Ripe for change: How State Food Charters Work
In February 2013, we set out to engage communities across the state in important conversations about access to healthy food in our schools, worksites, health care institutions, childcare settings and other community environments. Our goal? Gather as many ideas, comments and even questions around improving Minnesota’s food system so that all Minnesotans can have access to healthy, affordable and safe food.
Finding the process is the prize.
There isn’t any magical one-size-fits-all approach for taking on a statewide initiative like the Minnesota Food Charter. Whether using a top-down or grassroots-driven model, every approach comes with its set of advantages and disadvantages. What’s most important is to have a clear understanding of the unique characteristics of a state’s food system, and how those factors affect the success of the selected process.
Minnesota is not the first to develop a statewide food charter (and hopefully not the last). We took cues from food charters that came before us—namely Michigan—and applied valuable lessons for developing our process.
Michigan: Shared commitment through a grassroots-driven process
Guided by a shared vision to improve Michigan’s food environment, Michigan State University; The Food Bank Council of Michigan; and The Michigan Food Policy Council partnered in launching the development of its food charter. Work groups were then assembled to take on five food system areas: Youth Engagement in Community Food, Healthy Food Access for Families and Communities, Institutional Food Purchasing, Farmer Viability and Development, and Food System Infrastructure. These work groups were comprised of individuals familiar with each topic area and could effectively engage others in the work.
Work groups were charged with developing recommendations for policy, systems and environmental change. Feedback on the recommendations was gathered online and at the first statewide “Good Food Summit” in 2010, which involved 350 stakeholders. A final draft of the Michigan Good Food Charter was released later that year.
Iowa: Clear direction through a formal approach
In 2000, through gubernatorial executive order, the Iowa Food Systems Council was established. The Council would later disband and reemerge in 2006 as a nonprofit organization with a board of directors and clear mission, vision and goals for improving the health of Iowans. This structure would provide the Council two distinct advantages in developing their food charter:
- The ability to secure grants from a variety of funders.
- The ability to advocate and lobby for food systems change.
Using its membership program, the Council instituted a Food Access and Health Working Group to prepare program, research and policy options to increase access to safe, healthy, affordable food. From 2008 to 2010, convenings were held every three months to get feedback on identified food system areas. In 2012, the Council published its food charter—which included a report card on the state’s food system and program and policy recommendations.
We’re running on full steam.
We chose a public participatory process because it was important that the voices of the people in this state were heard—particularly those most affected by limited access of healthy food. As a result, the response and participation has been astounding. We’re just a little more than halfway through the campaign and more than 50 Food Charter Events will have already been completed!
There is still time to make sure your voice is included in the Minnesota Food Charter. We will be gathering feedback to develop the Food Charter until September 30, 2013. To learn more about hosting a Food Charter Event, visit www.mnfoodcharter.com/get-involved/host. If you cannot host or attend a Food Charter Event, you can still submit your feedback online.