City considers food policy council task force

cmyers@newsobserver.comJune 23, 2014 

— Experts say taking small steps in the right direction is often the key to improving one’s health, but Sara Merz has bigger plans.

According to Merz, executive director of Advocates for Health in Action, the most effective way to make the community healthier is through systems change. To achieve this, she has become an integral part of efforts to create a Raleigh Wake Food Policy Council Task Force.

The task force would “serve in an advisory capacity to the government on issues related to the Raleigh Wake community food system,”as described in the proposed resolution, co-presented Tuesday by Merz, Erin White of Community Food Lab, and Anya Gordon of Irregardless Café.

Supporters of the idea say an advisory task force is necessary to bring organization to the variety of factors involved in food policy, which include farmers and grocery stores, distributors, health care workers and economic developers, to name a few.

“There’s a Department of Transportation that considers all the forms of transportation, but there’s not a department for food,” Gordon pointed out.

The main goals of the task force, in addition to advising the City Council, would be to promote health in the community and facilitate communication between the various parts of the food industry. It would consist of 15 to 25 members from a broad range of professions and industries. White says ideally it would be “a body of food system experts from lots of different sectors” with the ability to “look at and assess the entire food system.”

It would also include six members appointed by local government. Merz explained that cooperation between community and government is important to improve the overall health of the county.

“It’s critical to have their support and engagement, because we can’t do it without them,” she said. “We will get the best outcome if we do it all together.”

According to White, the idea for the task force was the result of over a year’s worth of discussion within the local urban agriculture community. Establishing the advisory body with the City Council’s support would “continue to strengthen that collaborative work.”

Members of the council expressed general support for the idea and the work the group has done in recent months to promote a healthy community.

Councilman Bonner Gaylord thanked the group for their efforts thus far, and Councilman Russ Stephenson said he believed the team had “a lot of good information” to offer. White says he hopes the combined experience of the task force will be useful to the city in making future policy decisions.

Mayor Nancy McFarlane requested that the group present more detailed information before the council makes a final decision.

“They know something needs to be done,” Gordon said, adding that she was pleased to hear the council’s vote of confidence.

“I’m just thrilled at their openness and support,” Merz said. The team will present a more comprehensive proposal at the next City Council meeting.

Myers: 919-829-4696

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