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Food Policy in Our Hometown: Partnering with the Boston Food Policy Council

By: Caitlin Matthews (Summer Intern, Tufts M.A./M.S. ’17)

As interns at the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC), we have many opportunities to connect with innovative leaders and participate in exciting events in the foods system in Boston and beyond.  Even so, presenting at the quarterly meeting of the Boston Food Policy Council is not an everyday occurrence.  It is, however, one of the unique experiences I have had during my summer at FLPC.

On June 15, the Mayor’s Office of Food Initiatives (OFI) convened the quarterly public meeting of the Boston Food Policy Council.  People from across many sectors and interests participated in the meeting, including representatives from city government, non-profit, USDA, health care, private foundations, urban agriculture, school food, youth empowerment, and food waste recovery.  It was my privilege to present to the assembled group about model structures for local food policy councils (FPCs).

FLPC has worked with OFI on past projects on a range of themes including food trucks and urban agriculture.  This meeting was a continuation of FLPC’s support of Boston Food Policy Council’s while it defines its major policy areas and potential advocacy options.  At the Boston Food Policy Council’s March 9 meeting, FLPC staff presented an overview of food policy issue areas from FPCs around the country.  In small groups, meeting participants discussed food challenges facing the city of Boston and then voiced their main policy priorities to the entire group.  FLPC staff and interns distilled these issues into six areas of interest, including the hot topics of access to healthy and affordable foods in underserved neighborhoods and consumer participation in Boston Farmers Markets.

In preparation for the June 15 meeting, I immersed myself in researching food policy council structure.  It was quickly evident that no two local FPCs are alike.  Local FPCs vary in myriad aspects – from an FPC’s relationship to local government to how council members are selected to how the community at large can participate in council meetings and advocacy activities.  Despite many differences, one commonality that local FPCs share is that their structure and policy priorities are intrinsically entwined.  For this reason, our two topics for the June 15 Boston Food Policy Council meeting were well paired.

During the first half of the meeting, FLPC Director Emily Broad Leib and FLPC staff member Kelliann Blazek presented a draft policy agenda containing potential advocacy activities based on the topics identified by the participants at the March meeting. They facilitated further discussion about the six areas of interest, the potential advocacy activities, examples of relevant policies from cities across the United States, and the possible uses of such an agenda. In addition to receiving feedback from the participants, they invited additional comments and reflections via email.

During the second half of the June 15 meeting, I presented on FPC structure with respect to council membership, working groups, and diverse and inclusive participation.  Following the presentation, I facilitated small discussions in which the meeting attendees discussed structure in greater detail and articulated their vision of structure for the Boston Food Policy Council.

FLPC will continue to support these important ongoing conversations through research and facilitation in the upcoming Boston Food Policy Council quarterly meeting.

To stay up to date on our work with the Boston Food Policy Council and FLPC’s other projects, follow us on Facebook and twitter.

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The views reflected in this blog are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Center for Health Law & Policy Innovation or Harvard Law School. This blog is solely informational in nature, and not intended as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed and retained attorney in your state or country.

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