Georgia's Food Future
The Georgia Food Policy Council (GFPC) recently hosted a statewide meeting in Macon, Ga., to reinvigorate the conversation around food policy in the state. The Georgia Health Policy Center, in Georgia State University’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, coordinates the council.
“This food policy council is an opportunity to help us address the paradox of hunger and obesity in the state,” says Debra Kibbe, the GHPC senior research associate who is spearheading the effort. “Georgia has about 10 million acres of farmland; food and agriculture is a massive industry for the state.”
First launched in 2010, the GFPC examines food and nutrition concerns at the state level. The council comprises representatives from all sectors of Georgia’s food system, including production, consumption, processing, distribution, waste management, recycling and sustainability. The GFPC has three work groups: Production and Distribution; Food Processing, Waste, Composting and Recycling; and Consumption and Consumer Education.
In early 2012, the center was awarded a grant from the Georgia Department of Public Health via funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The purpose for this award was to facilitate the GFPC and assist with goals related to membership, meetings and strategic planning as well as establish a GFPC website and conduct a food system assessment.
“The Georgia Health Policy Center has a long history of creating the right environment to have important conversations supported by the best possible evidence. This approach is particularly appropriate for thinking about Georgia's food policy future," says the center’s director, Karen Minyard.
The statewide meeting, held June 20, was preceded by the Central Georgia Region Meeting on June 19 in Macon. At this regional meeting, the last of four such gatherings convened prior to the state conference, representatives worked to identify food policy priorities for the region. The meeting featured remarks from Mark Winne, food policy expert from the national Community Food Security Coalition, and a reception that showcased “Georgia Grown” produce and products.
“The use of Georgia-grown food was a major highlight of the event,” said Chris Parker, associate project director at the Georgia Health Policy Center. “By the end [of the conference] we literally could say that 90-plus percent of the products we had were Georgia-grown.” More than 25 local providers, from small farmers to big companies, helped to furnish meals for the meetings.
Kibbe says that the meetings explored a range of themes in food and nutrition policy, including consumer education, food access and insecurity, waste management and regional concerns. The main goal of the conference was to identify the top three to five state-level food policy or nutrition issues the stakeholders would like to see addressed.
“I think there was really good conversation,” Kibbe says. “People stayed engaged to generate a short list of priorities for the diverse group of stakeholders. We actually had a lot of agreement between the regional and state meetings.”
Much of the conference, presented by the GFPC, Georgia Department of Public Health, Georgia Health Policy Center, Live Healthy Baldwin and Community Health Works, emphasized capacity building and more conscientious implementation of existing policies, rather than starting from scratch. Attendees took part in both small- and large-group discussions throughout the day, both within their work groups and across sectors.
“It's very clear [the attendees] appreciated the opportunity to have input in the different segments,” Kibbe says of the conference. “The most important thing that came out of this was their ability to provide input, to brainstorm and to network. Often you're sitting there just listening to keynote speakers throughout the day — that’s not the case here. They really did work.”
GFPC membership is free and open to all individuals and organizations involved in Georgia’s food and nutrition sectors. For more information on the Georgia Food Policy Council, visit aysps.gsu.edu/ghpc/georgia-food-policy-council.
By Kathleen Poe Ross, Georgia State University