Members of the Joint Food Policy Board, whose role is to seek solutions to food accessibility in Alachua County, discussed at a recent meeting whether the board needs to exist at all.
The issue of food accessibility has long been a focus for the city of Gainesville and Alachua County, and the Joint Food Systems Policy Board has been tasked with coming up with suggested solutions.
The board held a meeting Wednesday to investigate ways to improve food accessibility for residents.
The board, whose members include mayoral candidate and city commissioner Harvey Ward and county commissioner Charles Chestnut, gathered to discuss a variety of items, though one stood out from the rest when Ward expressed his thoughts on the need to have a board at all.
“When we first set this board to work, there were and there continue to be food issues that need attention,” Ward said. “I don’t know that this particular board is necessary to get there.”
Board member Vilma Fuentes, the assistant vice president for academic affairs at Santa Fe College, raised a concern of her own. Fuentes questioned whether the board is wasting its time on matters such as food systems and food resilience. Fuentes did not expand on the topic.
Not all board members agreed with Ward and Fuentes, however. Catherine Campbell, whose resignation from the board was announced early in the meeting, shared her opinion regarding Fuentes’ concerns.
“I see it as the lynchpin of health in our society today,” Campbell said of food systems.
Though board members came to the conclusion the board shouldn’t be disbanded, all members agreed the board must make a greater commitment to ensure that it has a real effect on food insecurity issues.
Kathleen Pagan, a planner with Alachua County Growth Management, shared her views during staff comments regarding the impact that food systems can have.
“We know about the importance of quality of food for health,” Pagan stated. “Many of our citizens cannot access healthy food.”
Karissa Raskin, assistant director of the city’s Department of Strategy, Planning and Innovation, shared a proposal for a food hub. The food hub idea is still early in development, but Raskin said one consideration is to establish an area designated for grocery stores, which would make a wide variety of food shopping available for people.
Sherri Krinke, a resident of the Island Grove community in east Alachua County and a volunteer coordinator at a resource center, made a few comments at the end of the meeting. She discussed how food distribution has been increasingly important. In 2021, there were 6,699 food distributions at the resource center where she volunteers, while in nine months of 2022, there have already been 6,925 distributions, Krinke said.
“With the food pantry, we have seen a dramatic increase, not just because of the pandemic,” Krinke said.
Board members said they recognize their job is not done and recommitted to finding solutions to food accessibility. No future board meetings are scheduled for now.