The Oakland Food Policy Council is Off to a Good Start

Food First | 07.01.2009

While the Oakland Food Policy Council (OFPC) was established 2008, its seeds were sown in 2005 when the Oakland Mayor’s Office of Sustainability commissioned a study on the Oakland food system. The report, the Food Systems Assessment for Oakland, CA, made several innovative recommendations. Among them was a recommendation to create a food policy council to review the food system from production through waste management, and develop ideas to make the food system equitable and sustainable. In December 2006, the Oakland City Council Life Enrichment Committee unanimously passed a resolution to allocate start-up funding for the OFPC. Throughout 2007 and early 2008 a dedicated group of Oakland citizens, organizations, and City of Oakland Department of Human Services staff worked to identify a home for the OFPC and, in May 2008, Food First was selected to incubate the council.

In its first year the fledgling council has developed considerably. Between May and October of 2008 Food First set the scene for the council, securing funding and putting other basic systems in place, so that when the OFPC Coordinator Alethea Harper started work in October, she was able to dive right in to the development of the council.

Accomplishments so far include launching the OFPC website and listserv; building partnerships with allied organizations in Oakland including the HOPE Collaborative and PUEBLO; researching the structure and activities of existing food policy councils across the continent; speaking at several food justice events in Northern California; presenting to graduate classes at UC Berkeley; holding a kick-off event for the OFPC featuring speakers from across the food system; developing requirements and an application for OFPC membership; forming a Development Committee to select the first class of OFPC members; and recruiting prospective OFPC members.

With food systems work gaining momentum here in Oakland and across the country, and with the inequalities in our current system becoming more glaringly obvious with each passing month, there is a strong feeling within the Oakland community that now is the perfect time to be convening the OFPC. In March of 2009 the OFPC held its first official event—a kick-off meeting attended by more than 80 people. Attendees came from many corners of Oakland: City Council, businesses, nonprofits, community-based organizations, and City and County staff, and included many of the people who were instrumental in making the OFPC possible. Each of the event’s speakers and many other attendees expressed their ongoing commitment to launching the OFPC and creating an equitable and sustainable food system. East Bay Pictures International, the production company behind the Edible City documentary, filmed the event.

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Building on the momentum established by the kick-off event, the OFPC Development Committee was formed in April and May 2009. This committee is made up of representatives of each of the “working communities” that will be represented on the council: the business community; labor community; community organizations and citizens; rural and regional businesses and organizations; health and education organizations; and local governance. Some committee members have been involved with the OFPC’s formation from the very beginning, and some bring needed expertise that had been missing from the conversation. The Development Committee will be responsible for selecting the first class of OFPC members, and ensuring that the OFPC is balanced across “working communities,” food system sectors, age,gender, and ethnicity, so that the council as a whole will possess the wisdom and experience needed to analyze the food system in its entirety and devise creative solutions for an equitable and sustainable Oakland food system.

In addition to supporting the launch of the OFPC, Food First is working on three reports that will help guide and inform the new council in its first years of operation. These reports include: Food System Meta-Analysis for the San Francisco Bay Area (produced in partnership with Public Health Law & Policy, or PHLP), a review of all food system assessments developed for the Bay Area; Oakland Food Retail Impact Study (with PHLP), which includes a “framework” for evaluating different styles of food retail; and Food Policy Councils: Lessons Learned (produced in partnership with the Community Food Security Coalition), which examines the structure, activities, strengths and weaknesses of existing food policy councils.

The first class of OFPC members will be announced in late summer 2009. Over the next few months, the newly seated OFPC members will get to know each other, become familiar with current research on the Oakland food system, reach out to the community for input, develop partnerships with interested citizens and youth, and develop a strategic plan for transforming the Oakland food system.

Also in this issue of News & Views:

  • Ecological Push-Pull System Resists Parasitic Weed, Striga, in African Corn Fields