Tuesday, May 11, 2010

USDA forms Alaska Food Policy Council

By Daniel Consenstein, state executive director, Alaska Farm Service Agency, US Department of Agriculture

Over 95 percent of the food consumed by Alaskans comes from outside Alaska. With the exception of those Alaskans who rely heavily on subsistence fish and game, most Alaskans eat very little food that is grown or produced in Alaska. This reliance on outside sources of food has a huge negative effect on our health, our economy, and our security.

On May 18-19 in Anchorage, a diverse group of Alaskans is coming together to form the Alaska Food Policy Council. This group will take a critical look at our current food system and start thinking about ideas for building a stronger regional system. Most of these stakeholders know that keeping more of our food dollars in Alaska will help create jobs and spur economic development. They know that if Alaska can produce more of its own food, we can build healthier communities and be less vulnerable to food disruptions in times of emergencies.

The long term goals of the Food Policy Council will be to identify barriers to building a viable Alaskan food system, create a strategic plan to address these barriers, and make the necessary recommendations to decision makers to implement this plan. Over the next year, this group will develop an action plan to make Alaska more food secure.

Mark Winne (pictured at left) of the Community Food Security Coalition will provide an overview of “What Is a Food Policy Council?” followed by an expert panel of Alaskans to discuss “Food Issues in Alaska.” During the sessions to follow, stakeholders from across Alaska will have the opportunity to discuss broad statewide food policy and food system issues face to face, with facilitation provided by Winne. Issues such as local food production, processing and distribution, institutional and private sector retail food purchasing, farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture (CSA) and community gardens, farm and environmental protection, subsistence, and food security, will likely be brought to the table.

The meeting is hosted by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Obesity Prevention and Control Program, in collaboration with US Department of Agriculture, the Alaska Farm Bureau, the Alaska Division of Agriculture, and the Alaska Center for the Environment. The Obesity Prevention and Control Program received funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the Recovery Act to implement this project over an initial two-year period.

For more information about this first meeting of the Alaska Food Policy Council, please contact Diane Peck at 907-269-8447.

SNRAS Professor Milan Shipka (also associate director of the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station) was invited to address the audience. SNRAS/AFES Managing Editor Deirdre Helfferich and Research Professional Jeff Werner will also attend the meeting.

Further reading:
Food Policy Councils: Lessons Learned by Alethea Harper, Annie Shattuck, Eric Holt-Gimenez, Alison Alkon, and Frances Lambrick, 2009, Institute for Food and Development Policy (PDF)

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