City launches "Year of Food" initiative

By Ernest Rollins from the Herald Times

Bloomington officials have designated 2019 as the Year of Food, as they launch an initiative meant to strengthen the local food economy and address issues such as hunger and food equity throughout the community.

As part of the initiative, the city plans to hire a value-chain coordinator who will examine the local food system and supply chains and take steps to improve them. Responsibilities will include connecting local growers to buyers, identifying and finding solutions to overcome barriers to growing the local food system and creating local demand for local farm products.

Autumn Salamack, the city’s assistant director of sustainability, said the effort will educate people about the local food landscape.

“We thought about this Year of Food as a way to really kick start that conversation and really amplify the existing efforts that are already taking place within the community through a lot of organizations and social services providers,” Salamack said.

The new position will be partially funded through a United States Department of Agriculture Local Food Promotion Program grant awarded to Purdue University and Indiana University.

Jodee Ellett, community engagement coordinator for the IU Sustainable Food Systems Science Initiative, said the grant is about $500,000 for three years. Along with the funding the city’s value-chain coordinator, it will provide funding for three other similar positions around Indiana.

Salamack said the grant provides $22,000 per year for the position’s salary and travel. She said the city will contribute $20,000 per year as a grant match for the job.

Ellett said the rest of the grant funds will be used to increase the ability of growers to receive food and safety training. She said the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act is a barrier for growers, and the additional training money will address that challenge.

Some of the grant money will go to the food science department at Purdue University to develop food safety programs for home-based vendors and users of kitchen shares like One World Enterprise in Bloomington.

Salamack said the city will be using the recently adopted Sustainability Action Plan as a guide to address a number of food issues facing the community. She said the sustainability action plan lays out three goals for the city: increasing equitable access to healthy food, increasing the amount of food produced in gardens and increasing economic opportunities.

“During the Year of Food, we will work with our partners at IU and in the community to strengthen the market for local growers and producers,” Mayor John Hamilton said in a press release. “When our farmers have a reliable local market, we all have a more reliable and resilient source of nutrition in our own backyard.”

The city’s plan to educate citizens will include special events throughout the year, starting with the screening of the movie “Wasted! The Story of Food Waste” at 4 p.m. Feb. 16 at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater.

Salamack said the city also plans to study food deserts in the community, where at least 20 percent of people in a given area live in poverty and more than 33 percent live more than a mile from a supermarket.

She said the USDA identifies the IU campus and the area that includes Broadview, Southern Pines, Sunflower Gardens, Rockport Hills and Evergreen Village neighborhoods as food deserts. Salamack said the Bloomington Food Policy Council has also identified the Crestmont, Reverend Butler, Walnut Woods and Maple Heights neighborhoods as areas at risk for food insecurity as well.

“We are not going to solve food insecurity in the year, but it would be great if everybody in the community understood what our challenges are, what our opportunities are,” she said. “And we can say here’s how we are taking steps to address those things.”