We have achieved a significant new milestone in our campaign for healthy, local food!  The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), the regional planning body for King, Kitsap, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties, has agreed to form a Regional Food Policy Council (RFPC) as a working group under the PSRC umbrella.  The RFPC “partners with community, business, agriculture, and government in King, Kitsap, Pierce, and Snohomish counties to develop integrated and sustainable policy and action recommendations that strengthen local and regional food systems.”

Creating a Food Policy Council was a goal of my Local Food Action Initiative, approved by the Council in 2008.  Food Policy Councils exist in several dozen areas around the United States and Canada.  They are where the many different actors involved in food policy come together, understand each other’s interests and needs, hash out differences, and develop innovative and workable policies and programs.

We are especially fortunate to have the PSRC agree to host our Regional Food Policy Council.  We knew that a Seattle Council, while it could help the City, would leave out the farmers, agricultural processors, and other critical elements of the food system, and had originally sought to create a Council covering King County.  However, covering a four-county region greatly improves our ability to make this group work, and PSRC, the federally-recognized planning agency for transportation planning, economic development, and growth management, is an ideal location.

I have agreed to serve as Chair, with Brad Gaoloch from Pierce County Cooperative Extension as Vice-Chair.  The Council has a wide range of members, including three County Executives and a Kitsap County Commissioner, as well as farmers, farmworkers, and representatives from labor, business, community, youth, education and hunger organizations.  It is meeting monthly to develop policies that will support farmers, local food processing, regional markets, public health and nutrition education and action, and local economic and community development in the food system.  Policy recommendations will go to the PSRC for inclusion in growth management, transportation, and economic development strategies, and to local governments and community-based institutions. 

Examples of the kinds of topics that the Council will consider include:

  • Clarifying inconsistencies between current regulatory frameworks and the needs of farmers.
  • Assessing existing standards for nutrition in food service programs to set targets for improving the quality of food provided.
  • Developing and promoting model policies that support scale-appropriate, USDA-inspected slaughter and cut-and-wrap facilities for processing Washington meat and poultry products.
  • Developing and promoting model policies that will facilitate institutional procurement of local products, including improvements to processing, packaging and distribution networks.

The City of Seattle is providing startup funding for the RFPC, using funds set aside in 2008 for this purpose.  A key initial task for the Council is to develop a sustainable funding model for the modest staffing needed to keep this work going.

For several years, a small group of food activists kept the local food movement going through an Acting Food Policy Council.  The formal creation of this Regional Food Policy Council will take their work (including several of them as members) to a great new regional level.  It helps us move local food work into the mainstream and create new relationships and policies that unite food producers and consumers around our common goals.