Growing Our Future: Food Security & Urban Agriculture

Approximately 14.5% of households nationwide are considered to be food-insecure.  So when Xerox's EBT system malfunctioned this weekend, millions of low-income Americans faced hunger in a nation that likes to pretend that this a problem only found in the Global South.  Local food justice activisits Elizabeth Henderson & Jerome Nathaniel compiled this list of policies that they'd like to see City Hall enact, and shared it with us knowing that we'd be on board.  Quality, organic foods are a human right, and as a member of the Rochester City Council, I will fight hard for these needed policy changes.

 

Food security is a human right

These proposals reflect the concept of Food Sovereignty, a key component of the global food justice movement. Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally meaningful food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations. Food sovereignty promotes transparent trade that guarantees just incomes to all peoples as well as the rights of consumers to control their food and nutrition. It ensures that the rights to use and manage lands, territories, waters, seeds, livestock and biodiversity are in the hands of those of us who produce food. Food sovereignty implies new social relations free of oppression and inequality between men and women, peoples, racial groups, social and economic classes and generations.

Goals:

  • value and support the role of food and agriculture in our region’s human, economic, and environmental health;
  • support a food system that provides an adequate income to farmers and food entrepreneurs while providing all food workers with living wages and fair working conditions;
  • sustain our regional agricultural resources to help ensure our future food security;
  • support entities that produce, process, and distribute local and healthful food;
  • achieve an end to hunger through universal access to ample, affordable, local, healthful, sustainably produced, and culturally meaningful food;
  • support communities suffering high incidences of food insecurity and diet-related disease;
  • provide for inclusive, democratic community participation in food system policy and program development and creative inter-departmental and inter-governmental cooperative action on food issues; and
  • create a resilient regional food system that will better withstand the effects of climate change and other emergencies.

1. End Hunger, Improve Healthy Food Choices

Since the recession started in 2007, the number of individuals using emergency food programs has increased by more than 60%. A recent survey by Hunger Action Network found that more than 2/3 of the programs have experienced a drop in food donations while almost all (89%) report an increase in demand. More than 20% of the guests are seniors, while more than a third are children and a third the working poor. The biggest reasons driving households to emergency food programs are high rents, lack of jobs and low wages.

Our food system needs to end hunger and promote healthy food choices.

All city residents - especially for vulnerable populations, including households in poverty, aging adults, children, those with disabilities and the working poor - must have access to ample, affordable, healthful, sustainable, and culturally meaningful food. By healthful food we mean fresh, nutritious, minimally processed foods including, but not limited to: fruits; vegetables; whole grains; hormone-free milk and milk products; lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts; and foods low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugars. The lack of access to healthy food options and over-access to high calorie, processed and nutrient dense foods have serious health consequences for Rochesterians.

Persistent poverty and unemployment have significantly contributed to hunger, which remains an on-going problem in our city.

2. Expand Access to Local Healthy Food, especially in food apartheid neighborhoods

a. Expand opportunities and effectively promote existing programs, such as Fresh Connect, for people to purchase fresh, healthy, local food. Promote local produce options that reflect the food cultures of various communities, particularly at farmers markets serving low-income communities.

b. Expand the awareness and prevalence of retailers and farmers that utilize EBT and offer reduced rates or subsidized membership in food co-ops and warehouses for low-income residents.

c. Support, expand, and increase food access programs such as farmers markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, Green Carts, buying clubs, Shop Healthy Bodegas, mobile market vans delivering food by the box and other mobile fresh food delivery systems, particularly where more than 50 percent of residents are at or below 185 percent of the poverty level.

d. Encourage direct sale partnerships between regional farmers and low-income residents

e. Provide incentives for the development of grocery stores that sell affordable and healthful foods in neighborhoods with poor access to any but highly processed foods.

f. Reduce the number of fast food restaurants in food deserts as other cities have done Potential steps include restricting the development of new fast food restaurants in certain areas (e.g., within 500 feet of schools in food deserts), or the same zoning laws that prohibit the development of more than three bodegas with a preset radius.

g. Create a program similar to Seattle's Farm to Table Program to help connect city-supported licensed childcare facilities and city-supported senior meal programs with local farmers to integrate fresh, local produce into meals served to children and seniors.

h. Require that foods containing GMO ingredients, hormones, and antibiotics be phased out of foods purchased and served by the city over a five year period.

i. Increase taxes on the sale of soda and other sugary beverages and apply NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s sugary beverage ban.

j. At the state level, the New York Healthy Food & Healthy Communities (HFHC) Fund was established to facilitate the development of healthy food markets in underserved communities throughout New York. The $30 million fund is part of a statewide initiative to promote healthy communities. Rochester should take a more active role in participating and supporting the developments of HFHC in our own community.

