By Christine Smith, Southcoast Food Policy Council Program Manager
“We all have food stories, and we all have a stake in the future of our food system.” –Mark Winne
In our “food story,” we have already accomplished many things that impact the food world of Southcoast Massachusetts. Our Southcoast Food Policy Council (SFPC) has continued to facilitate online meetings bi-monthly with the myriad groups coordinating food supply and assistance during the pandemic. SFPC continues to be a crucial nexus for identifying resource gaps, and getting food and supplies to targeted areas of need across the region.
The SFPC also continues to foster and engage the Southcoast FoodAlert Listserv members through weekly resources, webinars, and grant information while nurturing space for food providers to share their community needs and find other groups that may help their endeavors.
In developing the SFPC infrastructure, over 25 Community Advisory Board (CAB) members representing different sectors of the food system have been recruited to be the inaugural CAB to the SFPC. We have recruited members throughout the Southcoast representing our farmers, seniors, youth, businesses, higher education, community-based agencies, food providers and producers, food service directors, grass-roots organizers, federal and state agencies, and local residents. CAB members will provide direct community level input to help us identify needs, set priorities, and direct resources. The invitation to join the CAB also extends to people who have lived experience of hunger and have practical wisdom that will help shape the actions of the CAB. Working Groups will be created based on priorities identified in the MI’s acclaimed 2021 Food System Assessment Report set to be released next month.
On the policy front, we have written letters of testimony supporting efforts to secure $30 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for the Food Security Infrastructure Grant (FSIG). This letter went to the State House Ways and Means Committee Chair Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, Rep. Paul Schmid, and Rep. Alan Silvia; the latter two represent the Southcoast area and are also on this House Committee, and to the Senate Ways and Means Chair, Sen. Michael Rodrigues, who is also our local State Senator. While in 2020, FSIG received 1,351 applications with requests of over $200 million from farms, food pantries, fisheries, and other businesses, the available funding only covered 18% of the proposals. Farms and fisheries received 11% and 18% respectively of the funds they requested, considerably less than what the food distributors, food banks, and schools received from their grant requests. Since the grant is intended to ensure local producers are better situated to mitigate future food supply disruption, we testified that additional resources are needed for farmers, fisheries, and other food supply chain businesses to build a truly resilient food system. In the last grant cycle, the application process happened during peak farming season and unfairly limited small farms’ ability to apply for the grant. We added a list of modifications to their ARPA plan to draw the money, such as the proposed deadline not occurring during the peak growing season for farmers (April-October).