By Alison Hastings
Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission
Every few months, I check the COMFOOD email folder I set up on my personal Yahoo email account and hunker down at my desk for multiple hours with a notepad, a pen, and numerous Google search pages open.
COMFOOD is a list-serv sponsored by the Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC) and graciously hosted by Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. This email-reading activity can easily take up a summery Sunday afternoon, but if I use my time wisely, I quickly get caught up on all things food policy – the ever-growing field of food system planning, the confounding world of food politics, and the thoughtful voices active in food justice.
For example, one email subscriber posted a link to the US Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee’s hearings held on Thursday, 7/28 on the 2012 Farm Bill and its opportunity to expand funding for “specialty crops” (i.e. fresh fruits and vegetables) and organic production practices. For someone who cares about the future of food and the recognition that the federal Farm Bill is really a Food Bill (which puts my food friends in the same ranks as Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman.
I also read that on the same day of the Senate hearing, the New York City Council passed five bills and several resolutions that partly implement FoodWorks New York – the City’s comprehensive plan to create a more sustainable food system, from ground to garbage, for the 8.2 million people who call NYC their home. Earlier last week, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel held a press conference to announce the city’s new urban agriculture ordinance. And on 7/20, the Oregon State Legislature passed the Farm to School and School Garden Bill.
And I learned that I missed a few webinars, that there are interesting job openings in the local food systems of San Diego, CA; Davis, CA; Keene, NH; Milwaukee, WI; Rochester, NY; Worcester, MA; and Washington, DC; and that there are small and large research projects to keep track of at SUNY Buffalo; in Eugene, OR; and in Minneapolis, MN, among many, many others.
So what do all of these emails mean?
What it DOES NOT mean is that there’s nothing going on in New Jersey or Pennsylvania – the two places I, a regional planner, consider to be major parts of our regional food system.
There are plenty of exciting things happening – from local governments making major changes, (just check out Sustainable Jersey if you don’t believe me), to great new local food businesses and enterprises starting up or expanding, such as the Common Market , Zone 7, Green Soul in West Oak Lane, Philadelphia, Bobolink Dairy in Milford, NJ, or Emerald Street Urban Farm in Kensington, Philadelphia.
Our regional food system is making lots of news. Earlier in July, a few Philadelphia food access pioneers were in Washington, DC as First Lady Michelle Obama announced California’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative – the FreshWorks fund, which is based on the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative. On the very same day as the First Lady’s press conference, the New Brunswick Development Corporation and Robert Wood Johnson broke ground on a wellness plaza that includes a supermarket. And this past weekend, youth leaders from around the country released a Food Bill of Rights at the Rooted in Community conference in Philadelphia.
What it DOES mean is:
First, like the concept of “sustainability,” but perhaps more tangible, food touches all parts of our lives. People all over New Jersey, the country, and the world are recognizing that the decisions we make today and the policies we have in place now will affect human health, local and global economies, and natural resources in the future.
Second, like most people, I find that my personal and professional interests are inseparable and more often intersecting. When I look at the pile of books on my nightstand, in between murder mysteries and news periodicals are journal articles on local food and farmers markets, several memoirs on food or farming, and a quasi-academic, thoroughly enjoyable book on the history of global trade, which had and still has an awful lot to do with food. All perfect reading material for my upcoming vacation to California, with planned stops in celebrated food places like Sonoma, San Francisco, and Davis.
As a regular contributor to the Dodge blog over the coming months, I will highlight some of the exciting things happening in and around New Jersey’s food system, feature the reflections of some regional food system experts, and tell interesting stories about people working in different parts our food system. Entries to look forward to will include the big, national effort to put together first national Food Day on October 24th, as well as local efforts, such as independent food businesses, that are making a difference in our neighborhoods.
And national policy, such as the 2012 Farm Bill, as well as state and local land use policy, such as Transfer of Development Rights programs that could preserve more farmland in the Garden State.
Alison Hastings is a Senior Environmental Planner with the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and a regular contributor to the Dodge blog on issues of food policy and regional food systems.