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LOCAL GOVERNMENTS (U.S.): Food Policy Staff Positions — New research

Some national colleagues recently shared a paper that supports FOOD POLICY STAFF POSITIONS at the city, town, and county levels — in local governments. Although written for my hometown (City of Evanston, IL) and home county (Cook County, home to Chicago), this post might be useful for other grassroots groups looking to make food policy a more common and stable part of local governments. To borrow a military phrase, food security is all about keeping the supply lines short—especially the decision-making lines.

Details of the paper (abstract, authors, etc.) are below. Or go directly to the journal link: Advancing food democracy: The potential and limits of food policy positions in local governmentThe paper is very readable and well-organized.

A. TOP FOUR TAKEAWAYS from this research
as applicable to Evanston & Cook County

1. There’s some great messaging in here that can be used by Citizens Greener Evanston [grassroots climate group], Evanston Grows [grassroots food growing coalition], etc., to lobby for an Evanston (and/or Cook County) FOOD POLICY STAFF PERSON as part of our 
— climate plan
— health & human services programming
— economic development goals (there’s lots of overlooked economic development in the food & farm arena, both in Evanston and Cook County) 

2. Lots of opportunity + good fit
There are only 19 confirmed food policy positions housed in local governments in the U.S. compared to 200+ food policy councils (FPCs).

The researchers interviewed 11 of those 19. Of the 11 interviewed:
— 7 are in the Midwest (IN, OH, KS, MN, WI)
— 4 are housed in a “sustainability” department

3. A staff position dedicated to food democracy is a valuable asset for a variety of reasons.
“Our findings suggest that these positions help to coordinate and nurture local food programs and policies and have the potential to facilitate mean­ingful participation of individuals and groups in the community in food system reform.”

4. A staff position dedicated to food policy can facilitate the collective, regular and grounded conversations that Evanstonians have been clamoring for during this time of leaking public trust.
“Food democracy depends on discussion and deliberation that enable community members to share their viewpoints and clarify values.”

B. ACTION possibilities?

a. Use the paper’s information to 
— draft a job description for an Evanston or Cook County position
— talk to the City Council (County Commissioners?) about creating a food policy staff position

b. Identify other local units of government that might benefit from a food policy staff position — e.g., school district, soil & water district, park district, library board? 

c. Feel free to share this email with other people across your networks, in other Cook County municipalities (Chicago + 125 suburbs), across Illinois, and across the country

C. PAPER

Advancing food democracy: The potential and limits of food policy positions in local government
To be published in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development (JAFSCD), out of Cornell U.
18 pages

AUTHORS
Erika Berglund, Neva Hassanein, Paul Lachapelle, Caroline Stephens

ABSTRACT
For several decades, food policy councils (FPCs) have led the effort to place food on local govern­ment policy agendas. While FPCs are making pro­gress in supporting local food systems, they also face institutional and organizational challenges. In recent years, a handful of cities and counties have endeavored to further food system reform with the establishment of full-time government staff posi­tions focused on food policy. As of spring 2020, there were 19 confirmed food policy positions housed in local governments across the United States. While there is considerable literature on FPCs, little research has been published regarding food policy staffing in local governments. Accordingly, this study uses original in-depth inter­views with 11 individuals in municipal or county food policy positions to understand the purpose and function of governmental food policy staff positions and their impact on local food systems. Our findings suggest that these positions help to coordinate and nurture local food programs and policies and have the potential to facilitate mean­ingful participation of individuals and groups in the community in food system reform. We discuss the potential benefits and challenges for governmental food policy positions to support food democracy, and provide the following recom­mendations for communities interested in estab­lishing or strengthening similar positions: (1) iden­tify and coordinate existing opportunities and assets, (2) foster and maintain leadership support, (3) root the work in community, (4) connect with other food policy professionals, and (5) develop a food system vision.

INTERVIEWEES
Municipalities
Austin, TX
Columbus, OH
Denver, CO
Indianapolis, IN
Lexington, KY
Madison, WI
Minneapolis, MN
Salt Lake City, UT

Counties
Dane County, WI
Douglas County, KS
Franklin County, OH

CONTENTS
Introduction
Methods
Descriptive Findings
—Organizational Structure
—Benefits of the Position
—Challenges of the Position
—Lessons Learned
—Recommendations for Establishing a Food Policy Position

Discussion: Key Dimensions of Food Democracy
—Collaborating toward Food System Sustainability
—Becoming Knowledgeable about Food and the Food System
—Sharing Ideas about the Food System with Others
—Developing Efficacy Concerning Food and the Food System
—Acquiring an Orientation toward the Community Good

Conclusion and Recommendations
—Identify & Coordinate Existing Opportunities & Assets
—Foster & Maintain Leadership Support
—Root the Work in Community
—Connect with other Food Policy Professionals
—Develop a Food System Vision