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Food and Agriculture Coalitions

Food and agriculture coalitions are multi-stakeholder groups dedicated to strengthening their food system.  They are also known by several other names including food policy councils, food system task forces, farm to school coalitions, and more.  Overall, the purpose and objective is to advocate for resilient, healthy food systems and to provide support and advice to residents and governments on how to develop policies and programs that improve local food systems.

These coalitions have the potential to address a number of issues and areas, including but not limited to the following: public health, healthy food access, hunger and food insecurity, consumer education, economic and market development, community food production, and local, state, and national policy.  Coalitions have been successful at educating officials and the public, shaping public policy, improving coordination between existing programs, and starting new programs.

The Colorado Food Systems Advisory Council (COFSAC) convenes food-related stakeholders to identify key food and agriculture issues and opportunities in Colorado.  As an advisory committee, COFSAC makes recommendations to the General Assembly that will improve healthy food access for all residents of Colorado and encourage economic development through a local food economy.  The Council also facilitates communication between community members, local food systems groups, and other organizations.

New councils and coalitions are emerging every year in Colorado. Please visit the Colorado Food Systems Advisory Council website for a current list, contact information, and an overview of mission, strategies, and activities of these groups.

The emergence and growth of food and agriculture coalitions across the country over the past decade has been significant. Several organizations promote and support the development of food and agriculture coalitions, including the following:

Food First: Managing a Food Policy Council is a compilation of documents developed during the inception of the Oakland Food Policy Council.  It provides tools and resources specifically designed for food policy councils, including information on basic operations, applications and application review, meeting management, and evaluation.  Links to online tools are also available.

Have questions about food policy councils and what they do? The State and Local Food Policy Project from the Drake Agricultural Law Center website has answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about food policy councils.  This information will help you understand why a food policy council might be useful and how to get started.

First Annual Harvest Moon Soirée Celebrates the Bounty of the San Luis Valley

Yak pot roast, bruschetta, quinoa salad, roasted beets and carrots, red and blue potatoes, heavenly scented bread and candied peaches.

These items sound plucked from the menu of a trendy, upscale restaurant, but 100% of the meal was sourced, prepared and served at a September 2013 outdoor event known as the Harvest Moon Soirée in the San Luis Valley (SLV), a region geographically ringed by mountains in south central Colorado.

Organized by the SLV Local Food Coalition in partnership with The Chokurei Ranch, The Harvest Moon Soirée was the first annual event of its kind to demonstrate the creation of a robust, local meal that celebrates the region’s food producers and consumers.

The Soirée was planned as a fundraiser to support the SLV Local Food Coalition in its mission to develop regional networks, educate the community and promote programs and policies that create an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable local food system in the SLV.

Now in its fifth year, the Coalition has grown from a small-group community meeting into a nonprofit organization.

The Harvest Moon Soirée is an example of successful partnership between food producers and consumers in which everyone wins.  Liza Marron, SLV Local Foods Coalition executive director and former LiveWell Alamosa coordinator, said that when the event first began to take shape, the kitchen manager of the Yak N Cracker Café at the Chokurei Ranch asked which items would need to be ordered from a commercial distributor. Marron was proud to tell the manager, “We won’t need to place an order!”

About 90 guests contributed $30 to enjoy disc golf on a retired golf course, hearty appetizers of goat cheese crostini and meatballs and live local music with dinner. The bounty of the SLV harvest, beers and wines were sourced from the region by coalition members and prepared by a local caterer and the Yak N Cracker Cafe. The event proved that a community can eat well (and eat sustainably) by sourcing local foods.

For a first-time event, Marron was extremely pleased with the success of the Soirée and the San Luis Valley Local Food Coalition Board is already planning this year’s event. The Coalition will hold the event again on September 20th, 2014 to coincide with the harvest, and move the event to a new location in the Valley to highlight the diversity of the foods and land of the region. The Coalition also hopes to extend the event over two days and incorporate a farm tour.

How one community initiated a government-sanctioned council

Cindy Torres of the Colorado Farmers’ Market Association and Adrian Card, Boulder County Extension Agent, saw the need for the farmer’s voice in local policy decision-making.  Together with other local stakeholders, they drafted a proposal in 2007 to create the Boulder County Food and Agriculture Policy Council (FAPC) and make it an official advisory board to the Boulder County Commissioners.  “Most farmers didn’t know how or when to voice their concerns to legislators, so we wanted to make the collaboration between agriculture and government possible,” recalls Torres.  What began as an informal small farm coalition evolved into an active advisory council representing various aspects of the food system, including producers, consumers, and public health.  The Council promotes a locally-based food and agricultural system that advances Boulder County’s economic, environmental and social well-being through research, education, and public policy.  Since its inception, the Policy Council has encouraged funding (which was approved) for two community food assessments, explored opportunities for increased food production as well as community outreach on Boulder County open space lands, and provided recommendations to the County Commissioners on the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for sugar beet cultivation.  In the future, Card hopes that the FAPC will expand upon its work related to food insecure populations in Boulder County.

