Framework for a District 27 Neighborhood-Based Food System

Since the last Green and Growing meeting on 8 June 2008, numerous conversations have occurred that centered on a strategic framework for the initiative. Such a framework outlines the purpose, principles, and goals upon which future steps are effectively taken, efficiently coordinated and well-leveraged. Furthermore, it honors the good efforts put forth by many groups and individuals thus far with the initiative and it sets an inviting stage that enrolls wider participation.

The Green and Growing Initiative is a response to a number of social and economic issues within the 27th District that can be traced to an inadequate supply of affordable, convenient, and healthy fresh food from local sources. Basically, the Green and Growing Initiative targets this supply issue head-on through the establishment and sustainability of a neighborhood-based food system that is under the purview of the local community. This local food system does not replace the predominate global food system, but acts as a vital complement to it. Such a holistic approach creates a significant opportunity space in which to improve both the social condition and economic circumstances of the community through better nutrition, healthier lifestyles, entrepreneurialism, and job creation across the urban food value chain.

A couple of diagrams illustrate this opportunity space. The first, immediately below, shows the typical linear food value chain where the point of consumption in a local community is distant from the points of production, processing, and preparation. Most consumers interface with the global food supply through retail outlets such as grocery stores, convenience stores, and restaurants and do not trade directly with growers or processors who are often hundreds, if not thousands, of miles distant. Food safety is regulated through inspection by government agencies and the global food industry. Large-scale distributors bridge the gaps between each step in the food value chain through to retail outlets for access by consumers. The variety of food products offered by retail outlets is largely dictated by economic factors defined by local markets. In certain neighborhoods buffeted by difficult socio-economic factors, the market potential is less than in more affluent areas which equates to a more limited range of affordable and nutritious food products.

The second diagram below illustrates a neighborhood-centered food system wherein the local community encapsulates the basic food production-to-consumption value chain. Noticeable differences to the global food system include the following:

  • Locally-administrated licensure of food businesses; reliance on a trained workforce to operate food production, processing and packaging, and preparation for profit and non-profit entities
  • Food retail outlets that are close to, if not integrated with, food value chain operations
  • Mobile kitchens / food carts that further shrink gaps between the consumer and the food value chain, include a wider variety of tasty, price-conscious, and healthy choices on menus, and offer education about quick and easy preparation of nutritious meals using locally grown food products (the June 24th edition of the Columbus Dispatch had two articles related to mobile kitchens: Tracking Tacos and City Regulates Trucks, Pushcarts That Sell Food -- they offer good background on what can be done to effectively expand their use)
  • Reduced distribution and energy costs through less distance traveled, compression of steps in the food value chain, and utilization of LEED-certified facilities, zero-emissions equipment, and environmentally-sound life-cycle processes
  • Holistic view of the total food system

To establish a neighborhood food system within a local community requires different structural pieces than those designed for the global food system:

District 27 food policy council. This group integrates its efforts with federal, state, and regional structures that are concerned with the local-to-global food system continuum. Membership of the group represents LOCAL stakeholder perspectives. Roles for the Council include the following:
  • Designing a comprehensive local food system that well-serves all community members
  • Setting policy and regulatory guidelines for sustainability of local food system functions
  • Assuring food safety and security objectives are met
  • Managing a project and business development portfolio that fills gaps, introduces innovation, increases capacity, and builds-up the skill-base
  • Providing education and training curricula and certification to prepare people of all ages in the community to choose urban food system careers
  • Instilling an accountability process that answers to the community-at-large about food system performance and results.
The scope of the Council structure is based on the state legislative districts for Ohio, which provides a common denominator between state and local governance, and offers sufficient granularity of authority and responsibility to drive community ownership and participation. This is a new approach; District 27, under State Representative Weddington, is the prototype. To help get the effort underway, Michael Jones of Local Matters expressed a willingness to draft a charter for community consideration. Michael's experience as a key member of several policy and planning councils in the Columbus and central Ohio region has helped him and Local Matters develop a charter template for community-based administrative bodies. Thanks in advance for his willingness to adapt it for this venture and move formation of the Council forward.
Community investment portfolio. This is a collection of initiatives, projects, tasks, and business opportunities that, when acted upon, keep the local food system resilient, adaptive, and sustainable. This portfolio represents an incentive or attraction to others inside and outside the community to invest in its collective local food system. Projects are of several types:
  • Expansion of Community Services: Kwodwo Ababio of New Harvest Cafe seeks to expand his already successful community gardens program to the Linden and Mount Vernon neighborhoods. This is well-documented in the Green and Growing Initiative proposal drafted by Susan Shockey and others from OSU Extension.
  • Business Development: Seleshi Asfaw of Ethiopian Tewahedo Social Services at 1060 Mt. Vernon Ave. is putting a grant proposal together in response to a "call for proposals" through the African Diaspora Marketplace business development program in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is attracting potential partners and collaborators near and far. In addition to Ohio State's involvement, Walsh University has expressed an interest in supporting this grant proposal as a way to draw upon their nationally recognized business administration degree programs and strengthen their international outreach program in Africa.
  • Quick Hits: Dr. Job Ebenezer is president of Technology for the Poor, a non-profit organization committed to bringing appropriate technology for food production, renewable energy, and housing to people wherever they have such needs in the world. He has urban agriculture demonstration plots at Ascension Lutheran Church at 1479 Morse Rd. These simple container installations can be made in almost any outdoor setting to convert unused or underutilized property into an area to produce food. This can be done NOW! Empty lots like those owned by Mt. Vernon AME Church are likely candidates for urban gardens, such as those put in place on the June 10th Care Day sponsored by the Columbus Housing Partnership and the Columbus Board of Realtors.
Open communication forums: Local Food Systems (LFS) is a social networking site established through a three-year USDA-SCRI grant that started on January 1st, 2009. All documented events, publications, and commentaries associated with the Green and Growing Initiative are posted on LFS for quick review and response. This will continue to be the pattern as the effort moves forward. By October 2009, LFS will adopt a more robust system architecture that permits easier compilation of relevant information, regardless of public data source, and places it the exact format requested by the viewer. This will further encourage and facilitate the open source nature of the LFS site as the Council is formed, the portfolio developed, and online community engagement expands. Return frequently to the LFS and invite others to participate. The more people, the more communication, the more ideas, the more action, the more results.

