When the new Alaska Food Policy Council held its first meeting in Anchorage last month, Sitka Local Foods Network president Kerry MacLane was among the 80 or so people in attendance.
“There were nutritionists, politicians, state and federal government folks galore, Native groups, Alaska ranchers (of reindeer, musk ox, elk, goats and even cows), our one creamery, schools, WIC (Women, Infants, Children supplemental nutrition program), restaurants, truckers, a food wholesaler and even some people growing fruits and vegetables,” said Kerry, whose meeting notes are linked as a PDF file at the bottom of this story. “I was honored to represent Sitka at the first meeting of the Alaska Food Policy Council.”
The Alaska Food Policy Council is a new venture in Alaska, but food policy councils are becoming more common around the country at the state and regional level, especially as more people are becoming concerned about where their food comes from and what’s in it. The first meeting of the Alaska Food Policy Council featured guest speaker Mark Winne of the Community Food Security Coalition, who discussed what food policy councils do, and there was a panel of experts from around the state who gave brief presentations about different parts of Alaska’s food system. Many of the participants also took an online survey about Alaska’s food system, which helped provide guidance for the two-day meeting.
“This group will take a critical look at our current food system and start thinking about ideas for building a stronger regional system,” Daniel Consenstein, executive director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Alaska Farm Service Agency, wrote about the meeting. “Most of these stakeholders know that keeping more of our food dollars in Alaska will help create jobs and spur economic development. They know that if Alaska can produce more of its own food, we can build healthier communities and be less vulnerable to food disruptions in times of emergencies. The long-term goals of the Food Policy Council will be to identify barriers to building a viable Alaskan food system, create a strategic plan to address these barriers, and make the necessary recommendations to decision makers to implement this plan. Over the next year, this group will develop an action plan to make Alaska more food secure.”
Diane Peck of the Alaska Division of Public Health is coordinating the Alaska Food Policy Council, which is having its creation funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and from a two-year grant from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Obesity Prevention and Control Program (grant originally provided through the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention). Detailed meeting minutes and a purpose and next steps document are linked below as PDF files.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences posted a good, detailed wrap-up of the first meeting on its blog, and the University of Alaska’s “Statewide Voice” also had an article about the meeting.
The creation of the Alaska Food Policy Council has sparked regional interest in Southeast Alaska. The Health, Education and Social Services committee of the Southeast Conference will meet by teleconference at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, June 22, to discuss the Alaska Food Policy Council (click Calendar and Events on the link to get call-in numbers and codes). “We have opportunity to advance our local food production and utilize the bounty of our region to sustain our people and improve our health,” Southeast Conference executive director Shelly Wright wrote about the Alaska Food Policy Council.
“There are numerous benefits that food policy changes could mean for residents of Southeast Alaska,” Kerry MacLane said. “The bycatch regulations could be modified to encourage great recovery, processing and distribution. This would result in affordable fish in local markets, schools, health institutions and statewide. Federal, state and local government institutions would have more incentives and few restrictions to include local food in their purchases. More economic development funds could be made available to food system-related entrepreneurs. State and federal storage of (Alaska) emergency food supplies could be in our communities instead of in Portland, Ore. The Alaska Food Policy Council can help Alaskans increase our self-reliance and be more prepared for the coming rise in fuel costs.”
To learn more about the Alaska Food Policy Council, contact Diane Peck with the Alaska Division of Public Health at 1-907-269-8447 (Anchorage) or by e-mail at email@example.com. Most of the council’s communication and meetings will be by e-mail and teleconference.