UC Food Blog
In a growing number of communities, food policy councils (also called “food system alliances”) have emerged to address gaps in local policies that focus on food. Most communities have transportation, housing or land use policies, but food policies are frequently missing. Food policy councils (FPCs) are an important way to bring community members together with local government to promote the social, economic and environmental health of local and regional food systems.
Food policy councils are made up of representatives from many sectors in the food system, including farmers, distributors, retailers, food service operations, government agencies (like public health, county social services and county agriculture departments), and community organizations that work in the food system. Some FPCs also develop close partnerships with county-based UC Cooperative Extension to help facilitate their work.
FPCs support a variety of food and agriculture-related policies and programs, including healthy food access, land use planning, regional food procurement, food waste, food and economic development, local food processing, and regulations related to urban farming or community gardening, to name a few examples.
A brief history of food policy councils
FPCs emerged in the late 1980s as the sustainable agriculture and food/nutrition movements began to pay more attention to community food systems. Early FPCs were created through resolutions of local government bodies (Clancy et al 2008). At that time, they tended to be embedded within government, much like a planning commission or a social service commission. As the local food movement began to rapidly expand in the 2000s, many local activists and organizations began to create FPCs as a way to bring together a more diverse group of food system stakeholders. These newer generation FPCs were typically organized outside of government as a non-profit organization or community coalition. Studies of FPCs, including our own, find that they take very diverse organizational forms and tackle widely varying issues, which means that generalizations about their goals and outcomes are difficult to make. This may be quite appropriate however, given the enduring FPC goal of tailoring food policies to the specific characteristics of particular places.
A UC ANR research project is looking at how FPCs work
While FPCs are increasingly on the radar of those trying to promote food system change, we still don't have much recent documented evidence about the actual work of FPCs (though see Harper et al. 2009, Fox 2010 and Borron 2003). In response, a team of UC Cooperative Extension researchers (Clare Gupta, Julia Van Soelen Kim, Dave Campbell, Jennifer Sowerwine, Gail Feenstra, Shosha Capps and Kate Munden-Dixon) began a comparative study of 10 California food policy councils in 2016. We wanted to know this: what are the networks and relationships that FPCs are a part of? And how do these networks and relationships influence what a FPC is able to achieve? As UCCE researchers ourselves, we were especially interested in understanding the nature of relationships between FPCs and university researchers, including UC Cooperative Extension.
To answer these questions, we interviewed more than 60 FPC members from food policy councils across California. We asked them about the work they were doing within their councils, their relationships with other players in the local food system, and the way they find information relevant for their council's priorities. We also led focus groups with members exploring the same questions. In addition, we analyzed documents produced by and about FPCs. We also engaged in “participant observation” — researcher lingo for the process of engaging with groups and individuals as a way to learn first-hand about what they do. Lastly, we combined the stories we heard from our interviewees with numerical data from a survey of nearly all of California's known FPCs. We hoped by doing this to develop a better picture of FPCs' strategies for gathering relevant information, networking and creating impact.
Our Research Findings
A full report of our findings can be found on the UC SAREP website, but here we share some key takeaways and strategies for FPC success:
- Respondents see information sharing as the most valuable FPC activity. It encourages collaboration and shifts participant thinking towards a more holistic view of food policy work.
- Members who are “knowledge brokers,,” including Cooperative Extension advisors, are connected to many different knowledge sources and are able to draw on these different sources to provide data and information that match their council's needs.
- Real-life experiences are often as compelling with policy-makers as statistics. FPCs cite the value of integrating information from numbers (i.e. quantitative data) and stories (i.e. qualitative data).
- There is no one-size-fits-all approach to FPC membership. Some FPCs view food system change as a process that involves a broad and inclusive consortium of stakeholders. They try to bring stakeholders with diverse values together (i.e., a “big tent” approach). Other FPCs emphasize attracting allies who share core values and a commitment to advocacy on behalf of food systems change (i.e., a “small tent” approach).