This summer promises to see much more activity on the Columbus local foods scene as the Obama's United We Serve campaign gets underway and initiatives to launch community gardens and support local food banks among others are actively pursued. Unique projects within the overall volunteer guidelines are certainly welcome.

Stay tuned for more information about next steps on Green and Growing. Please post any comments or feedback you may have concerning the initial strategic framework presented in this posting. Thanks in advance for your continued participation!

Comments

District 27 food policy council

I think we should consider changing the name of the policy council to "The District 27 Council for Building a Local Economy" which is built on the use of urban agriculture, renewable energy and distributed manufacturing.

District 27 Food Policy Council

The information that has been provided in this column is helpful in framing the systemic issues that are involved in the process of building a local food system.

I also think there needs to be some clarification provided for the differences that may exist between a "Food Policy Council" and potentially, an "Economic Policy Council".  The two can have overlapping goals but the approaches may be different. I won't spend any time on it now but want to put it out for further discussion.

Local Matters is working on a schematic that visualizes a "healthy community through the lens of food".  One of the major components of this model is the creation of a "Healthy Food-Healthy Community" planning committee, made up of folks who live in the community.  The purpose of this committee would be to empower the community to decide what a healthy community would look like from their perspective, do an assessment of the current assests in the community that would help attain the vision and then decide what action steps would need to happen to complete the vision.  

I suspect that entrepreneurial opportunities relating to food enterprises would be part of that model and could be connected and integrated with some other initiatives that are happening at the same time.  

The Green and Growing Initiative represents an approach to address a specific issue or issues that was identified in the community.  There are many questions that have arisen from that initial proposal, not the least of which is a question about the sustainability of the project as outlined in the proposal. Kwodwo Ababio is an amazingly hard working, committed community member, who uses many of his own resources and really wants to make a difference in his community using local food as an ally. His passion and drive, combined with a thoughtful, strategic plan, can really make a difference in the Linden community in so many ways. 

I appreciate the information that Steve has provided but think there is a real need for a strategic plan to be developed that will address the many issues that must be coordinated in a community for long term success to happen...and before we begin to create motion just to feel like we're moving. 

Here's one example of why I am suggesting this: Local Matters works with our strategic partner, The Greener Grocer, to operate a Veggie Van, essentially a mobile farmers market.  The Veggie Van  was created in response to a need to provide access to healthy food in underserved communities and is equipped to accept EBT (food stamps). The idea is to deliver fresh fruits and vegetables from the farm to communities in need.  One of the things that we are discovering is that access is not the only issue; there is also an issue of resources needed to purchase healthy food and a real need to teach folks how to prepare this food.  We have also discovered that the economic means that people do have are being spent on "convenience, fast foods" as they available and cheap...and require no skill to perpare.  So, having food in containers and more community gardens throughout the community to address the access issue isn't likely to be as helpful as it could be unless there is also a strategy to combine it with some skills training that can help to insure sustainability.

So, my suggestion with this project, is a request that we be clear about the objectives and the outcomes that are being sought...and that this be followed with a strategy that engages the community in this process...and then position any resources to meet the needs of the community as defined by the community.