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City approves creation of a Food Policy Council to explore food insecurity

Jaymi Butler

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Food Policy Council
The St. Pete Free Clinic provided food for over 20,000 individuals in February 2022, a double-digit percentage increase over this time last year. While the need to serve more people than ever is persistent, so is the need to provide increased choice and access. File photo.

Food insecurity has been an ongoing issue in St. Petersburg, and the city is taking a major step toward addressing it.

At a meeting Thursday, the city council’s Health, Energy, Resiliency and Sustainability Committee unanimously approved a resolution establishing an independent Food Policy Council that will be housed under the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg.

More than 134,000 Pinellas County residents are food insecure, according to data from Feeding Tampa Bay. Food deserts, which are marked by low income and a lack of access to healthy and affordable food, are also contributing factors to food insecurity. 

The Food Policy Council will serve as an independent advisory board for the city and will work to create an equitable, community-based food system that would seek to remove the barriers preventing residents from accessing healthy food. 

Julie Rocco, senior community engagement advocate for research and evaluation for the Foundation, said the council’s membership will be equitable, diverse and inclusive to represent different perspectives. She’s already reached out to 18 potential members who will have a voting voice on the council as it relates to recommendations that will be put forth to the city council. They include representatives from a variety of local organizations including PSTA, the St. Petersburg Free Clinic, Deuces Live and the League of Women Voters. Additionally, the council will have access to learning partners from USF’s St. Petersburg campus and the Florida Food Policy Council to help guide recommendations.

City Council member and HERS committee chair Gina Driscoll, a longtime advocate for issues surrounding food insecurity, said she hopes the Florida Department of Agriculture will also play a role on the council. 

The next steps will be to set up a meeting to establish the roles and functions of the Food Policy Council and how they will report and work with city council. Driscoll envisions the group operating as an independent advisory board that can freely collaborate without government “getting in the way.”

City Council member Darden Rice voiced her enthusiasm for the creation of the Food Policy Council. 

“I think this is fantastic,” she said. “I love the direction this is going.”

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