3. Strengthen Access to SNAP (food stamps) and Other Nutrition Programs

a. Encourage the state and local departments of social services to simplify the application process for food assistance programs, including a streamlined application for the elderly and disabled. Take full advantage of state and federal initiatives and waivers (e.g., the able bodied waiver for SNAP). Allow for a 24 to 36-month recertification period instead of six months to one year.

b. Continue efforts to enable individuals to apply for multiple programs simultaneously.

c.Expand media and public outreach campaigns to increase participation in SNAP and other nutrition programs, including providing city funding to supplement other government program outreach efforts.

d.Assist low-income individuals in accessing fruits and vegetables through stronger promotion of Fresh Connects; continuing to expand participation of farmers markets in the SNAP program, and providing supplemental city funding for the Farmers Market Nutrition Program Coupons provided to low-income seniors and WIC participants.

4. Increase School Meal Participation While Improving Nutritional Quality

a. Mandate that schools provide healthful breakfasts in the classroom (and "grab and go” model in hallways) to all public school children.

b. Continue efforts to expand the reach of after school and summer meal programs by increasing the number of summer meal sites (e.g., pools, libraries) and improving outreach efforts, particularly in low-income areas.

c. Provide capital investment and staff training to increase schools’ capacities to cook whole foods. Improve the quality of school meals, including improving nutrition standards by: making salad bars available every day; adopting Meatless Mondays; serving only whole grain pasta, bread, and rice; expanding eligibility for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program to ensure students eat at least one fresh fruit daily; ensuring that vegetables are served fresh (frozen when necessary, minimize use of canned foods). Eliminate sweetened milk.

d.Expand Foodlink’s KidsCan and Teen Cooking Matters and other programs to train youngsters how to prepare healthy meals.

5. Strengthen and increase Funding and Capacity for Senior Center Congregate and Home Delivered Meals.

a. Build in an annual inflation factor to provide healthy food, a variety of menus, and the provision of therapeutic meals for senior center congregate and home-delivered meals.

b. Fund senior center breakfast programs under the Older Americans Act (OAA).

c. Restore the Sixth Congregate Meal Weekend Program which, in the past, provided a single take home weekend meal from Senior Centers for low income, older adults, and conduct a public awareness campaign to promote the Sixth Congregate Meal Weekend Program, senior center meals, and home-delivered meals.

d. Collaborate with nutrition experts to improve nutrition education and budgeting in senior centers.

6. Strengthen Local Food Production, Processing and Food System Jobs

a. Creating a stronger food system means more jobs at the local and regional level. Food processors of all sizes contribute to the economy of our city. Food processing is a major industry in the Rochester area with over 100 food processing and beverage businesses employing more than 5000 workers.(NYS Dept of Labor) We need to better meet their business needs. Small businesses face the high cost of space while larger ones are tempted by lower costs elsewhere. All struggle to access capital, pay for equipment, and find amenable manufacturing and retail space.

b. Food processors have the potential to support local and regional food producers by purchasing locally grown produce. Regional food procurement, together with good production practices - managing water and energy usage and waste production - are key to sustainable processing.

c. A network of workers is engaged in processing, preparing, and serving food that feeds people in and around Rochester and these jobs are among the lowest paying jobs in our city. Most of those who work in food system jobs do not earn living wages nor do they have positions that provide benefits, job security, or advancement opportunities. Developing living wage jobs, job benefits, and improving the working conditions for food industry workers are essential elements of achieving a fair and just food system in Rochester.

7. Foster Food Sector Economic Development

a. Support the creation and expansion of food processing enterprises.

b. Incubate small-scale, local food processing start-ups to help food entrepreneurs start and grow local businesses. The programs would provide facilities, training, one-stop and on-line resources, and technical assistance to enhance job skills in food-related fields.

c. Simplify food processing permit processes, provide regulatory and licensing “roadmaps” to help entrepreneurs work with city agencies, and provide comprehensive, user-friendly information (e.g.; a web site, a manual, seminars, online licensing) regarding food processing regulatory requirements.

d. Use city-owned land to develop new industrial space for food processing businesses and help start-up food processors cover the expense of equipment and energy.

e. Promote the development of “green," food-based entrepreneurial and good job opportunities that support our regional farm and food economy.