- Small sub-groups within FPCs can achieve significant policy change. A targeted sub-group of the FPC (i.e. working group; task force, campaign) can work with key allies to push forward a particular policy priority—the entire council does not necessarily have to be entirely involved.
- Effective FPCs have strong leaders. These leaders have deep experience and connections in the community and a good feel for the nuances involved in effective political organizing.
Overall, we found that the work of FPCs at the local and state level is making a significant difference in our state, providing a meaningful way to pursue food systems policy and change. Our recent article in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems and Community Development specifically highlights how local government and FPCs collaborate to shape food policies and programs in different local contexts. Stay tuned for more results from our work.
We would love to hear from you about whether our findings resonate in your own food policy council, or if you have ideas for next research steps.
Want to get involved in local food system policy-making? Join a food policy council! See reports by Food First or Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future's Food Policy Networks for additional information.
Clancy, K., Hammer, J., & Lippoldt, D. (2008). Food policy councils-past, present, and future. In Remaking the North American Food System: Strategies for Sustainability (pp. 121-143). University of Nebraska Press.
Borron, S.M. 2003. Food Policy Councils: Practice and Possibility. Congressional Hunger Center Hunger-Free Community Report.
Fox, C. 2010. Food Policy Councils: Innovations in Democratic Governance for a Sustainable and Equitable Food System. Los Angeles Food Policy Task Force unpublished report.
Harper, A., Shattuck, A., E. Holt-Gimenez, Alkon, A., and F. Lambrick. 2009. Food Policy Councils: Lessons Learned. Food First: Institute for Food and Development Policy.
Farmers know they lose crops to pests and plant diseases, but scientists have found that on a global scale they are reducing crop yields for five major food crops by 10 percent to 40 percent, according to a report by a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources scientist and other members of the International Society for Plant Pathology. Wheat, rice, maize, soybean and potato yields are reduced by pathogens and animal pests, including insects, scientists found in a global survey of crop health experts.
At a global scale, pathogens and pests are causing wheat losses of 10 percent to 28 percent, rice losses of 25 percent to 41 percent, maize losses of 20 percent to 41 percent, potato losses of 8 percent to 21 percent, and soybean losses of 11 percent to 32 percent, according to the study, published in the journal Nature, Ecology & Evolution.
“We are losing a significant amount of food on a global scale to pests and diseases at a time when we must increase food production to feed a growing population,” said co-author Neil McRoberts, co-leader of UC ANR's Sustainable Food Systems Strategic Initiative and Agricultural Experiment Station researcher and professor in the Department of Plant Pathology at UC Davis.
While plant diseases and pests are widely considered an important cause of crop losses, and sometimes a threat to the food supply, precise figures on these crop losses are difficult to produce.
“One reason is because pathogens and pests have co-evolved with crops over millennia in the human-made agricultural systems,” write the authors on the study's website globalcrophealth.org. “As a result, their effects in agriculture are very hard to disentangle from the complex web of interactions within cropping systems. Also, the sheer number and diversity of plant diseases and pests makes quantification of losses on an individual pathogen or pest basis, for each of the many cultivated crops, a daunting task.”
“We conducted a global survey of crop protection experts on the impacts of pests and plant diseases on the yields of five of the world's most important carbohydrate staple crops and are reporting the results,” McRoberts said. “This is a major achievement and a real step forward in being able to accurately assess the impact of pests and plant diseases on crop production.”
The researchers surveyed several thousand crop health experts on five major food crops – wheat, rice, maize, soybean and potato – in 67 countries.
“We chose these five crops since together they provide about 50 percent of the global human calorie intake,” the authors wrote on the website. The 67 countries grow 84 percent of the global production of wheat, rice, maize, soybean and potato.
