An Underrepresented Majority
There is an underrepresented majority in the United States of those who are food insecure. It is not those living in cities that are suffering the most from hunger, but in fact those living in rural communities. Rural counties comprise 50 percent of counties all in the United States with the highest rates of food insecurity are those in rural areas and only 26 percent in metropolitan areas. Rural area’s account for 64 percent of counties with the highest rates or child hunger and only 15% are metropolitan. Rural food insecurity is clearly an issue in the country, but most of the effort and research of hunger goes towards battling urban food insecurity.
So, what is food insecurity?
The Journal of Nutrition broadly defines food insecurity as, “Limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.” The United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) has developed a system to measure food insecurity in the United States by ranking households as high, marginal, low or very low food security called the Community Food Security Assessment Toolkit. The USDA developed this spectrum by surveying households with a series of questions about behaviors and experiences associated with meeting food needs. Depending on a household’s answers to these questions, they are assigned a food security ranking. There are 42.2 million Americans living a food insecure households and majority of those suffering live in a rural community.
Rural food insecurity equates for the percentage of the population living in rural areas that are suffering from hunger due to location and poverty. This group of people receives less aid due to being more removed from more populated areas. It is crucial that this portion of the population obtains the same opportunities and programs to battle hunger that those living in urban areas have access too.
Food Desert Definition Issue in Relation to Rural Food Insecurity
Food deserts in rural areas are present where a grocery store is too far to realistically drive to weekly. This leaves rural citizens in a food insecurity dilemma. In the most rural areas, grocery stores are often difficult to keep open due of a lack of consumers and distance from distributors. Food banks can help remedy the issue, but most food banks do not distribute fresh products. Often, small towns will have convenient stores, but these businesses also lack fresh products. In these circumstances, food policy councils are incredibly beneficial to rural residents.
Difficulties arise in designing rural policy for a number of reasons but greatly because of the definition of food deserts. The USDA defines a food desert, “As parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.” A food desert is as a place that is low income, either with a poverty rate of 20 percent or with a median family income at or below 80 percent of the area’s median family income. This definition is problematic to rural food insecurity because of the definition’s focus on the lack big retail stores, which are usually not present in very rural communities. Food policy councils are effective at tackling problems specific to rural food insecurity that are unique to these areas.
Food policy councils are more interested in undertaking a socio-ecological model when looking at rural food insecurity, which focuses on other ways people can access food. Specifically in rural areas, people access food in more abstract ways than just visiting a grocery store like in urban areas. Food frequently enters a home in many different ways for hunting and gathering, fishing or community gardens.
What is a Food Policy Council (FPC)?
An article in the Journal of Extension, defines a food policy council as, “[A body that] typically identify and discusses food-related problems, brainstorms food system solutions, foster coordination across agencies and sectors, and evaluates and influences food policies.” FPCs usually are comprised of individuals that are proactive in a community. A food policy council established by local residents in an individual location to address specific issues unique to that community. This council can then and make these problems know to county, state and federal legislators. Food policy councils in rural areas help address food insecurity and poverty through brainstorming, coordinating and evaluating different avenues to fight these problems and the most effective policy to address them. Food policy councils pose questions to community leaders like, “what is the quality of food aid available?” and “How can we make food aid available for those who might otherwise have limited access?” FPCs also take on capacity- building roles by catalyzing desire and motivation in the community to improve food security.
FPCs engagement in a variety of activities allowing them to influence local, state and federal legislation. Food policy councils are able to represent stakeholders from each stage of the food system, from production, consumption and waste. FPCs are unique to each community they reside in and establish specific structures, missions and goals to tackle food insecurity. Below is an example of the structure of an FCP, this diagram depicts how FCPs can develop and implement their ideas.
Examples of what FCPs fight for:
Food policy councils will use the structure of the previous diagram to implement ideas like:
- Fostering entrepreneurship in the mobile produce business,
- Increasing the number of farmer markets that accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits,
- Improving access to produce, meat, and dairy in low- income areas by acting on legislation in 2008 that incentivized grocery store development and improvement in these areas, and
- Suggesting legislation to enhance the farm-to-school process in Michigan that passed into law in 2008 (CDC & DHHS, 2010).
FCPs address issues ranging from fighting poverty, improving food insecurity, promoting local food, creating a sustainable community and education and advocacy campaigns to state and local legislators. They are effective by establishing relationships with local, state and federal governments to aid in policy changes and critique proposed legislation.
Examples of Food Policy Councils in Rural Communities
Missoula Minnesota Food Policy Council
- The Missoula Food Policy Council has been successfully aiding its community since the organization’s founding in 2005. This group is noted for their land and policy recommendations to state legislators, implementing a “Farm-to-School” program, introducing SNAP-ed benefits at the farmers market, allowing chicken farming on private properties and the VISTA Foodcorps project.
Kansas Food Policy Council
This organization was founded in 2005 with the goals to refine regional food systems, increase the health and environment for individuals and create aKansas Food Security Task Force (KFSTF). The KFSTF has driven much of the success of the Kansas Food Policy Council. This group has increased the number of food banks serving rural communities, created the Kansas Rural Center, reviewed the status of assistance services for food insecure Kansans, encouraged community level action and advised the Governor on ways to increase participation in nutrition assistance programs. From these efforts, the Kansas Food Policy Council has successfully initiated or completed the following tasks:
- SNAP-ed benefits at Kansas Famers Markets
- Expanded food stamp outreach to rural citizens
- Created the Business Case For Food Stamps: Independent Grocers Project
- Inspired the Governor’s proclamation to declare October as Hunger Awareness Month through a 2010 Executive Order
Boulder County Food Systems Advisory Council
Food policy councils do not just exist in rural communities but are also active groups in urban settings. Boulder County Food Systems Advisory Council has successfully been tackling issues in our local food system. The organization strives to encourage sustainable food practices, equitable access to healthy food, and regional efforts to create a strong and resilient food system. The councils two main goals are to increase food production in Boulder County and to improver access to locally produced food. One unique aspect that this group really fights for is localism. The below graphic further explains their goals with local food in Boulder County:
How to Get Involved with a Food Policy Council?
There are few ways to get involved with your local food policy council or engage with your local food system. For example, in Boulder, you are welcome to attend the Boulder County Food System Advisory Council’s monthly meetings and can view their agenda their website. Additionally, all community members are welcome to speak and present at any Boulder meeting. Many councils also offer local residents to join working groups that address more specific issues to the food system. Easier ways to get involved are as simply as joining your local food council’s mailing list or making a donation. Becoming involved in a food policy council is one of the best ways to battle food insecurity. If you are interested in the policy that directly impacts your local food system, FPCs are the perfect way to get involved.