The Regional Food Policy Council (RFPC) is housed at the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), the principal regional planning entity covering King, Snohomish, Pierce, and Kitsap Counties. I led the effort to create the RFPC, and now serve as its Chair. The RFPC first met in September 2010, and we have now completed our second year of work. Our goal is to create strategies and policy initiatives that will advance sustainable food policies for the region.
Much of the first year was committed to forming the Council, learning about the food system, and developing the RFPC agenda. In our second year we continued to meet monthly, hearing presentations on topics like the federal Farm Bill, farming mentorship, food distribution, direct marketing, and the Transfer of Development Rights. Our Subcommittee on Equity researched the role of listening sessions in community engagement and developed a framework for an equity assessment of the food system. In May 2012, the council was briefed by PSRC staff on the rural transportation strategy. The RFPC will provide recommendations on ways to integrate food policy into the region’s long-term transportation plan, Transportation 2040.
The City of Seattle contracted with PSRC to provide support for food policy work, including developing planning resources and designing a survey for urban agriculture. PSRC also secured funding from the Washington State Department of Health to identify and pursue local policy initiatives. In June 2012, the council hosted a summit of public health professionals and food systems advocates to explore the connections and opportunities to advance this work. Over 60 people attended this summit, including participants from Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia.
The City of Seattle also contracted with PSRC to research food policy concepts for its comprehensive plan. PSRC staff worked with Seattle staff to develop policies, which were reviewed by the RFPC in June 2012. Seattle will add food-related policies drawn from this report to our Comprehensive Plan in the 2012-2013 amendment cycle. The RFPC will provide these model policies to other jurisdictions around the region and encourage them to adopt those that are locally relevant.
Staff also completed a review of codes and plans from 65 jurisdictions within the region and developed a database to organize existing local food-related policies. This project helped identify innovative practices, opportunities for action, and future directions. It led to our most far-reaching project, creating a way to identify policy levers for the entire food system. With financial support from WSU Extension, the RFPC is working with consultant Jon Ramer to develop a web-based visualization tool that will serve as a data resource for both the council and the general public. This tool, scheduled to be completed around the end of 2012, should generate a series of policy initiatives that the RFPC, individuals, and policy-makers from around the region can use to further the goal of a sustainable food system.
There are many Food Policy Councils around the country, but the Seattle version is a model for a strategic mix of public, private, and nonprofit membership, and is, we believe, unique in being part of the regional planning body. These characteristics give us a great opportunity to influence public policy as well as actions by communities and businesses. As the RFPC moves into its third year, you can expect to see food policy changes beginning to be put into place around the region, with practical and positive outcomes for consumers, businesses, farmers, and public health.