Regional Food Policy Council Project

Taking a Regional Approach to Strengthening Food Systems

Photo Credit: Carolina Sanchez and Kara Rodriguez; CLF Food Policy Networks Photo Contest, 2018

The food system is a major driver of climate change, environmental degradation, economic inequality, and disparities in food and nutritional security. Further, the COVID-19 pandemic illustrated the fragile nature of reliance on global, consolidated supply chains (See June 1, 2022 Press Release: USDA Announces Framework for Shoring Up the Food Supply Chain and Transforming the Food System to Be Fairer, More Competitive, More Resilient). 

Food policy councils (FPCs) are critical structures for organizing community-based responses to local, state, regional, or tribal food systems issues through programs and policy advocacy. They also serve as communication hubs and matchmakers that connect producers to consumer markets and supply chains. Though many FPCs work to represent the voices of rural stakeholders, they remain largely urban-focused, leaving out a major component of the supply chain: rural producers. There is little guidance on the process or incentives to promote working across regions, including rural, urban, and peri-urban areas.      

USDA AMS, Ohio State University, the John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, and Colorado State University invite you to be a part of a collaborative research project to gain a better understanding of food policy councils’ role in strengthening regional food systems. Project activities include:

  • Convene a community of practice of 10 FPCs to explore what makes a regional approach work
  • Conduct participatory research on regional governance and policy, and FPC structures and processes for regional collaboration.
  • Compile best practices for developing and strengthening urban-rural linkages.
  • Examine opportunities for regional FPCs to leverage expertise as supply chain matchmakers to support the development of food hubs and other regional food businesses.
  • Support food system stakeholders operating at a regional scale and build the capacity of FPCs that are taking a regional approach.

Join the Regional Food Policy Council Community of Practice

The project will involve creating a community of practice—in this case, a cooperative network of 10 food policy councils—to learn together about what makes a regional approach work, identify what challenges they encounter, and test different solutions.

We invite your food policy council (FPC)* to apply to be a part of our community of practice (CoP) of 10 FPCs that work, or are transitioning to work, at the regional scale (i.e., across multiple counties or multiple states).  Applications deadline extended to 5 PM Eastern time September 13, 2022.

We seek regional FPCs* of all sizes, ages, and organizational structures to participate. We strive to engage councils from a diversity of places, including those representing both rural and urban regions, across the United States. Additionally, we seek councils that engage a variety of stakeholders and sectors across their region.  Interested councils should be ready and committed to applying what is learned through this CoP.

We are asking councils to commit to having at least two representatives participate in this process over 18 months. The council may invite a third representative to join if desired.  We seek representatives with a desire to learn collaboratively and further their FPC’s capacity, and ask that representatives come from different sectors/experiences in the food system. We intend to engage participants with diverse identities and experiences to guide the work of this CoP, creating a welcoming space for people of different races, ethnicities, genders, incomes, nationalities, religions, sexual preferences, physical abilities and ages.

By applying to participate, each representative individually commits to dedicate approximately 6-8 hours/month over 18 months to the project as a participant researcher. Two people from each council will participate in all of the following:   

  • Monthly virtual meetings of the CoP 
  • Application of learnings from CoP to your individual FPC, including one-on-one coaching sessions with session facilitators to discuss and advance FPC-specific objectives, monthly meetings, and outside readings or activities
  • Documentation of project participation and impact on FPC through written reflections; video creation; and one-on-one meetings with the research team to explain FPC operations, structure, engagement, etc. 
  • Co-development of project outputs (e.g., metrics to evaluate CoP, publications, survey questions)

Most CoP activities will be virtual with the exception of an in-person meeting in fall or winter 2022, location and dates dependent on applicants selected. CoP participants are expected to attend this in person-meeting. Hotel and travel stipend to be provided for two representatives per council. 

By participating in this CoP, you will connect with other FPCs operating at a regional scale. You will gain access to technical assistance to support regional collaboration through your FPC. You will receive training to enhance your council’s communication across diverse stakeholders in rural and urban areas. You will work with a team of researchers and specialists with expertise in regionalism; collaborative governance; food policy councils; supply chain development; and justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. The learnings gained will inform and improve the development of other regional FPCs and the forthcoming USDA Regional Food Business Centers. Additionally, once we have selected the CoP members, we will work with each council to create a press release to share with local media about your participation in the CoP.  

