Did you know that 15 different federal agencies regulate our food? Despite the complexity of our food system, there is no formal structure for coordination, collaboration, or communication among these federal agencies. We know the resulting system is full of challenges and contradictions, without clear alignment to tackle the serious issues of diet-related diseases, food insecurity, or the many paradoxes of our agriculture system.
The Minnesota Food Charter has been working to align efforts on a state level to increase access to healthy, safe, affordable food for all Minnesotans. Yet, a number of Minnesota Food Charter strategies could benefit from a coordinated national food policy. From federal farm labor laws to farmer healthcare, Farm to School Programs, SNAP and WIC funding, the USDA commodity food program, and broad support for farmers, many Food Charter strategies are not wholly controlled by our state.
A Blueprint for National Food Policy was recently released by Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law School and the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic, with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The “Blueprint” is a comprehensive plan that proposes coordination of decision-making across federal departments to address complex food system challenges and contradictions. It “considers the need for a national food strategy… and provides a roadmap for the adoption of national food strategy in order to ensure a food-secure future for all Americans.”
Short of establishing a federal Office of National Food Policy, advocacy on the Farm Bill remains one of the most important national political actions. The Minnesota Food Charter Network has been fostering dialogue across the state on the importance of the upcoming Farm Bill. The most recent online meeting of food network leaders focused in part on the Farm Bill. Take a minute to check out the most recent information and upcoming Farm Bill listening session here and here, sponsored by the Minnesota Farmers Union and the Minnesota Food Charter Network Policy Action Team.
The document does not prescribe specific policy goals or the content of such a national strategy; rather it provides a structure to identify those goals with stakeholders and forge a path to achieve them with a coordinated federal effort. This detail is important because it relies heavily on broad participation to fill in the challenging details. It is intentionally designed to maximize public participation to strengthen outcomes and accountability. If the process sounds familiar, it’s a strikingly similar to the participatory methods used to create the Minnesota Food Charter.
The authors of the Blueprint admit it is not without implementation challenges. After nearly thirty interviews with national food policy experts, the authors tried to address concerns that such a document could be “too lofty, complicated, top-down, exclusionary, or a platform for corporate interests.” The Blueprint outlines four themes to create a national strategy: Coordination, Participation, Transparency/Accountability, and Durability. Readers can interact with the report through an online interactive pdf with thoughtful feedback prompts and see how others are responding across the country. Reader feedback will be used to hone the document and produce next steps.
Certainly, broad participation from a number of atypical collaborators will be necessary to achieve a working consensus on policy details. Take advantage of this opportunity for Minnesota communities and food networks to provide important input into this emerging national policy effort. There is potential to create a dialogue between the fields of health, agriculture, hunger, nutrition, food safety, environment, and others to find common ground.
And, we must find this common ground. We know there is a real cost to society when healthy, safe food isn’t accessible and affordable for everyone. Just as the Minnesota Food Charter calls on Minnesotans to take courageous steps to improve the health of Minnesota for generations to come, the “Blueprint” calls on Americans to help contribute to a legacy of health and prosperity that can result from food system changes. The United States has enacted numerous coordinated, national-level strategies that address complex, multifaceted issues. Our food system needs to be next.
Minnesota Food Charter State Legislative Wins
- Beginning Farmer Tax Credit
- Good Food Access Program
- Mobile Food Shelf Support
- Increase in Hunger Relief Resources
- Urban Agriculture Support
- and more!!