Putting Food on the Local Policy Menu–Guest Column by Erika Berglund, UM BRIDGES Trainee

Guest Column from Missoula MT’s Missoulian

In this challenging and uncertain time, one thing is abundantly clear: the resilience of our local food system is paramount to the health and well-being of our community.

Fortunately, Missoulians have long been committed to upholding their agricultural heritage and supporting sustainable local food production and healthy food access for all. Most recently, this commitment was demonstrated by the unanimous decision by both the Missoula City Council and Board of County Commissioners to pass a resolution to create the Missoula Food Policy Advisory Board, an integral step in further strengthening and elevating our local food system.

This multi-stakeholder board is charged with identifying and recommending food policy initiatives in support of a healthy, sustainable and equitable local food system; coordinating among existing food- and agriculture-related programs; and highlighting opportunities for new programs for the city and county. It also represents a space in which members of the community can share their voice and exercise their right to actively participate in the institutions, policies and systems that govern one of their most essential human needs: food.

When not in times of crisis, bustling farmers markets, thriving local food businesses, and hard-working food-related nonprofits are proof of Missoula’s burgeoning local food system. Now, in the midst of responding to a pandemic, local businesses, nonprofits and agricultural producers continue to show leadership in protecting the health of our community while continuing to feed us. Innovative, collaborative and community-based local food policy will only serve to bolster our already vibrant food system.

Food policy is a difficult term to define; it is multi-faceted and encompasses a broad variety of concepts and activities, everything from how food is grown to how it is disposed of. Furthermore, there is no one-size-fits-all definition, rather, food policy is defined uniquely by the locality it impacts. The complexity and diversity of food policy point to a need for a group of dedicated individuals to research, understand and develop policies on a community’s behalf; that’s where food policy groups, such as the Missoula Food Policy Advisory Board, come in.

Food policy groups, or councils, have led the charge on local food policy since the 1980s. While food was historically absent from local government policy agendas, councils across the United States have shown that action at the local level can go a long way in supporting community food systems. While food policy councils vary widely according to their locality, organizational structure and membership, generally, they serve as democratic forums where a diverse membership works with the local community to identify food-related issues, develop solutions and make policy recommendations.

Today, there are approximately 282 food policy councils across the U.S., a number that continues to grow. Many of these councils are leading the efforts to provide emergency food services for their communities during the pandemic.

The Missoula Food Policy Advisory Board will provide a valuable pipeline from the community to policymakers in regards to our food system, and it should come as no surprise that food policy councils are most effective and successful when their membership is highly representative of their community and its food system. A diverse and representative advisory board will ensure that all Missoulians are heard, their concerns are met, and our food system is vibrant, resilient, healthy and equitable for generations to come.

The deadline to apply to serve as a volunteer member of the board is this Saturday, March 28. Apply at: www.missoulacounty.us/community/volunteer.