Local funders convene food policy councils for the first time

By Lindsay Smith
Consultant, Washington Regional Convergence Partnership

When food policy expert Mark Winne was a member of the Hartford Food Policy Council, a clinic serving Woman, Infant, and Children (WIC) program participants closed. The clinic was a key resource for low-income women and children and provided critical support services, including food assistance referrals. The food policy council investigated and learned that the city’s entire WIC program had become quite dysfunctional. The council helped form a broader task force which found that the clinic’s closure had immediately resulted in thousands of the city’s most vulnerable going without needed services. They worked with the city to not only reopen the clinic, but to improve a broad range of services in Hartford’s WIC program.

This was just one success story that Mark shared as the featured presenter at a first ever Greater Washington Region Food Policy Council convening held on late last month at Pepco Edison Gallery Place. Food policy councils are organizations comprised of a range of community, public, private, and nonprofit stakeholders – ideally representing all sectors of the food system – who have come together to find solutions to food system problems.

The Greater Washington Region Food Policy Council gathering brought together fifty funders and food policy council/coalition members from seven different emerging or existing councils. It provided a forum for all to learn from Mark’s expertise and a space for advocates to connect to compare achievements and goals for policy change in their own communities.

At the event, Christine Bergmark, the director of the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission (SMADC), shared a great local example of how food councils comprised of public, private, and nonprofit stakeholders can promote more just and sustainable outcomes in the food system. When one of the Southern Maryland Food Council partners, SMADC, began to establish programs with local farmers’ markets so that low income community members could purchase more fresh local food with their federal benefits, a food council member from the Charles County government identified a need for transportation. With the food council’s support, he worked with colleagues to implement a bus route change which allowed more community members to get to the market in Waldorf.

By all accounts the event was a resounding success with participants conveying excitement about future opportunities for regional learning and collaboration.

The convening was hosted by the Washington Regional Convergence Partnership (WRCP), a group of grantmakers committed to building a more equitable food system in the region. On October 22nd, they will be hosting “Food Hubs 101” for funders interested in learning from experts and practitioners about how these new enterprises are improving opportunity in the regional food system from land to fork.

For more information, please contact me at smith@washingtongrantmakers.org.