How LiveWell communities are affecting local policies and regulations through coalition efforts

Community members, local non-profits, local government, the school district, food banks, educators, health care practitioners, gardeners, and foodies formed the Summit County Food Policy Council (FPC) in 2009 as a grassroots collaborative effort.  In response to LiveWell Colorado’s Food Policy Blueprint, the Summit County FPC based its goals around the Blueprint’s local policy recommendations, including  “Policy Recommendation #1: Local land use policies that allow and incentivize food  production, including home-based and community food production and urban agriculture.” Specifically, the Urban Farming Task Force of the FPC is working to improve local land use policies.  Since 2011, the FPC task force has collected over 300 petition signatures to support zoning code changes for additional agricultural opportunities such as backyard chickens and beekeeping, which are currently prohibited in certain areas of Summit County.  Now, the Council is working directly with town and county planners to update the regulations.  For more information click here.

After receiving numerous calls from residents and institutions regarding zoning for urban agriculture, the City of Wheat Ridge decided to revise and update zoning codes.  LiveWell Wheat Ridge’s Access to Fresh Fruits and Vegetables (AFFV) Task Force saw this as an opportunity to advance their efforts to improve the local food system for Wheat Ridge residents.  The task force has representation from residents, city council members, an urban planner, local growers, the Jefferson County Conservation District, and Jefferson County Public Schools, among others.  The AFFV Task Force and the City of Wheat Ridge worked together to impact the policy outcome, reviewing and commenting on drafts throughout the process.  In May 2011, the Wheat Ridge City Council unanimously adopted the zoning code amendments that support urban agriculture.  The code changes loosen the zoning restrictions for urban agriculture so that urban gardens, farmers’ markets, and produce stands are now allowed in any zone district in the city.  Molly Hansen, LiveWell Wheat Ridge Coordinator, is proud of the progress made: “Making these zoning changes that support urban agriculture is a significant step in building the momentum for the local food movement and greater access to fruits and vegetables for Wheat Ridge residents.”  Since the changes have been implemented, the interest in urban agriculture on both commercial and private lands has increased dramatically.  For example, a local developer is incorporating a community garden into the plans of an affordable housing development for seniors.  For more information click here.

Food Policy Councils: Getting Started, a report published by the Oklahoma Farm and Food Alliance, explores the many types of food policy councils and provides guidance for creating an effective council.

Food First: Managing a Food Policy Council, produced by the Oakland Food Policy Council, provides tools and resources specifically designed for food policy councils, including information on basic operations, applications and application review, meeting management, and evaluation.

Doing Food Policy Councils Right, a report published by Mark Winne, provides guidance for establishing and running a successful food policy council.

Food Policy Councils: Lessons Learned, published by Food First and the former Community Food Security Coalition, provides reviews of and testimonies from 48 food policy councils highlighting common challenges, planning and evaluation strategies, tips, case studies, and resources for food policy councils.

Exploring Food System Policy: A Survey of Food Policy Councils in the United States highlights key learning from a 2012 survey of food policy councils nation-wide and summarizes levels of engagement in policy, awareness building, and other activities.

Community Food Systems: Strengthening the Research-to-Practice Continuum, a report published by the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, presents an analysis of existing literature on community food systems and highlights the three recurring strategic challenges facing food systems practitioners.

State Farm to School Legislative Survey 2002-2013, published by National Farm to School Network, documents all farm to school-related legislation proposed or enacted by states since 2002.

Tools & Technical Assistance

The Colorado Food Systems Advisory Council keeps an updated list of local food policy councils and coalitions in Colorado as well as numerous reports of interest to local groups.

Resource Guide for Local Food Policy Practitioners & Organizers contains policies and tools for production, processing, distribution, consumption, and food waste recovery with the goal of improving regional food systems.

Mark Winne Associates offers directories, reports, updates, and general support for food policy councils around the country.

The CDC’s Healthy Food Environment program offers tools and strategies for creating, maintaining, assessing, and examining healthy community food systems.  The Food Policy Council section offers tools and strategies specifically for food policy councils.

Good Laws, Good Food: Putting STATE Food Policy to Work for Our Communities is a toolkit written by the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic to guide food policy councils in enacting change in their state’s food systems around land use regulation, urban agriculture, consumer access, school food and nutrition education, and environmental sustainability.

Good Laws, Good Food: Putting LOCAL Food Policy to Work for Our Communities is a toolkit written by the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic to guide food policy councils in enacting change in their local food systems around land use regulation, urban agriculture, consumer access, school food and nutrition education, and environmental sustainability.

The Growing Nourishing Food Systems toolkit, published by the Washington State Department of Health, guides local governments to use policy strategies to increase healthy eating in their communities through urban agriculture, backyard gardens, and healthy retail.

Food Policy Networks Resource List, a resource developed by The Center for a Livable Future, is a compilation of food policy resources to guide food system academics and practitioners, providing strategic plans and action reports, how-to guides for implementing food polices and forming councils, and example food-related ordinances.