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

Food system reform presents an opportunity to address significant social, environmental, and economic problems. Effectively capitalizing on these opportunities depends on engaging diverse food and agriculture stakeholders across a region, and food policy councils (FPCs) play a central role in that work. FPCs function as relational hubs, bringing together participants representing diverse interests and perspectives to develop relationships, engage in learning, and work together on common goals for food systems change. While they operate at a variety of different geographic scales – including individual cities, counties, entire states, and Tribal lands – regional approaches that work across county and/or state boundaries are growing in prominence.

This growth of regional FPCs reflects a growing discussion among researchers, practitioners, and policymakers about the importance of regional approaches to food systems work and governance. Regional approaches encompass the complex networks of actors, overarching regulations and policies, processes, and relationships associated with food production, processing, marketing, and consumption, across rural, urban, and peri-urban areas. Working regionally offers the potential of building greater diversity, resilience, and sustainability across these spaces.

Despite this growing trend and the potential of regional approaches, relatively little is known about the current state and practices of regional FPCs in the United States. In response, researchers and practitioners with Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, Ohio State University, and Colorado State University, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) partnered to explore the current state of regional FPCs in the U.S. and develop resources and materials to support regional approaches elsewhere. These partners worked with 11 regional FPCs participating in a community of practice to explore the unique opportunities, challenges, and needs of regional FPCs.

Meet the Team

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.

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.

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