Top pests and diseases
The study identified 137 individual pathogens and pests that attack the crops, with very large variation in the amount of crop loss they caused. For wheat, leaf rust, Fusarium head blight/scab, tritici blotch, stripe rust, spot blotch, tan spot, aphids and powdery mildew caused losses higher than 1 percent globally. In rice, sheath blight, stem borers, blast, brown spot, bacterial blight, leaf folder and brown plant hopper did the most damage. In maize, Fusarium and Gibberella stalk rots, fall armyworm, northern leaf blight, Fusarium and Gibberella ear rots, anthracnose stalk rot and southern rust caused the most loss globally. In potatoes, late blight, brown rot, early blight and cyst nematode did the most harm. In soybeans, cyst nematode, white mold, soybean rust, Cercospora leaf blight, brown spot, charcoal rot and root knot nematodes caused global losses higher than 1 percent.
“Our results highlight differences in impacts among crop pathogens and pests and among food security hotspots,” McRoberts said. “But we also show that the highest losses appear associated with food-deficit regions with fast-growing populations, and frequently with emerging or re-emerging pests and diseases.”
“For chronic pathogens and pests, we need to redouble our efforts to deliver more efficient and sustainable management tools, such as resistant varieties,” McRoberts said. For emerging or re-emerging pathogens and pests, urgent action is needed to contain them and generate longer term solutions.”
The website globalcrophealth.org features maps showing how many people responded to the survey across different regions of the world.
In addition to McRoberts, the research team included lead author Serge Savary, chair of the ISPP Committee on Crop Loss, epidemiologists Paul Esker at Pennsylvania State University and Sarah Pethybridge at Cornell University, Laetitia Willocquet at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research in Toulouse, France, and Andy Nelson at the University of Twente in The Netherlands.
Thirteen-year-old Celeste Harrison, a fourth-year member of the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club, Vallejo, shares her expertise about chili and cavies (guinea pigs), but she's also a pro in the kitchen and at making a dessert called “Chocoflan.”
It's part cake, part flan.
The chocolate dessert recipe originates “from my Great-Aunt Esther and it's what we serve at all our family gatherings,” she said.
It's a winning one, at that. And just in time for Valentine's Day.
Celeste baked the dessert for the recent Solano County 4-H Project Skills Day — where 4-H'ers share what they're learned in their projects — and her presentation and recipe earned a showmanship award, one of seven awarded.
Last year she won a showmanship pin for her project, “Curls Just Want to Have Fun: How to Care for Your Curly Haired Guinea Pig.”
Celeste, a seventh-grader is active in 4-H. She serves as the treasurer of her 4-H club and last year served as a Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) officer in the Solano County 4-H Program. This year she's enrolled in five projects: cavies, poultry, dogs, record keeping and rabbits.
Always eager to learn, Celeste decided to “take dogs, rabbits and poultry so I can learn showmanship,” she said, noting that she competed in the Round Robin Small Animal Showmanship at two county fairs last year but was inexperienced at showing animals other than cavies. So this year's she's set her sights on learning more about them. Her goal: to place first in Round Robin.
No stranger to the kitchen, Celeste served as a member of the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club's Chili Cook-Off team for the last two years in the Solano County 4-H Project Skills Day.
This year, however, she turned from chili to chocoflan. The evaluators loved it! So did the 4-H'ers and their families who sampled it.
Here's the recipe:
A bundt pan, deep roasting pan, blender, large bowl and a hand mixer are needed for this recipe.
Ingredients for flan:
A 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
A 7.6-ounce can of Media Crema (light cream)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 ounces of cream cheese
Ingredients for chocolate cake:
2 cups white sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon of salt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup hot water
Put an oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Coat a bundt pan with cooking oil spray.
Sift flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine eggs, milk, vegetable oil, vanilla and cocoa mixture and beat with a hand mixer for two minutes. Add the wet mixture in increments of one cup into flour mixture until thoroughly combined. Stir cocoa powder into hot water until melted and then stir into cake mix and set aside.
In a blender, add in all flan ingredients and blend on high until smooth. Pour cake batter into a bundt pan (make sure surface is level). Pour flan mixture into the cake batter but do not mix (it will sink to the bottom of the bundt pan while in the oven).