8. Use Food Purchasing to Promote Local Food and Jobs

Public funds annually provide meals and snacks in senior and day care centers, detention and correctional facilities, hospitals, schools and more. Institutions and private businesses also serve many thousands of meals each year to students, patients, clients, and customers. The city has the opportunity to promote a sustainable food system through its purchasing decisions. By procuring and serving regionally produced food, the city can strengthen our regional farm and food economy and contribute to a healthier environment. In addition, the city can undertake initiatives to facilitate non-governmental purchase of regionally produced food.

9. Increase City Procurement of Regional Food

a. Establish agency goals for the percentage of regionally produced food purchased with public funds each year. While data collection needs to be strengthened, based on existing information, an initial goal should be set at a minimum of at least 20% and then increased over time.

b. Set requirements for paying living wages to employees for businesses that want city contracts

c. Proclaim a Rochester "Eat Local" day, similar to the Los Angeles City, "Eat Local, Buy California Grown” day.

d. Increase School Food procurement of regionally grown food to 25% to ensure fresher and healthier food.

10. Food Distribution

Food distribution refers to the ways food travels from farm to plate. It includes the outlets that provide access, the last stop before consumption - food markets, food cooperatives, street carts, farmers markets, community supported agriculture (CSA) sites, and emergency food providers. The food distribution system depends upon roads, rail lines, and food handling and distribution infrastructure.

a. Make more fresh, healthful, regional food available, particularly in food deserts.

b. Enhance distribution infrastructure and shorten distribution chains via more efficient means of transportation. This includes more frequent and accessible RGRTA routes.

11. Improve Regionally Produced Food Distribution

a. Ensure the long-term viability of outdoor farmers markets through the establishment of
long-term leases and infrastructure improvements, such as adequate space for trucks, electricity and lighting, water, cold storage and light processing facilities, and toilets.

12. Ensure the Availability of Food in Emergencies

a. Adopt a city emergency response plan which ensures access to healthy foods during and after severe weather events, with an emphasis on vulnerable and low-income populations.

b. Promote emergency food safety guidelines to help consumers determine if food is still “good” after an emergency, such as a prolonged electrical service outage.

c. Establish a fund for Emergency Food Providers to access in response to emergencies such as natural disaster.

13. Feed People, Not Landfills

a. Reduce the amount of food waste produced in the city by educating households to acquire only what they need and to preserve excess food by freezing or canning, especially abundant seasonal fruits and vegetables.

b. Recover more excess food for human consumption that might otherwise enter the city’s food waste stream. One step is to increase programs like RIT’s food rescue program from their dining facility.

c. Provide seed funding for a "community kitchen" modeled after DC Central Kitchen that redirects surplus food from around Rochester and uses it as a tool to train unemployed adults to develop work skills while providing thousands of meals for local service agencies and fostering local farm partnerships.

14. Expand Residential and Commercial Food Composting

a. Support the establishment of composting facilities (including municipally-owned) sited outside of flood zones.

b. Develop a mandatory curbside compost program (supported by compost education) for residential users building on successful models, such as in Seattle and San Francisco, and expand the city's recycling and solid waste recovery programs.

c. Eliminate barriers to food composting in community gardens.

d. Require that city agencies compost food waste and encourage private venues, including sports and entertainment venues, to do so.

e. Establish organic collection programs for large food companies, restaurants, and other food-producing venues, provide grants for training, outreach, and new containers from the Department of Sanitation, and increase funding for compost education and technical assistance.

f. Require businesses generating more than 104 tons of food scraps annually to compost, once compost facilities are in place.

15. Eliminate Plastic Water Bottles

a. Discourage bottled water consumption through public education, initiating a campaign to educate residents about the high quality of Rochester tap water.

b. Ban the sale of bottled water in city facilities. Restrict the sale of single use bottled water.

c. Restrict city agencies from purchasing bottled water, where practicable.

16. Facilitate the Creation of and Support an Independent Rochester Food Policy Council

Support and provide sufficient resources to support an independent city of Rochester Food Policy Council to bring together food system representatives from city and state government, private, not-for-profit, and NGO sectors; and communities to share information and develop food system objectives, help coordinate resources, and participate in programs to achieve and maintain a regional food system that is good for producers, eaters, and the environment.

 

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