the following five sections contains “toolkits” created by a range of non-profits, universities, or think tanks. These featured documents are intended to provide food policy councils, advocates and local governments with ideas and information for designing and implementing projects to improve regional food systems. In regards to production, they offer model language for zoning ordinances that establish or expand protections for both community gardens and farmers’ markets, as well as how neighborhood groups can organize to create a community garden. With food processing, the available toolkits describe how to start a community kitchen incubator and supporting network. Toolkits related to distribution explain how to start a farm-to-school program, establish a sustainable food purchasing policy, improve school food policy rules and help local farmers market their products to local institutions. In regards to consumption, the featured toolkits cover city zoning ordinances that encourage healthy eating choices and how to organize a healthy corner store project. The waste recovery toolkits explain how city officials can implement food and yard waste recycling programs and on-site food reduction and composting for businesses.

While the resources here by no means reflect the full spectrum of relevant examples or tools, we hope the reader will take from this resource list an idea of the breadth of possibility for collaboration between local governments and advocates, and be able to apply some of these experiences to build a just, sustainable food system in your region.