Put chocoflan into a large roasting pan and fill the pan with about 2 inches of warm water. Spray a piece of aluminum foil with cooking spray and set it on top of the bundt pan (but do not fold it over the bundt pan.) Bake for one hour and 45 minutes. Remove cake from oven and let cool before inverting it onto a serving platter. Enjoy.
Solano County 4-H Program
The Solano County 4-H Youth Development Program, part of the UC Cooperative Extension Program, follows the motto, “Making the Best Better.” 4-H, which stands for head, heart, health and hands, is open to youths ages 5 to 19. In age-appropriate projects, they learn skills through hands-on learning in projects ranging from arts and crafts, computers and leadership to dog care, poultry, rabbits and woodworking. They develop skills they would otherwise not attain at home or in public or private schools. For more information about Solano County 4-H, contact 4-H program representative Valerie Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org.
New parents returning to work after the birth of a child face a lot of questions and uncertainties, particularly around breastfeeding. Should I continue to breastfeed? Will there be a space for me to pump milk in private? What will my boss and co-workers say? How many times should I pump when I am away from my baby?
Recognizing the importance of breastfeeding to the health of both parent and child, California recently passed AB 1976 to strengthen protections for working parents that want to continue to breastfeed and need to express milk (i.e., pump) at work. Starting on Jan. 1, 2019, employers must make reasonable efforts to provide a private area to pump that is not a bathroom or face fines and penalties. Prior to 2019, some employers would designate a bathroom as their lactation room, a practice that was technically “ok” so long as the toilet was behind a stall or other barrier. Now that practice is expressly prohibited and employers will need to find another space to accommodate lactating employees.
So, what happens when an employer cannot provide a permanent, private area due to operational or financial conditions? Many new parents might find themselves in just this position. Agricultural workers or field researchers may not work in a traditional office or they may find themselves at off-site locations for a large percentage of their work day. At UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, many employees travel across multiple counties delivering community health education lessons at various sites. AB 1976 includes provisions for setting up temporary lactation locations so long as the space is private, only used for that purpose while the employee is expressing milk, and otherwise meets the requirements of state law concerning lactation (again, it cannot be a bathroom).
Lactation locations when out in the field
To be compliant with state law, avoid fines and penalties and support the health of their employees, employers may need to set-up a temporary lactation station for their workers. AB 1976 specifically states that agricultural employers are compliant if they provide a “private, enclosed, and shaded space, including, but not limited to, an air-conditioned cab of a truck or tractor.”
One solution is to assemble a mobile lactation unit that employees can check out or reserve based on their pumping schedule. Mobile lactation stations can take many forms, however, some basics that should be included in a lactation unit are listed and itemized below.
Privacy screens and supplies
To be compliant, the space needs to be private and free from intrusion. When setting up the mobile station in a vehicle, you will need to have privacy screens that fit all vehicle windows front, back and sides. There are many options on the market ranging in price from $20 on up. When ordering window shades, you will need to know the make and model of the vehicle.
- Privacy screens for front, back and side windows (4 total, $21 each) = $84
- Signage and door locks to prevent intrusion or knocking
Food safety supplies
Remember, breast milk is food. Helping your employee keep their expressed breast milk safe for their baby will result in less illness and less time off work. Some basics:
- Sanitizing surface wipes: These will be used to sanitize the space including the seat, dashboard or other surfaces that may come in contact with the lactation equipment. Large container of surface sanitizing wipes = $5
- Hand sanitizing wipes: Unless there is always a sink in close proximity, your employee will want to wash their hands before and after pumping. If their hands are very dirty they will need to have a place where they can remove all dirt and debris before using the hand sanitizing wipes. Hand sanitizing wipes = $4
- Cooler bag, ice pack and thermometer for the employee to store the expressed milk safely. The cooler size and number of ice packs needed will depend on the conditions where the milk will be stored. A small cooler with one ice pack will heat up quickly on a hot day. The thermometer will give the employee peace of mind that the milk stayed below 40 degrees and is safe for the child. Leaving/storing a cooler with expressed milk in the trunk or interior of car will increase the temperature in the cooler more quickly. Instead, find a shaded location when possible. 1 cooler bag (approx. $15) + ice packs (approx. $8) + cooler thermometer (approx. $2) = $25
- Backpack or bag: To store these items when the lactation space is being used for other purposes (e.g., driving), you will need a backpack or bag. Costs can vary, however, the bag should be large enough to fully contain all of the items and ensure that they are not contaminated by other materials that may be placed around or near the supplies. You will want it to have a zipper and an easy-to-clean material on the outside and inside (e.g., vinyl or plastic-coated fabric). Cost is variable $5 to $150 depending on your style and budget needs.
