Local food system policy advocates plan ‘summit’ meeting

ITHACA, NY —How food is grown, raised, harvested, shipped, processed, packaged, stored, distributed, purchased, cooked, and disposed of — well, it’s a food system. And there are solid beginnings of a plan around the Tompkins County Food System.

In July, the Tompkins County Legislature accepted a 79-page food system plan presented by the Tompkins County Food Policy Council, a citizen-led advocacy organization.

The project was called Tompkins Food Futre and was carried out by a large group of volunteers led by Katie Hallas, coordinator of the community food system plan.

“I think having a food system plan that helps ground a community in the conditions people live in and helps us understand what the realities are can motivate us to change and do better,” Hallas said.

Among the benefits of localizing a food system, according to Hallas and other advocates, range from reducing greenhouse gas emissions, creating jobs and developing a local economy around the agriculture, and improving access to safe and nutritious food.

And with the plan in place, defenders will begin planning their next steps.

At 5 p.m. on September 27, Tompkins Food Future will host a “Food System Summit” in Stewart Park. It is billed as an event for people and organizations in the food system to connect, network and identify opportunities for collaboration. There are about 16 featured organizations, from farms to food distributors, Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Tompkins County Legislature, among others.

The event is open to the public and will include a presentation on the Tompkins Food Future report. Hallas said the event is for networking, but also to begin to gauge stakeholder interest on which of the plan’s nine goals should be prioritized, and which of them are low-hanging fruit. Underneath the nine goals are 47 different recommendations for achieving them.

All goals are important, but number two on the list is to double local food production.

According to the Tompkins Food Future plan, 55% of farms in Tompkins County report net losses and 70% of them sell less than $40,000 worth of produce per year. The total market value of agricultural products grown and sold in Tompkins County is $65 million. That includes major staple crops like livestock feed, Hallas said, but Tompkins County residents spend $350 million a year on food. The kind of data needed to measure the market share that local producers are capturing is simply not available, Hallas said, but the report indicates that 90% of the food consumed locally comes from outside the county.

To achieve the goal of expanding the market share of local farms, Tompkins Food Future has focused on supporting the creation of “collective infrastructure” in its recommendations. This, they wrote, would include some business planning, business services, the development of wholesale markets or processing facilities. This would reduce capital investment for small and medium-sized farms, lowering the bar for entry.

The plan also calls for cultivating equity in any expansion of the local food system, targeting food insecurity and access to land for communities historically excluded from land ownership. One recommendation calls for reducing the net cost of farmland, whether through local fundraising efforts or by paving the way for state, federal or private funding.

The future of a local food system that Tompkins Food Future is trying to communicate is fairer, more environmentally and human health conscious, and also more resilient.

Tompkins Food Future’s planning effort began in February 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic derailed the normal movements of society and the economy. The resulting scramble for groceries, empty shelves and supply chain disruption was all too real validation for Hallas and the planning she was doing.

“The pandemic has taught us that our food system is quite vulnerable to crises,” she said. And to add: “We also saw how, you know, the whole system kind of shut down, brought food insecurity to people who never had to go that route.”

The unprecedented disruption caused by COVID is, in a way, a preview of what could happen when the economic and social impacts of climate change – floods, crop failures and to name a few – start to unfold. materialize and affect the food that people eat. Hallas thinks so.

“Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, the pandemic is not the final shock to our system, whether it’s climate crises or climate events,” Hallas said.

Comments are closed.