Doing Food Policy Councils Right

20 Mar 2016 4:28 PM | Deleted user

Some excerpts from Doing Food Policy Councils Right: A Guide to Development and Action, by Michael Burgan and Mark Winne

The following excerpts are designed to give a sense of work that Food Policy Councils [FPCs] can do and how they are set up. Those coming to the April 3 meeting are encouraged to examine the whole document at:

What FPCs Do

We sometimes talk about the three P's of community food system work. The first is projects...The second P is partners...The last P is policy -- and that's where food policy councils come in. Their primary goals include:

connecting economic development, food security efforts, preservation and enhancement of agriculture, and environmental concerns;

supporting the development and expansion of locally produced foods;

reviewing proposed legislation and regulations that affect the food system;

making recommendations to governing bodies;

gathering, synthesizing, and sharing information on community food systems.

Who Serves on a Food Policy Council?

The most successful food policy councils can say this about their members: They represent all the sectors of the community food system -- production, consumption, processing, distribution, and waste recycling. They have experts on specific aspects of the community's needs...and they have average citizens with a commitment to local food issues. 

What FPCs Can -- and Can't -- Do

FPCs have a large role to play in networking, educating others, identifying needs and problems, and offering solutions to food system issues. FPCs do not make policy however; they advise policy makers and government agencies that have policy making power, such as zoning boards. 

An important function is to cultivate good working relationships with the people who make decisions about the food system. Sometimes that requires bringing different departments together, or showing them how their jurisdiction includes food system concerns...

An Example: The City of Oakland

Oakland, California, began forming its food policy council in 2007...The council sought members from all five sectors of the food system [see above] and from "working communities" that included businesses, labor, community organizations, health organizations, and local government. The chosen members served for one, two or three years. Now all new members serve three years. In 2010, the Oakland FPC welcomed its first youth member. The council meets ten times a year. 

The Governing Structure

Who serves on a council, what their responsibilities are, and what the council will do can be spelled out a number of ways. Details of the organization's structure and duties...appear in a council's by-laws, though not all councils have by-laws per se. For volunteer or non-incorporated councils, these are sometimes called governance guidelines. 

[For a primer on food policy council by-laws see:]


When it comes time to make a food policy council operate, having an effective leader is key. The process that selects the chair and vice chair (or co-chairs) should be intentional. 

In the formative stages of the FPC, members should appoint a leadership committee to identify several worthwhile candidates to run for the top position. Some key words of advice, based on experience: Don't delay this process!

Making Decisions, Avoiding Conflict

Even though the members of food policy councils have a shared committment to food security, they also have diverse backgrounds and experience. Making decisions as a group, in any group, can sometimes test the members' and staff's patience. State food policy councils, according to Food First, rely exclusively on consensus for reaching decisons. 


Whether or not a food policy council has paid staff and other resources comes down, of course, to money. State FPCs are more apt to receive some government funding than regional or local councils. Most food policy councils count on a mixture of government money, foundation grants, and individual and in-kind donations. 

Some of the Most Common Topics Food Policies Address:

Procurement: Getting more locally grown food into local institutions. 

Land Use: Across the country, communities are seeing local farmland disappear, the victim of unchecked commercial and residential development. Particularly in rural and suburban areas, shaping land use policies that preserve farmland is a major concern. 

Zoning: If crafting land use policy is long-term, big picture work, creating food system friendly zoning policy is more focused and immediate. Zoning laws can make it easier for urban dwellers to keep a few chickens or raise bees. They can expand land available for growing crops...

Food Safety and Public Health: Whether it's e. coli, salmonella, or other food-borne pathogens, food producers and consumers are concerned about food safety. Each new outbreak reported in the media only fans that concern...Food policy councils sometimes play a role in educating farmers about best practices to reduce the risk of food contamination or to strengthen laws that regulate food safety. 

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