Gainesville City Commission voted unanimously to create a food policy council for the city during a general policy committee meeting March 14, 2019.
The council would be devoted to ensuring Gainesville residents have consistent access to affordable and nutritious food. It will develop strategies to relieve many of the challenges that prevent residents from having access to healthier food options currently unavailable to them.
Alachua County currently ranks among the worst counties in Florida in terms of food security according to Feeding America, a nonprofit hunger-relief organization, with 20 to 24 percent of households reporting they don’t have consistent access to healthy food.
Karissa Raskin, a civic collaboration specialist for the city of Gainesville, was one of those tasked with the job of constructing this new council.
Raskin and her team are considering implementing a number of different models, with some being government-sanctioned and others existing independently. Raskin will model the Gainesville council after those in places like Palm Coast, Sarasota and Miami-Dade.
“These councils really run the gamut when it comes to what they can cover,” Raskin said.
Raskin hopes to construct a council that is not only concerned with the city and its issues but one that also represents the city’s economic makeup.
City Commissioner Gail Johnson said assembling an economically diverse group is essential for the future of the council.
“We are going to need everybody at the table to make this successful,” she said.
Others echoed Johnson’s sentiment, including Marcia Conwell, chief executive officer for Bread of the Mighty, a Gainesville food bank.
“Doctors, lawyers, teachers — all of these people make up our city,” Conwell said. “Everybody needs to do their part in the community.”
The city has received an abundance of citizen suggestions for possible solutions to the county’s food insecurity problems. Raskin compiled those suggestions into a report that she then presented at the policy meeting.
The ideas Alachua County residents submitted during a food insecurity workshop in early February focused on combating eight major barriers locals face when acquiring healthy food for themselves and their families. These barriers include cost, lack of transportation, distance to healthy food, stigmas attached to food banks and the food waste problem in Gainesville. Many of the potential solutions drummed up at the meeting were included into Raskin’s report.
The report made it clear that no one main cause is responsible for food insecurity in Alachua County. Rather, multiple factors contribute to food insecurity there.
Raskin said she wanted to make sure policy commission members understood that these suggestions and ideas from her report came directly from citizens, not from local government officials.
“This is largely in the spirit of community engagement,” Raskin said. “Our goal is to present the ideas that we heard from the community and present them to the city commission.”
Mayor Lauren Poe expressed excitement about the variety of possible members of the food policy counsel in Gainesville and the surrounding areas.
“The expertise that we have in our community, with UF and IFAS, colleges that teach nutrition or health-related curriculum, will be a huge asset,” Poe said. “We also have a lot of local experts, too, and by connecting all these folks, we will be able to take advantage of what’s fully out there.”
Raskin and her team plan to have concrete ideas ready to present to the city commission within the next six months.