Urban Food Policy is Under-Funded

Urban policymakers increasingly recognize that the way food is produced, procured, distributed, and discarded in and around our cities has a substantial effect on public health, the economy, regional land use, and the environment. Throughout the US and Canada, supportive city officials have created innovative food policies and programs to align the food system with municipal goals.  These efforts, often prompted by and in collaboration with advocacy organizations and community activists, entrepreneurs, teachers, gardeners, chefs and everyday foodies, range from healthy school lunch programs to funding for farmers markets and food hubs, to zoning changes that encourage rooftop farms. In 13 US and Canadian cities, food policy directors[*]guide these policy and program development efforts, often with input from food policy councils composed of various stakeholders. 
Directors are under-resourced
A new study, based on a survey of 13 cities that have food policy director positions, illustrates that urban food policy remains an under-funded, under-staffed effort fraught with political and administrative challenges – even in cities that are considered leaders in progressive food policymaking. For example:
  • 7 of the 13 food policy directors are doing the job solo, with no staff
  • 11 of the 13 food policy directors have no discretionary budget
  • Of the 11 of 13 surveyed cities that have food policy councils, 8 councils receive no city financial support.
Program-related work in cities (e.g., managing community gardens, running healthy corner store programs) is typically funded through and administered by line agencies, so resources are available.  Yet without budgets and some staff, directors have to rely on grant money (which is time consuming to obtain and manage), the willingness of different city agencies to provide staff support, and external help from NGOs and students. A comment in the report from the city of Portland that their sustainable food program “lives by the kindness of graduate students” indicates how precarious some of these under-staffed programs can be.
If cities are serious about moving food policy ahead they need to actually invest in policymaking infrastructure. That means providing food policy directors and coordinators with sufficient budgets to hire the staff to do the kinds of analysis necessary to understand how the food system fits together. While coordinators can draw on the expertise and resources of individual agencies they will always be in the position of begging for and borrowing those resources.
Location of Coordinator is Key
The report explains that where food policy programs are housed within the city bureaucracy, including proximity to elected officials, determines the direction or focus of the policymaking and the likelihood that initiatives will be implemented. Eight of the 13 directors surveyed were situated within sustainability-related departments or programs, with 3 of the 8 also connected to a planning department. However, sustainability departments typically engage in strategic planning but lack regulatory authority or control over line agencies. Food policy directors in these departments need to develop policymaking power by working closely with agencies that possess power through their control of land (e.g., parks, housing) or by virtue of their regulatory authority (e.g., health).
Connection to and support of elected officials provides power to get local legislation and programmatic initiatives adopted. However, political pet projects designed without the support of the implementing agencies risk being neglected or subverted by the bureaucracy.
Locating food policy initiatives within a particular department may provide the food policy director with authority to launch programs or advance regulations. Yet being inside a department that has a specific mandate can be limiting because it focuses the efforts on issues that that agency is required and able to address. If a food policy director is in the city’s health department, for example, it will be easier to implement policies addressing nutrition and diet-related diseases than transportation efficiency or the provenance of food purchased by the city.
Placing the food policy director position in a part of the city’s administration that provides access to top agency officials across the administration (like the Mayor’s Office), makes it easier for the director to link the efforts of disparate agencies. Creating an internal food advisory committee that consists of officials from those agencies is another strategy to get buy-in for policies across departmental silos.  Of course, unless the food policy director is perceived to have power (perhaps by virtue of being supported by the Mayor or a Council Member), senior officials from different departments may not attend and participate in a committee that is seen as merely advisory.
Measuring Impact
The report suggests that food policy coordinators identify metrics that are already being tracked by different agencies and to use those metrics to measure the impacts of programs and policies.  Yet, in some cases, easily tracked metrics may not measure the impacts one cares about. For example tracking the distance of households from full-service grocery stores using the linear distance from a centroid in a census tract tells us relatively little about actual food access, (i.e., how easy or difficult it is for residents to reach a retail shop selling healthy food) or the mental models that people use to make decisions about organizing their shopping experiences, including where to shop for different types of food and how to arrange chores so that food shopping is convenient.
The report stressed the importance of interdepartmental coordination, and one of the key tasks of food policy coordinators is to ensure that agency programs and policies are in sync and working towards the same citywide goals. But the challenge is that when city agencies do not see it as part of their mission to support sustainable food systems, any effort on the part of related agencies to contribute to the food system will be solely based on the interest and willingness of the agency head to do so.
Creating structural change so that agency heads see improving the food system as part of their mission, and one they will be evaluated on, is really key. One of the ways to do that is to ensure that existing systems for tracking agency performance, like citywide management reports, measure the extent to which an agency’s actions contributes to the food system’s sustainability. For example, the parks department might be required to track the conditions and productivity of the community gardens and farms under its purview, or the sanitation department might track the quantity of compost generated from organic waste that is returned to urban gardens and farms.
Staffing and Budgets of Food Policy Directors and Food Policy Councils
City
Title
Reports to
Year Staff Hired
FT Positions
Funding Source – Director
Funding Source – Staff
Discretionary Budget
Food Policy Council Budget (2011)
Food Policy Council Staff
Baltimore
Food Policy Director
Planning Department Director
2010
3
City
Grant
$0
$0
0
Boston
Director of Food Initiatives
Mayor
2010
1
City
City
$25,000
$50,000 (grant)
1
Los Angeles
Sr. Advisor on Food Policy/Special Projects in Water
Mayor
2011
1
City
NA (None)
$0
$500,000 (city,in-kind,foundations)
5.5
Louisville
Food Policy Coordinator & Brownfields Program Manager
Chief of Economic Growth and Innovation
2011
2
City
City/Grant
$0
$0
0
Minneapolis
Homegrown Minneapolis Coordinator (Contractor)
Sustainability Director
2008
1
Grant
None
$0
$0
0
NYC
Food Policy Coordinator
Deputy Mayor Health and Human Services
2007
2
City
Grant
$0
$0 (no FPC)
0 (no FPC)
Newark
Food Policy Director
Director of Economic and Housing Development
2012
1
City/Grant
None
$0
$0 (no FPC)
0 (no FPC)
Philadelphia
Food Policy Coordinator
Director of Policy and Planning
2010
1.25
City
None
$0
$0
0
Portland
Food Policy and Program Manager
Senior Sustainability Manager
2005
1
City
None
$0
$0
0
San Francisco
Food System Director
Director of Environmental Health
2002
1
City
None
$0
$0
0
Seattle
Food Policy Advisor
Director of Office of Sustainability and Environment
2012
0.8
City
None
$0
$0
0
Toronto
Manager, Food Strategy
Director of Healthy Living, Toronto Public Health
1990
51 (Includes Health Department staff)
City and Province
City and Province
$30,500
$15,500 (City and Province funded)
1.5
Vancouver
Social Planner
Director of Social Policy
2004
1.5
City
City
$0
$15,000 (none in 2012)
0
Source: Hatfield, Molly M. 2012. City Food Policy and Programs: Lessons Harvested from an Emerging Field. City of Portland, Oregon Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/416396


[*]The titles of the positions vary, but I use the term “director” to describe them all.

4 Responses to “Urban Food Policy is Under-Funded”

  1. nancyadubin

    History have shown too that food has been the most neglected part when it comes to government funding. This is most probably because most people think that it is up to the public to feed themselves with how much they earn.

    Nancy Dubin

    Like

    Reply

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