On Monday, May 16th, 2022, the Spokane City Council voted unanimously on a resolution to support the Spokane Food Policy Council's recently-completed Spokane Regional Food Action Plan.
RES 2022-0047: "Supporting the Spokane Regional Food Action Plan developed by the Spokane Food Policy Council, which identifies needed strategic investments to preserve farmland, increase local food processing, provide healthy food for all, and reduce food waste. (Council Sponsors: Council Members Kinnear and Stratton)"
What is the Spokane Regional Food Action Plan?
After completion of a food policy audit, more than 350 food system stakeholders informed the plan by responding to a community food system survey and participating in three community forums in 2020, the Spokane Food Policy Council released its Regional Food Action Plan in April, 2022. Participating food system stakeholders included producers, processors, distributors, consumers, and waste managers. The Food Policy Council says it looks forward to continuing to build these relationships as it implements the Regional Food Action Plan.
The Spokane Food Policy Council identified four priorities for the regional food system:
• Preserving farmland, recruiting new farmers, and increasing local food production.
• Advocating for policies that enable residents and businesses to make and process their food locally.
• Providing broader access to high-quality food and disseminating better food and education to empower people to make healthier choices for themselves and their families.
• Reducing food waste through gleaning, redistribution and composting to support food security and the environment.
To learn more about the strategies and recommendations to address these four priorities, please refer to the plan document which is available online.
Speaking in favor of the resolution at the May 16 City Council meeting were Kirsten Angell, a member of the City's Sustainability Action Subcommittee, Torie Foote, a founding member of the Food Polcy Council who is a real estate agent and organic micro-farmer from Colbert, Kylie Pybus, incoming President of the Spokane Food Policy Council and coordinator of the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program at WSU Spokane County Extension, Nils Johnson, Food policy Council member and Food Systems Program Manager at Rural Resources Community Action in Colville, Pat Munts, Small Farm and Urban Agriculture Coordinator for WSU Spokane County Extension (retired), Stephanie Watson, Food Policy Council member and Coordinator of River City Youth Ops that engages youth in urban agriculture in Spokane, Janell Harvey, Food Policy Council member who was the Council's Program Director during the drafting of the plan, and Phil Small, a soils consultant to the agriculture industry and Agricultural Interest Representative on the City's Solid Waste Advisory Committee. City Council members Karen Stratton, Michael Cathcart, Jonathan Bingle, Betsy Wilkerson and Lori Kinnear also spoke in favor of the resolution. Nobody spoke against the resolution.
The video of the Council proceedings regarding the Regional Food Action Plan is available at the link below and begins at one hour and 20 minutes into the recording.
Kirsten Angell pointed out one of the areas she hopes the City engages with is the recommendation in the Food Action Plan for a "socioeconomic study of the positive impact of the local food production sector" which echoes the Spokane Sustainability Action Plan, adopted by the City, that states as a strategy to "work collaboratively with regional partners to support and fund an economic impacts study of our regional farms and prime agricultural soils."
Torie Foote gave an example of farmland loss near where she lives noting that 5 farms totaling nearly 600 acres of prime growing land have recently been lost there to housing developments. "This will not feed us. It won't be recoverable and I find that terrifying because this is not just in that area. It's all through our region. Farms are going fast," she said.
Kylie Pybus said she joined the Food Policy Council to advocate for people experiencing food and nutrition insecurity. Kylie highlighted the "Healthy Food for All" chapter of the Food Action Plan noting its call for stakeholders in the community, including the City Council, to come together and ensure access to healthy food by everyone in the community.
Nils Johnson said his job with Rural Resources is to "find food to feed local people who need food with food that's produced in the local area." He spoke to the need to improve the Washington state Cottage Food law that is intended to provide income potential to home-based food businesses but that is currently too restrictive and limited to attract many program participants. With improvements, the program could serve many low-income households. He also mentioned, as did many of the speakers, the critical shortage of meat processing capacity and regulatory barriers that prevent local producers from getting their products to market and limits how much locally-produced meat can be donated to food pantries.
Pat Munts addressed the City Council saying "When the pandemic hit in 2020, it was our local food growers who provided the emergency food boxes to feed people who had been thrown out of work. Our small farmers are scattered, yes, and they are not huge, but they are an economic force in this community that needs to be respected and needs to be encouraged." She went on to say "We have no mechanism in Spokane County for preserving farmland or finding ways for young people who don't have the money to buy a piece of property of making that land affordable." The Regional Food Action Plan calls for the creation of a County-level farmland preservation program.
Janell Harvey voiced her concern about the preservation of regional farmland at a time when Washington state is expected to be called upon to produce more food while food production is being disrupted in other regions of the country harder hit by climate change.
Phil Small said “the plan has all the elements to build a healthy regional food system.” He said he would be advocating for the recommendations in the Food Action Plan regarding reducing food waste in his work with the Solid Waste Advisory Committee.
"The COVID-19 pandemic and climate change demonstrate the fragility of our current food system. Accordingly, both the state and federal government recognize the need to support a revitalization of regional food systems and are focusing much of the post-pandemic rebuilding on addressing food system issues. Federal, state, city, and local stakeholders show interest in advancing equity in our food system. This can be seen by efforts to address food security in historically underserved communities and prioritizing health, business and asset-building for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC). A coordinated community effort is needed to further these efforts by supporting the Spokane Regional Food Action Plan," writes the Spokane Food Policy Council, saying it will hold community meetings and form partnerships to work on identified food issues, working alongside leaders in the region’s food system in addressing the plan’s priorities."
About the Spokane Food Policy Council:
The Spokane Food Policy Council, established in 2013, is comprised of local stakeholders including representation from Spokane Regional Health District, Second Harvest, Catholic Charities, Washington State University Extension, SNAP-Ed, farmers, ranchers, regenerative agriculturists, academia, local business owners and food service workers. Members volunteer and bring expertise from various areas of the regional food system and collaborate to improve our local food system for all. The Food Policy Council is an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
The Food Policy Council serves all people by focusing our work on growing equity through our regional food system. It strives to recruit council members who represent diverse populations and have lived experience with food insecurity or are subject-matter experts in their respective field. The Food Policy Council also partners with organizations who serve disproportionately impacted people, and serves as a conduit to elevate their voices and solve the problems people are experiencing now, as well as plan for predictable future crises, and ensure decision-makers are made aware of policy-change solutions.
The Food Policy Council advocates for policies and strategic investments in the local food system that will result in greater prosperity and better public health outcomes throughout our community. Its mission is to advance policies and initiatives that foster a resilient food system in the Spokane area; one that is healthy and equitable for its citizens, economy, and environment.