More than two dozen representatives from a variety of sectors across the community gathered virtually at Friday’s inaugural Food Policy Council meeting, to begin exploring issues surrounding food insecurity.
The council, established at the end of August by the city’s Health, Energy, Resiliency and Sustainability Committee, will serve as an independent advisory board and work to elevate food security with the goal of creating an equitable, community-based system that would remove barriers that prevent residents from accessing healthy food.
Council member Gina Driscoll has spent a lot of time talking with people in the community about improving the food system in St. Petersburg. The food policy council was a logical next step in bringing together people from different parts of the community including nonprofits, educational institutions, local governments, health professionals and entrepreneurs, all of whom bring valuable insights and perspective to the complex issue of food insecurity.
“The whole idea is to work collaboratively with each other and with the city government to create a more equitable food system here in our city,” Driscoll said. “We know there’s enough food in St. Pete. It’s just not accessible in an equitable fashion.”
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. There are several such food deserts across the county, including a new one in north St. Pete.
Some of the issues the council could be addressing in the coming months include urban agriculture, community gardens, allowing onsite sales of produce by people who grow their own fruits and vegetables and the reduction of fees for operators of roadside markets.
The council is also exploring how exactly it will operate going forward. They’ll be studying best practices from other food councils across the country, establishing their mission and vision, determining what their infrastructure will look like and figuring out how to best involve the community as they move forward.
Driscoll said that even though the council is still in its early days, she’s confident in the knowledge of its members and eager to see what ideas they come up with.
“My role is to stay out of the way and let you do your collaborating,” she said.