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Drawing by: Jana Vanderhaar w/ verdantconnections.com
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Tahoe Food Hub interns: Taylor Wood & Jaynie Miller
Last week,the Tahoe Food Hub tabled at its first event giving deadline for our first banner, stickers and promo materials including the lovely foodshed map featured above.

The drawing is definitely Richard Scarry inspired. In fact, some of the buildings are actual structures found in the books. Like many, Richard Scarry drawings captured my attention for hours as a kid teaching me about how the world works and interacts. And when looking for the best way to help conceptualize the Tahoe Foodshed, I knew exactly where to turn.

A foodshed is often compared to a watershed because they usually share the same footprint....food grows where water flows! A watershed represents where a community gets its water. Likewise, a foodshed represents the local area where a community sources its food.  In the map, you'll see how the Truckee and Yuba Rivers lead Tahoe to its regional food sources. Key components of a foodshed include productive farmland, food distribution, waste disposal, processing facilities as well as food wholesalers and retailers. For non-food producing areas like North Lake Tahoe, a foodshed creates partnerships with food abundant neighbors who grow food year-round within 150-miles.

The goal of the map is to visually represent the role of the Tahoe Food Hub by putting it in relation to its foodshed. The map distills the efforts of a formal foodshed assessment which compares the food needs of a community with its food production capabilities. Foodshed assessments also display the social, economic and environmental benefits of consuming food within that foodshed. A foodshed assessment for North Lake Tahoe evaluates the potential to feed the North Lake Tahoe area from ecological growers within a 150-mile range of Truckee, CA both stimulating the economies of surrounding communities and increasing Tahoe’s food security and access to healthier, sustainably-grown food.

If every community evaluated the bio-capacity of its foodshed to source as much food regionally and rely less on the national food system...we would increase food security, create more equitable food policy, and see the benefits that sustainable farming methods can have on our health, economy and environment. We don't have to be so far removed from our food. Understanding our foodshed brings us closer so we can make better decisions about where our food comes from so we can still have our coffee and chocolate but without trucking things like eggs, milk and greens which can be produced locally year-round. Feed the world one community at a time! 

 
 
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The Slow Food snail
I pulled out my wooden, travel utensils; opened my reusable container; and began eating my seasonal, organic broccoli and asparagus tossed in pasta and olive oil. Admittedly, I sat smugly enjoying  my pack lunch and the cacophony of crunching that filled my head. When I looked up, my green balloon quickly deflated. The man sitting across from me in the airport waiting area at Gate B16 wore a polo shirt with the Monsanto logo emblazoned in the upper left-hand corner…the enemy! I smirked at the irony. I looked down and admired my version of a happy meal and kept eating. My neighbor to my right was reading a newspaper. The headline read, “Fast Food on the Rise.” I looked to my left thinking I was maybe on candid camera. But instead, I saw a heavyset man hand his overweight mother a large, Ziploc bag full of prescriptions. She was slouched in a wheelchair. Her skin gray and sunken and dark bags hung heavily from her eyes. She fumbled with the bag. With shaky hands, she gave the bag back to her son and in exchange, he gave her a 6-Piece Chicken McNuggets.

She was dressed nicely in blue capris and a tailored, jean jacket. Her red Mary-Jane shoes matched her red cap and her white blouse stood in bright contrast. I lowered my fork and slowed my chewing. They didn’t notice my anthropologetic stare (I made that word up). But the social commentary was flashing in neon lights…Taking pills for the poison she is about to consume. Really?

It is hard to believe she doesn’t see the irony in her actions or make the connection between her health and nutrition. Is it apathy, education, denial, economic status? Comparing her outfit to her health, it is obvious that being treated for a disease seems to be more socially acceptable than not sporting a fashionable style. People will spend $100 for a pair of jeans but spend only $2.22 for a sandwich. Where are the priorities? A healthy meal will help you live a long life, a nice outfit will get you to the next season.

The real irony is…I was headed to the Slow Food National Congress in Louisville, Kentucky (pronounced Loul-ville). It was this past weekend.

