The City of St. Petersburg is one step closer to establishing a Food Policy Council to address the ongoing issue of food insecurity in the area.
At a meeting Thursday, the city’s Health, Energy, Resiliency and Sustainability Committee unanimously agreed that a resolution supporting the creation of the council should be drawn up and presented to city leaders.
Envisioned as an independent advisory group for the city, the council would be tasked with working to create an equitable, community-based food system that would remove systemic barriers preventing residents from accessing healthy food. It would be composed of a diverse group of stakeholders including citizens, academia, community and faith-based organizations, farmers, government and business leaders and food supply distributors.
“This is absolutely aligned with the intent of Healthy St. Pete as we work to amplify the culture of health in our community,” said deputy mayor Kanika Tomalin, who launched the Healthy St. Pete initiative in 2015. “Food insecurity is a defining quality of life issue, and we can’t do enough to advance the importance of food security.”
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, exacerbate issues related to food insecurity.
When the Walmart Neighborhood Market at Tangerine Plaza closed in February 2017, nearby residents found themselves without a nearby grocery store to shop for healthy foods. It was the second major grocery store to close its doors in just five years, after Sweetbay in 2013.
Now, more than three years later, the 42-block area surrounding Tangerine Plaza remains a food desert. Four developers have submitted proposals for redeveloping the property, all of which include a food component. It’s unknown when Mayor Rick Kriseman will make a recommendation to City Council on a developer.
City Council member and HERS committee chair Gina Driscoll, who has been a key player in bringing the issue of food insecurity to city leadership, envisions the council as a powerful next step.
“We could be a strong force for change,” she said.
Council member Brandi Gabbard shared a story of growing up in a food insecure household in Indiana, when she relied largely on foods grown by her grandfather to sustain herself and her family.
“Our community has been battling this issue for years,” she said. “With the economic downturn, we are sure to see food insecurity get much worse. I hope by creating a food council, St. Pete can be a model for other communities.”