City considers food policy council task force

cmyers@newsobserver.comJune 22, 2014 

— Experts say taking small steps in the right direction is often the key to improving one’s health, but Sara Merz has bigger plans.

According to the Executive Director of Advocates for Health in Action, the most effective way to make the community healthier is through systems change. To achieve this, Merz has become an integral part of efforts to create a Raleigh Wake Food Policy Council Task Force. On Tuesday, Merz, Erin White of Community Food Lab and Anya Gordon of Irregardless Café presented the idea to City Council.

As described in the proposed resolution, the task force would “serve in an advisory capacity to the government on issues related to the Raleigh Wake community food system.”

That food system includes an enormous spectrum. Farmers and grocery stores play a role, but so do distributors, health care workers and economic developers, to name a few. Supporters of the idea say an advisory task force is necessary to bring organization to the huge array of factors involved in food policy.

“There’s a Department of Transportation that considers all the forms of transportation, but there’s not a department for food,” Gordon pointed out.

The main goals of the task force, in addition to advising the City Council, would be to promote health in the community and facilitate communication between the various parts of the food industry. It would consist of fifteen to twenty-five members from a broad range of professions and industries. White says ideally it would be “a body of food system experts from lots of different sectors” with the ability to “look at and assess the entire food system.”

It would also include six members appointed by local government. Merz explains that cooperation between community and government is important to improve the overall health of the county.

“It’s critical to have their support and engagement, because we can’t do it without them,” she said. “We will get the best outcome if we do it all together.”

According to White, the idea for the task force was the result of over a year’s worth of discussion within the local urban agriculture community. Establishing the advisory body with the City Council’s support would legitimize it and would also “continue to strengthen that collaborative work.”

Members of the council expressed general support for the idea, and the work the group has done in recent months to promote a healthy community.

Councilmember Bonner Gaylord thanked the group for their efforts thus far, and Councilmember Russ Stephensen said he believed the team had “a lot of good information” to offer. White says he hopes the combined experience of the task force will be useful to the city in making future policy decisions.

Mayor Nancy McFarlane requested that the group present more detailed information before the council makes a final decision.

“They know something needs to be done,” Gordon said, adding that she was pleased to hear the council’s vote of confidence.

“I’m just thrilled at their openness and support,” Merz said. The team will present a more comprehensive proposal at the next City Council meeting.

Myers 919-829-4696

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