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Going through airport security on the way home, this sign made us chuckle.
Slow Food is an international organization which advocates for "good, clean and fair food;" and the systems we need to fulfill that vision. Slow Food celebrates the pleasure of the table, community and the responsibility that comes with being an informed eater. Essentially, it is the opposite of fast food as depicted in the photo to the right. The movement got started in Italy in 1989 when the founder, Carlo Petrini, was appalled to see a McDonald's at the top of the Spanish Steps in Rome.

There are Slow Food chapters in over 150 countries and roughly 2000 members in the United Sates alone. The National Congress is an opportunity for elected delegates from U.S. chapters, typically board members, to gather, share ideas, learn new organizing skills, vote on amendments and pull from our collective power to be successful back at home in our shared pursuits.

Slow Food is seen by many to be an elitist, affluent group of foodies looking more like a scene out of Sunset Magazine than an engaged group of activists seeking fundamental change in the food system. I knew my own chapter was a progressive group of go-getters who saw the potential of a national organization to give a voice to food justice in our small, mountain community. But what I found is that the feeling is mutual and universal among all chapters. I discovered genuine, motivated people inspired by Slow Food's mission to restore the connection we share with our food. The conference reinforced that Slow Food is an organization focused on serious issues aimed at fixing our broken food economy from pushing legislation in the 2012 Farm Bill and protecting SNAP benefits for food insecure populations to petitioning to get GMO foods labeled, educating children about good nutrition and unveiling the true cost of food.

All assembled, there were 150 delegates united and dedicated to making ecologically grown food a right not a privilege. It makes sense that Slow Food is comprised of grassroots activists. Otherwise, we would be just as disconnected from our food system as the ones we hope to transform. Sauteing Swiss chard, having a developed palette and postering over the latest issue of Food & Wine does not make a person better than someone who does not share or know these interests. Having the knowledge is one thing. Doing something with it is another and that is what Slow Food is all about; channeling that passion to make a difference.

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a blurr of swing dancing to Kentucky bluegrass the night of our barn dinner
During closing remarks on the last day, the floor was open to comments. A gal named Eve from Chicago raised her arm and was handed the mic. She stood up and shared a story about meeting the hotel's parking lot attendant earlier that day. The employee asked what conference they were attending. The gave a concise description of Slow Food not expecting it to resonate. Quite the contrary. His eyes lite up and demonstrated that he understood the basic issues, "That's good work! You're helping to make food healthier with less chemical pesticides and fertilizers, right?"

It proved that people get it! They know! They know that much of the food out there is bad for us and the environment. It affirmed the good work they are doing and that all the volunteer hours are worth it because they are fighting for people like that employee of the hotel. Eve finished with this simple and profound statement. I think it is my favorite from the weekend, "Change is hard, but the need is universal!"

Executive Director, Josh Viertel, closed the conference reminding us to celebrate! Celebrate food with music and friends. Without, our work is meaningless! We need both both the pleasure and the responsibility to have balance and be effective.

It reminded me of one of the first potlucks I attended after college. During college I took food for granted and after graduation, I didn't want to spend the money. That all changed the night I was invited to a dinner party by my friend Mel. It was at the house of Byron and Shalley. People I did not know, yet! I was greeted by the wafting smells of salmon being smoked on the back deck as I arrived. The meal was an explosion of flavors I had never tasted. I remember we started calling Byron's food Byranian because it was so unique; a fusion of Asian, Thai and Hawaiian. We still reference that moniker to this day. As the dishes piled up in the sink, an array of instruments started emerging from cases and behind chairs. A 3-hour jam session ensued. I had never experienced anything like it before, twenty or more people making music on the fly just feeding off the energy and direction of their fellow players. I have no musical talent but i played a pretty good set of wood sticks. I struck the wood sticks to the beat smiling from ear to ear. I was so happy to be apart of this gathering, this celebration and new friends! I didn't know it at the time but it was when I first learned about Slow Food!

 
 
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Here is the last in a series of articles that recently ran in the Spring 2012 issue of Edible Reno-Tahoe. When I was first assigned this story, it seemed pretty cut and dry, a discrepancy between Waste Management and one of their commercial customers. But when I would talk to one person, their story wouldn't corroborate with the person before so I kept looping back and that would lead me to someone else. It quickly became an investigative report. After my fifth call back to some people, they commented, "You probably didn't know what you were unearthing when you accepted this story, huh?" No, but I enjoyed unraveling the knot and piecing the puzzle together. Here is the first part of the story but for the complete version, click here.