Each council will receive a $10,000 stipend over 18 months for their participation in the CoP. This stipend is intended to support the time of the council members to join monthly meetings, experiment with regional governance strategies, and contribute to the development of project resources. Hotel and travel for an in-person meeting will also be provided for two members in addition to this stipend. 

Application deadline has now past.

*We consider a food policy council (FPC) to be an organized group of stakeholders that may be sanctioned by a government body or may exist independently of government, which works to address food systems issues and needs at the local (city/municipality or county), state, regional, or tribal nations levels. 

Meet the Team

Leanne Alaman is an Inclusive Leadership coach and founder of Embodied Contribution Consulting, a leadership development firm that equips, enables, and emboldens justice-focused leaders to produce unprecedented results using justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion as strategies for success. Clients appreciate her realistic and compassionate approach rooted in the wisdom of the natural world.

Karen Bassarab is a Senior Research Program Manager at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, where she manages the Food Policy Networks project. Karen’s research interests include local and regional food systems policy, community engagement, and food access and the built environment. Karen earned a master’s degree in Community and Regional Planning and Public Policy from the University of Texas at Austin.

Jill Clark, associate professor at the John Glenn College of Public Affairs, OSU, researches and teaches food system policy and practice, centering on community and state governance of food systems, the policy process and community engagement. She currently is an appointed member of the city of Columbus and Franklin County Local Food Board.

Darriel Harris, PhD grew up in the Baltimore area and now lives in the city with his daughter. His work and research interests include health equity, food systems, food policy, faith-based health communications, and community civic engagement. Dr. Harris is a Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future Lerner Fellow and has been affiliated with the Center for 9 years.

Aiden Irish is researcher and project manager in the Glenn College of Public Affairs at Ohio State University. His research and work focus on how rural communities can use collaborative multi-stakeholder strategies to advance local and regional food system development. Originally from a small farming community in the Snoqualmie Valley of Washington State, he has worked as a policy consultant for Waterkeeper’s Chesapeake and as a research associate for Ecoagriculture partners in Washington D.C. He received his doctorate in public administration from Ohio State University.

Becca Jablonski is the co-Director of the Food Systems Institute at Colorado State University and an Associate Professor and Food Systems Extension Economist in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. Dr. Jablonski’s research and extension program is comprised of two primary components: 1) evaluating the farm and ranch profitability impacts of sales through non-commodity markets (e.g., local food markets, farm to school programs); and, 2) assessing the community economic impacts of food system policies, investments, and programs, including strategies focused on strengthening rural-urban linkages. As part of her position, she co-leads CSU’s Food Systems Extension team. Dr. Jablonski holds a PhD from Cornell University.

Madison Kase (BA, Albion College) is a Masters student in the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University. She has a professional background in corporate retail operations and enjoys researching the intersections between climate justice and community food systems.

Julie Kurtz, an Agricultural Economist with AMS’ Local and Regional Foods team, has experience in regional and international trade, land use for local food systems, and promoting more dignified labor conditions in agriculture. She previously worked at International Food Policy Research Institute, as a podcast host, and holds a MS-MPH from Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, and School of Medicine.

Abby Long is a food systems economist with the USDA Agricultural Marketing Services Local and Regional Foods Division. She has extensive experience working in regional food supply chains with a focus on aggregation and distribution processes, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Public Policy.

Anne Palmer, MAIA, is an Associate Scientist in the Department of Health, Behavior, and Society and the Director of Practice at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. She was a co-investigator on a five-year, USDA-funded research project that explores how to use regional food systems to improve community food security. She co-teaches a course on applying systems thinking to obesity prevention.

Raychel Santo is a senior research program coordinator at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. In this role, she supports food policy councils through the Food Policy Networks project and works on research projects related to urban agriculture, institutional food procurement, and the relationship between food systems and climate change.

Samantha Schaffstall Dopp is the Branch Chief for the Outreach and Technical Assistance Branch of the Local and Regional Foods Division. Samantha works to address both food access and market access issues through the evaluation of creative marketing strategies and business structures. Her most recent and current work focuses on community and urban agriculture, measuring economic impacts of local food systems, meat processing, food value chains, and community outreach and development.

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