City seeks candidates to help develop five-year food system plan

Friday, October 14, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

The city has opened its application process for members of the advisory committee who will help the Office of Sustainability write a comprehensive food plan for the city, with the goal of addressing food insecurity for vulnerable Austin residents.

The Community Development Commission, which focuses on issues related to marginalized communities, received an update on the progress of drafting the plan which was requested in a June 2021 resolution from City Council. The article called on the city manager to put in place a five-year plan addressing issues such as food access programs, funding options to address historic food disparities, and improve the region’s overall resilience related to the food availability.

Edwin Marty, the city’s food policy manager, said the plan is still in its early stages and is expected to be passed by council in early 2024. The community advisory committee being formed will spend about a year reviewing the plan. state of the local food system and identify the most important issues and gaps the city needs to address, with a draft plan slated for next fall.

Marty said that while the Austin area has some of the best restaurants and grocery stores of any city its size, it is rapidly losing farmland to residential and commercial development. Real estate prices and planning issues also play a role in the fact that Austin has only 10 food processing facilities in the surrounding five-county area, while the Dallas area has more than 100.

“In addition to food insecurity, we also face other significant challenges in our food system, including a significant loss of farmland in central Texas,” he said. “Development is mostly happening on prime agricultural land that has the soil most suitable for food production. As a result, we see a significant decrease in local food production relative to consumption. »

Ongoing food shortage issues in poorer areas are compounded by disasters such as winter storm Uri in early 2021, though Marty noted the Austin Independent School District has shown resources and ability awesome to help families in need during the storm and should be involved in improving the local food system.

Considering the business opportunities related to food access, Marty said current data shows there is a $2.3 billion gap between the food produced in the Austin area and the amount consumed locally. Another economic issue related to food and equity is the fact that 87% of farms in the region are owned by white residents, which prevents communities of color from creating wealth related to food production and strongly involved in solving shortage problems.

One source of help could be the newly created federal programs by the US Department of Agriculture, which Marty says has “freed up an enormous amount of funding for things that have been advocated for our local food systems for years” .

Commissioner Heidi Sloan said the plan should target service workers and other low-wage residents, many of whom may work in hospitality or retail where food transactions take place.

“I would look forward to seeing some kind of analysis and talking points that can dive into the average income of these different parts of the food system and for the people who work there,” she said. “We talk about food distribution and bringing more manufacturers to Austin and how there may not be people who are ready to work, but we have to ask ourselves why that could be and how we could make it happen. that these jobs are seen as a sustainable option for the people we serve.

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