When managers at Great Basin Brewing Company in Reno, NV contracted with Castaway Trash Hauling to take its food and beverage waste to RT Donovan Company's regional composting facility in Sparks, it seemed to be an appropriate business-to-business move. But when Waste Management of Reno got wind of the transaction it called into question, "Who owns the garbage?" Leaders at such environmentally friendly businesses as Great Basin Brewing are conscious of the byproduct their services generate. Great Basin, for one, constantly is looking for ways to recycle as much waste as possible.

"We currently recycle between 93 to 95 percent of our waste," says Tom Young, owner of Great Basin Brewing in Reno and Sparks. "And we are investigating ways to reduce that even further."

But when Great Basin Brewing managers first contacted Waste Management officials to manage their organic waste back in the summer of 2010, Waste Management officials were not set up to service such a small account. That did not change the fact that the Great Basin folks still wanted to compost their organic waste. They needed an alternative and looked to Castaway in Sparks to do the job.

Read the rest of the article online at Edible Reno-Tahoe, click here:

 
 
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CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO!
As genetically modified (GM) crops become more and more ubiquitous covering thousands of acres nationwide, it is becoming harder and harder to avoid them in our food.  It’s still food so what’s the big deal? The big deal is...little is still known about the long-term exposure to these Frankenstein seeds. They waltzed through the approval process under the first Bush administration and now that they are in the hands of biotech giants like Monsanto, it is near impossible to get the seeds and test them. And those scientists who succeed are often discredited. Monsanto prefers to do the testing themselves and report their findings. Where’s the logic in that? Next, we’ll have criminals trying themselves in court.

In California, however, a group of food advocates have formed The Committee for the Right to Know. They have prepared an initiative for the November 2012 ballot which states, "The purpose of this measure is to create and enforce the fundamental right of the people of California to be fully informed about whether the food they purchase and eat is genetically engineered and not misbranded as natural so that they can choose for themselves whether to purchase and eat such foods." 

Robert Kenner, filmmaker of FOOD, Inc. just released a short video called, "Labels Matter" which he produced in partnership with another GMO label advocacy group, Just Label It (visit their website and sign the national petition!). The video is part of Kenner's Fix Food Project which is a social medium platform to empower Americans to take immediate action to create a more sustainable and democratic food system. One of the first films I saw that talked about GMO's was a short video that went viral in 2007 by Free Range Studios called, Mouth Revolution. Check it out!

Some will say that genetically modified seeds are helping to feed the world by making seeds more available. But people have been saving seeds for thousands of years. Genetically engineered seeds are fixing a problem that isn't broken. Ironically, GMO's are what break the system because they perpetuate chemical intensive, environmentally harmful, conventional farming practices.  But like so many things today, success is only measured when a process is industrialized and centralized. Seeds, the smallest thing in our food system, is not spared. Big agri-business wants to control it all. GMO’s aren't so much about making seeds more readily available as they are about streamlining the business to create a super seed that is weed and pest resistant. We don’t need a battery of tests to tell us that if a seed has built-in capabilities to combat pests that we are more or less eating rat poison.

Here are some interesting facts I learned in an October 2011 issue of Better Nutrition:
  1. 80% of corn is genetically modified. And corn in all its shapes and sizes are in just about every processed food.
  2. Even if you can avoid corn, try avoiding sugar. Most sugar, whether cane sugar or from sugar beets, is genetically engineered. 
  3. According to the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, patients are probably seeing negative health effects right now from GM foods but their doctors don’t realize that GM foods may be to blame. 
  4. Of the little research that has been published, infertility and reproductive problems are the two biggest health risks found in animal research. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine also found health concerns involving the immune system, gastrointestinal problems, cholesterol problems and disruption of insulin. The later makes you wonder if that has anything to do with the rise in Type II Diabetes. Coincidence?
  5. The European Union, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia, and even China require labeling on all food containing GMO’s so consumers can make informed decisions. What a novel idea!
In 2001, an ABC News poll found 93% of people said that GM food should be labeled. Ten years later, a MSNBC poll found that that figure hadn’t dropped but increased to 96%. As the California committee’s name suggests, “We have a right to know.” And people want to know! As the nation comes together in solidarity around this issue, we are collectively asserting our food sovereign rights to decide how our food is produced. Join the uprising, sign the petition and send a mouthful to the FDA.

