Change Your Foodscape! Get Involved with the CA Food Policy Council
by Brock Hicks
October 4, 2012
The California Food Policy Council, a coalition of local and regional Food Policy Councils, Food Systems Alliances, and other locally based food system’s collaboratives, held a reception in Sacramento on August 27th. The reception presented an opportunity for members of local food policy councils throughout the state to connect with people working at the state level. Present were many of the representatives of the 25 food policy bodies from across the state, and members of the Senate Select Committee on Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems. The Select Committee formed because members of the CA Senate wanted to delve deeper into the agricultural issues facing the state. Senator Noreen Evans, a longtime advocate for a more equitable food system, chairs the committee. Other members include Senators Fran Pavley, Loni Hancock, and Lois Wolk. The Select Committee has a counterpart Committee in the State Assembly, chaired by Assemblymember Mariko Yamada.
Tiffany Nurrenbern, Coordinator of the California Food Policy Council (CAFPC), said of the reception: “It was an opportunity to get to know each other. One of the biggest benefits of the CAFPC is that it gives people who typically haven’t had an opportunity to work together a chance to connect, to share the things going well for them in their communities.” One of the main purposes of the CAFPC is to build a network of people working at both the local and regional levels, and to connect it with people who work at the state level. “We saw the reception as an opportunity to build those critical relationships and to help local food policy bodies prepare for their hearings before the Senate Select Committee.” The hearings, scheduled for October 15th, will be an opportunity for local food policy bodies to share the state of the food system in their communities.
The reception had a good turnout. Besides the representatives of local food policy bodies, many members of the Governor’s staff were present, as well as staff from Senator’s offices, and the heads of non-profit organizations and funding foundations. Also present was Secretary Karen Ross from the Department of Food and Agriculture and staff from the Department of Public Health.
About the California Food Policy Council
“The CAFPC is the result of unprecedented collaboration between local food policy bodies from around the state, statewide food systems reform organizations and government officials. Its main purpose is to build the capacity of local food policy bodies to find common ground on policy priorities, generate public support for those policies, educate policymakers on issues in our food system, and advocate for food systems change in California” (read more on their website).
The Council formed in late 2011 and holds regular meetings; the current focus is on finding out what the different bodies have in common and creating goals about what changes they want to see statewide in the food system. These goals will inform CAFPC’s education of policy makers on key issues. They hope to be able to impact legislation by the 2013 calendar year; their last meeting, in August, was centered on gearing up for the new legislative cycle.
Currently, CAFPC is comprised of 25 food policy bodies from across the state, plus a Steering Committee that keeps things moving forward. They are in the process of forming six Working Groups, based on key issues in the state food system. The Working Groups are responsible for developing recommendations for each of their particular areas.
The six areas are:
1. Regional food systems infrastructure
2. Healthy food access
3. School food and environment
4. Food system workers
5. Ecological farming systems
6. Farm viability (the economics of running a farm)
The CAFPC is in its beginning stages. Ms. Nurrenbern, Coordinator of the Council and Director of Network Relations at Roots of Change, stated the main challenge in moving forward: “When you have people from all different parts of the food system, they are all working on different things. First, we must learn to trust each other and work together by learning a common language in order to understand each other.” She continued by saying that “sometimes when advocates for food systems change talk about current systemic problems, it can be perceived as a criticism by those working in agriculture. In order to move forward, we need to find our shared values, start speaking a common language, and build a strong statewide network to amplify our voice and call attention to the critical issues affecting our communities.”
Ms. Nurrenbern is excited about what CAFPC has already been able to accomplish. It’s most important contribution will be the relationships it builds. In her experience, this is more valuable than the advancement of any one agenda. “Sometimes we think we are going to be able to set something up, and then get from point A to point B.” However, when you get a diverse group of people in one room, the main questions become: How can we work together? What is important to each group? By coming together, many issues are coming to the fore that will support the work of the Council, namely a food system that serves the needs of all its communities. “We are going to continue to see this kind of collaborative work, and greater cooperation,” said Ms. Nurrenbern. “The relationships being formed help us work together on a movement level,” not just to advance the agenda of one group.
Because all the food policy bodies are place-based, their principal focus is on their local food systems. However, they are unable to take control of their food systems solely at the local level because of the integration of local food systems into larger frameworks of production and distribution. Barriers at the state level cannot be overcome alone. By banding together, the diverse food policy bodies can more effectively advocate for reforms to current barriers, as well as for incentives that have the potential to unleash the many innovative ideas developing at the local level.
Even though the Council represents roughly 71% of the state’s population, coastal areas are disproportionately represented. Moreover, there are subpopulations within the 71% that are not necessarily represented. These voices are missing on the Council; the Council needs their input to get to where it wants to be.
One of the greatest challenges moving forward is finding the time to get everything done. “Everyone is busy, everyone is coming as a volunteer to this process, everyone is over capacity. We need more people doing this work,” said Ms. Nurrenbern.
How to Get Involved
Join the voices from your neighborhood or town’s food policy body to those already being heard at the CAFPC. Write Tiffany Nurrenbern at tiffany [at] rootsofchange [dot] org. Meetings are held quarterly, with the next one in December.
As Ms. Nurrenbern said at the close of our conversation: “This is a relatively unprecedented collaboration between food organizations in California; it will be very exciting to see where it goes. It would not be possible without all the people donating their time. CAFPC is being built by a community of people.”
CA Food Policy Council website (includes links to all participating local food policy bodies as well).
Slideshow of first CAFPC meeting in San Francisco
Food First’s resources on starting your own Food Policy Council
Roots of Change
LA Food Policy Council
Oakland Food Policy Council