Pandemic, winter storm spur Council to tackle local food system

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In response to the double whammy of pandemic and winter storm Uri, the city council passed a resolution at its June 10 meeting with the aim of strengthening the city’s food system and helping the local agricultural industry. .

“During the pandemic, one of the first impacts that I think became of public concern… was disruptions to our food system,” said Kathie Tovo, a council member, who sponsored the resolution. “As we faced the weather emergency of February 2021, once again we had a very stark reminder of the fragility and inequalities of our systems, including the real power of natural disasters to disrupt food security. of all those affected by the storm. “

One way to strengthen the food system highlighted in the resolution is to produce more food locally. The resolution calls on the city manager to create a list of city-owned properties that could be used for food production, using traditional agriculture as well as new techniques like vertical farming, hydroponics and aeroponics, or through non-agricultural uses such as cold storage facilities, slaughterhouses and markets.

the resolution is also pushing for the creation of a comprehensive food system plan for Austin / Travis County. A community council will oversee planning by stakeholders and city and county staff. Regardless of the overall plan, the city will carry out a food insecurity assessment, with a particular focus on the needs of homeless people.

The resolution addresses the most practical consideration: how to finance the work. While the Council has already pledged to spend $ 3 million of the US stimulus package on food insecurity – money that could be used to advance the resolution’s goals – the resolution opens the door to sources of funding , including bond financing.

Detailed recommendations by the Austin-Travis County Food Policy Board, which the board approved, informed much of the content of the resolution.

City Manager Spencer Cronk will provide an update on the food system plan in August, including when the final version is ready.

Council members say it is increasingly important to tackle the food system in a changing climate. “We know our food systems are very sensitive to the impacts of climate change,” Tovo said.

The sprawling development is also hurting the local food system by eating away at what remains of local agriculture. “Over the past 11 years, Travis County has lost 25% of its farmland, ranking second in the state to farmland lost to development,” the board noted in its recommendations. To fend off this trend, the board of directors recommended that the city consider agriculture the best use of city-owned properties with a prime agricultural land designation by the USDA.

Council member Vanessa Fuentes said the resolution “sets us on this path” to tackle food insecurity comprehensively. “For too long we have had food deserts located in our community, and especially in the Eastern Crescent,” she said. “It’s not good to have families who don’t know where their next meal is going to come from.”

The food policy council’s recommendations for tackling food insecurity include increased funding for food banks and similar organizations, additional municipal staff working on food insecurity, continued rent assistance, and possibly the creation of ‘a department of the food system.

“It’s not easy to do,” the board wrote. “It takes time, money and a lot of transparency and accountability. It was necessary before Covid-19, and that need is now exacerbated and urgent. “

Photo made available via a Creative Commons license.

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