 
 
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Food Day was Monday October 24th. Schools, farms, communities and kitchens everywhere celebrated in a feastly fashion to recognize the need for more thoughtful consideration of the nation's food system. One of the founding fathers of the special day, Michael Pollan, was found in Cleveland. He was the special guest of Cuyahoga County Public Library's writers series at Playhouse Square. Interviewer and fellow journalist, Dan Moulthrop, guided the audience on an exploration of Michael's food journey and his current perspective on the food movement.

Opening the conversation, Michael and Dan polled the crowd for how many knew it was Food Day. A paltry number raised their hands but it didn't deny the fact that it was a sold-out crowd of 1000 people. Versus a lecture, the interview format served him well. It reminded the audience that while well-respected for his literary gift to the food movement, Michael does not claim to be a foremost authority on the subject. He isn't a preacher. He is a collector of information and a sharer of knowledge. He started by writing about what he loves, gardening. As depicted in his 1991 book, Second Nature: A Gardner's Education. The unexpected fame of his later books, Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, made him an accidental agtivist. Now a poster child for the food movement, he remains humble in his accomplishments making it easy for people to respect him for his fair, journalistic style. He may be a zealot but he is not an elitist. He's goal has always been to make people marvel at food's wonder and see it in a different light. Michael shared how his literary hero, George Plimpton, made people marvel at football in the book, Paper Lion.

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He's happiest when his writing can give people the tools necessary to make their own decision gleaning from his work what they feel is important and will make a difference. He described the reaction he received after Omnivore's Dilemma's release. Some people approached him saying, "Your book made me become a vegetarian." Others would say, "The book convinced me to start eating meat again." While Michael advocates the ecological importance of livestock to the natural cycles of a diversified farm, he recognizes that our nation's meat consumption is not sustainable. He reflects on a time when meat was a special occasion food not something served three times a day, seven days a week. "It's okay to eat meat, just not as much," he remarks. The less meat we eat, the better the meat can be raised. He reminded the crowd of what cows do for us, "Even though grass is good for humans, we can't eat it. We aren't ruminates. Cows are! They extract the grasses' nutrition and pass it on to us."

It didn't take long for the 2012 Farm Bill to get mentioned. Michael didn't get sidelined on a discussion about the particulars of recent downturns in the bill's construction. He shifted the attention instead to President Obama's failure to take a stand. He complimented the President, however, on his keen ability to connect the dots in any issue. The food issue was no different. Obama is fully aware of our food crisis. Then why is he not doing more? Why is he letting his wife go it alone? Michael Pollan's essay in The Nation's recent food issue summed up his response exactly, "President Obama has determined there is not yet enough political support to take on the hard work of food system reform, and the best thing to do in the meantime is for the first lady to build a broad constituency for change by speaking out about the importance of food."

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Michael's home garden
Needing a stronger movement to pressure Washington, Michael and others created Food Day. Food needed an event like Earth Day. Responding to a question from the audience, "The movement lacks leadership and a national organization." He encouraged supporters to not focus on eradicating conventional agriculture but to minimize it. "Realistically, there will always be two food economies...one that's organic and one that is not." It wasn't exactly the "I have a dream" speech but his pragmatism set targets on achievable goals.

Perhaps it won't be a movement at all that drives government to change the way we grow and distribute food. Michael may have made the flame flicker with his "two economies" comment but he made the fire roar when he pointed the finger at an unlikely ally to lead the charge, the health care industry. Michael Pollan's essay in The Nation again summed it up perfectly, "As soon as the health care industry begins to focus on the fact that the government is subsidizing precisely the sort of meal for which the industry (and the government) will have to pick up the long-term tab, eloquent advocates of food system reform will suddenly appear in the unlikeliest places—like the agriculture committees of Congress." During his interview, he pointed to the writing on the wall, "One in three children are predicted to conduct diabetes in their lifetime, a chronic disease." The choice is ours he continued, "What would you rather have? Expensive food or expensive health care?"