- Closed trash receptacle for all used cleaning wipes. Approx. $5
Support for breastfeeding employees is not only a company perk, it's the law. Under certain circumstances, employers can set-up these mobile lactation stations for their field-based employees for under $150. What better way to promote employee health, avoid fines and penalties and support local families?
Farmers grow lettuce, spinach, broccoli and other vegetables in California's Imperial Valley, Central Valley, Salinas Valley and far northern counties. However, these nutritious foods are not readily available to local low income communities.
“Children often don't have access to healthy food options,” said Christopher Gomez Wong, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition educator in Imperial County. “I'm from the Imperial Valley and often the fruits and vegetables grown here are not sold in local markets.”
According to the non-profit organization Feeding America, almost 2.5 million young people in the United States do not have access to nutritious food.
“In California, one of every six children lives in a home where it's difficult to get the amount of nutritious food needed for their families,” said Lorrene Ritchie, director of the UC Nutrition Policy Institute. “We call this ‘food insecurity.'”
A study by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) found that food insecurity increases school absences and behavioral problems, and reduces children's concentration and academic achievement.
Ritchie, who leads a group of experts fighting obesity and food insecurity, said when family income is not sufficient, there is a tendency to buy cheaper foods, generally, junk food.
“If I'm hungry and I don't have much money, I'm going to a fast food restaurant where I can get more calories at a lower price,” Ritchie said. “Fast foods have more calories and cost less, but they typically also contain more sugar, salt and fat.”
For example, research presented at the UC ANR Statewide Conference on food insecurity included a graphic showing that for one dollar, consumers can purchase a bag of potato chips with 1,200 calories or a soda with 875 calories. In contrast, one dollar can buy just 250 calories of fresh vegetables or 170 calories of fresh fruit.
In everyday life, there are many examples of nutritious foods being displaced by junk foods
“We are studying children's eating habits,” Gomez Wong said. “Children aren't eating in the cafeteria and are eating lots of sweets. Five dollars more often buys them chips and a soda than a salad.”
UC ANR works to combat food insecurity in many ways. It implements various ongoing community programs, conducts research and promotes government nutrition programs.
Urban gardens and orchards have a positive impact in low income communities, particularly where families do not have space for their own gardens and are interested in growing their own food. One example is the Community Settlement Association in Riverside. Other cities with similar programs are Sacramento, San Jose, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.
UC Master Food Preserver Program teaches the public how to preserve food by canning, freezing and drying in order to take advantage lower prices for fruit and vegetables purchased in season.
Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) offers free nutrition workshops in most California counties where people can learn how to purchase nutritious foods for less money and how to prepare them.
In addition, there are successful government programs, such as the National School Lunch Program, that provides nutritious foods free or at a reduced cost for children in public schools. The food is aligned with the national food guidelines that promote the consumption of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat milk.
“Every study we have done shows that school food contributes in an important way to children's nutrition,” Ritchie said. “For example, many children can meet half of their daily nutrition needs from school foods available absolutely free. I encourage all families to review school food programs to assure that their children arrive at school in time for the school breakfast and take advantage of the school lunch.”
“What we are trying to figure out is how to create an environment in which healthy options are the easiest options,” Ritchie said.
She said it would be ideal if supermarkets were designed under in concert with the healthy eating guidelines set forth in MyPlate. That is to say, to have stores where half the space is devoted to fruit and vegetables, a third is grains and whole grains, and another third are proteins, dairy foods and water (although water is not currently on MyPlate.)