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On Sale Nov. 1, $23.95
Wrapping up, Michael discussed the blatant injustices which should not have to wait for a movement or health care. "90% of Americans polled want food labeled if it contains genetically modified ingredients (GMO). It is clearly undemocratic to deny this right when the public so obviously wants this conveyed." Government says we need more science to prove the negative health impacts but seed giants like Monsanto won't allow their seeds to be tested.

The evening had lots of laughter. Michael joked comfortably throughout the interview. Quoting from his new ,illustrated version of Food Rules, he enlightened the crowd by saying, "If you're not hungry enough for an apple, then you're probably not hungry." And when an audience member asked him the tired question, "What would your last meal be?" He graciously pondered with a smile and replied, "Roasted chicken!"

 
 
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Till last week, I'd kept a peripheral view of the Occupy Wall Street demonstration. As satellite protests popped up around the country and the world, I began paying closer attention to the declaration of these activists. Having outgrown its address, the movement is now being referred to as the NYC General Assembly. The uprising is on the coat tails of the Tar Sands Action's XL Pipeline protest in Washington D.C. outside the White House. My first thought was, "Could Occupy Wall Street overshadow the Tar Sands Action?" Seemed counter productive to have two, critical movements happening at the same time. Till...they joined forces! Then the food movement jumped on board. All of a sudden, it became clear. The size and scope of the Occupy Wall Street initiative could represent much more than just the 99%. It could become the umbrella for many of the concerns facing our planet, our people and our economy unifying many campaigns in solidarity around the world. Strength in numbers!

Inclusivity is intrinsic to Occupy Wall Street's principles. Unlike a politician who pushes their own agenda. OWS works collaboratively within working groups to come to consensus to build an agenda. Demonstrators in NYC's Zuccotti Park participate in these sessions vetting all the issues presented in order to create an strategic plan of action. By building consensus, the General Assembly can be sure that they are inclusive of everyone's voice. In other words, they are shaping a democracy. Sound familiar? Watch out OWS! History has shown it could be a slippery slope! The movement has received respect for how well it has organized itself but received low marks for not being clear on its demands. There is contention within the OWS on how to reach these demands, straight consensus or 2/3 majority? We'll have to wait and see. Perhaps OWS is slow to deliver because they encompass more than just a few bullet points but rather a new decision making process altogether.

Running parallel to Occupy Wall Street are the injustices in the food system. It is easy to see how the two movements are connected. In drastic comparison to the 1%, are the one in five Americans on food stamps. A few powerful corporations dominate the food industry as wells as the government which is intended to control them. And food is traded on Wall Street as a commodity making it vulnerable to market fluctuations. In recent years, grain prices increased and had a ripple effect around the world. Good for farmers, bad for people. Then when the prices drop, the farmers are the at the other end. Some say that Wall Street is responsible. Looking for a new investments after the housing bubble, financial institutions capitalized on the looser regulations governing the trade of agricultural commodities. Hoping to make a quick buck, Wall Street gambled with our food.

The Occupy Wall Street demonstration has the critical mass to bring the food movement into the social movement spotlight.

 
 
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Oran Hesterman of the Fair Food Network and me
Over the past month, I've quoted and commented from the book, Fair Food, by Dr. Oran Hesterman PhD. On Monday, I had the unique opportunity to drive with Oran from Ann Arbor to Detroit to attend the Fighting Hunger Summit hosted by United Way of Southeastern Michigan at the Gleaners Food Bank.

Oran's book offers insight, case studies and strategies for "growing a healthy, sustainable food system." A sustainable food system is fair. It's fair to the earth, the animals and the people. Our current system is not exactly fair. It is built on profit instead of equity. Both can lead to economic vitality but a profit-based system leaves a wake of inequities in its path. Those marginalized, however, can bring value to the system celebrating the cultural, biological and economic diversity of our planet and our society. Oran reminds us...Diversity on the farm and diversity in the marketplace builds resilient, equitable, local economies.

My 50-minutes of car time gave me the opportunity to soundboard ideas that have been collecting along my food journey. His book germinated all kinds of new ideas and our conversation gave me the straight talk I needed to steady my course.

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Gleaners Food Bank - Detroit, MI
Arriving at the summit, Oran headed on to keynote, speaker duties and I made my way around to all the organizations tabling during the breakfast reception. I quickly filled a bag of brochures and handouts. I was ready to learn from a city of people who have been fighting hunger since the conception of the food stamp. Detroit was one of 40 counties nationwide in the 1961 pilot program before the act was later established in 1964. By holding the summit at a food bank, the conference grounded people to the issue. No fancy, banquet hall to separate attendees from the job in front of us all...food justice.

Detroit is quickly shifting its spotlight away from depressed, former-boom town to the new face of urban living. At the heart, is Detroit's vibrant community garden program. And at the helm, is The Greening of Detroit who supports over 1000 gardens as well other educational and advocacy programs to green Detroit like their tree planting initiative. Not only does Detroit know the pains of hunger but the victories of rising up. A battalion of other organizations sit side-by-side The Greening of Detroit in their effort to make Detroit a more prosperous and equitable city like Forgotten Harvest, Detroit Food Policy Council, Double-Up Food Bucks, etc.

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"Fair Food" proudly displayed on the shelf at the Ann Arbor Whole Foods store
The summit convened. The objectives were clear...the United Way of Southeastern Michigan wanted to better understand the barriers to food access. By calling together the area's food leaders, they would be able to glean the necessary items to build a strategy for improvement. Breakout sessions on five, different barriers would pave the way. As each group presented their findings, a trend emerged...better collaboration between community non-profits working on food related issues. My recommendation...United Way should do an assessment of all the organizations in Southeast Michigan and evaluate where their is duplication, low-lying fruits and missed opportunities. Create a coordinator position which audits these actions and develops a communication system to leverage these efforts and build relationships. Through this process, United Way will shift from being an just agent of "social services to social change." **

** Credit for this quote goes to my table-mate, Shane Bernardo, who works across the street from the Gleaners Food Bank at Earthworks Urban Farm as the Outreach Coordinator.

 

Jump In!

08/21/2011

0 Comments

 
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If your not already involved in the local, food movement, but want to be, it can feel a little like playing double-dutch jump rope...your on the sidelines wanting to play but something is holding you back. It's hard sometimes to know when to stop watching and just jump into the mix. And if you are involved in the local, food movement then Food Policy Councils want you too..."What? How did we go from jump rope to food policy?" Well, if i just started spewing about food policy, I would have lost people at hello. Put the word "policy" in anything and watch people scatter. But it doesn't need to be that way. The picture to the left looks like any kitchen table gathering but it's actually a food policy meeting. Anyone one of us could picture ourselves at this table.

A food policy council often is initiated by local government but can also start at the grassroots level by concerned citizens. No matter who lite the match, the igniter then invites a cross-section of the community's food system starting with representatives from the five main sectors: production, processing, distribution, consumption and waste recycling. That means people like farmers, chefs, grocers and consumers. The goal is simple...1) identify and propose innovative solutions to improve the local food system. 2) be a catalyst for economic development. And 3) make a local food system more environmentally sustainable and socially just.** Sensitive issues will be addressed and toes will get stepped on in these meetings but common ground can be reached because the end goal is for everyone's betterment...a resilient food system that provides jobs and access to quality, healthy food for all!

I'm touting their praises because food policy councils are exactly the type of conversations we need to be having with our neighbors, area businesses and municipal leaders in order to give a voice to the problems in our food system and build bridges between policy makers and the public. Just as people are disconnected from where their food comes from, government can get disconnected from the food justice issues of its people. In the same turn, farmers can get too focused on just staying in business and disregard the long term impacts of their conventional, farming practices.

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A couple weeks ago, I was talking to those involved in establishing a council in Northern Nevada and last week, I attended a meeting in Oberlin for establishing one here in Lorain County by a community learning center. I was energized by the enthusiasm as well as the hunger for such an initiative. It demonstrated that food policy councils are a great way for regular, concerned citizens to get involved in the local food movement and work with those who are involved and those driving legislation. Food policy councils are popping up all over the country and have been since the early 80's. It might be as easy as asking around for one to join or starting a council where one does not exist. Either way, it's like jump rope...you just have to jump in the game if you want to play. If you are interested in finding out more about establishing a food policy council, here are some resources from whom I gathered much of my own information for this blog: Food First** and Community Food Security Coalition**. And for a successful case study, check out Roots of Change. They are busy building roundtables like this all over the state of California.