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DFPC engages candidates on food system issues

By Cheryl A. Simon
Special to the Michigan Citizen

On Nov. 5, Detroiters will go to the polls to elect a new mayor as well as nine city council members.  For the first time in more than 100 years, we will elect seven council members by district and two city-wide council members.

In order to engage both Detroit residents and the candidates, the Detroit Food Policy Council asked all the candidates to answer six questions related to food and the food system in Detroit.  Fourteen of the 20 candidates, including both candidates for mayor responded to our survey.

The candidates’ responses have been published in the DFPC’s voters’ guide.  The guide was distributed at many of the candidate forums held over the past month.

The first two questions on the survey related to the city’s food security policy adopted by the city council in 2008. The policy contains recommendations related to the food system in Detroit across eight focus areas: current access to quality food in Detroit, hunger and malnutrition, impacts/effects of an inadequate diet, citizen education, economic injustice in the food system, urban agriculture, the role of schools and other public institutions, and emergency response. It also provided the framework for the establishment of the Detroit Food Policy Council

The policy’s preamble reads: “Community food security can be defined as the condition which exists when all of the members of a community have access, in close proximity, to adequate amounts of nutritious, culturally appropriate food at all times from sources that are environmentally sound and just.  This food security policy was developed to affirm the city of Detroit’s commitment to nurturing the development of a food secure city in which all of its citizens are hunger-free, healthy and benefit from the food systems that impact their lives.  This policy also affirms the city of Detroit’s commitment to supporting sustainable food systems that provide people with high quality food, employment, and that also contribute to the long-term well-being of the environment.”

The document is organized by a statement of the issues, followed by actions needed to address those issues.

In spite of many changes in leadership in our city, both in the mayor’s office and the city council, the DFPC has sought to work with our elected and appointed government leaders and their staffs.

We have had some successes. Through a partnership with the staff of the city planning commission, the DFPC and members of the community, the city passed its first urban agriculture ordinances earlier this year. We are currently working with the planning and development department on policies and procedures related to the sale of city-owned land for agricultural purposes.

But, there is more work to be done.  There is a growing cadre of local entrepreneurs who have started or would like to start food businesses in the city. We need to have policies and procedures for business licensing and permits that are clear, fair and transparent.  Fees need to be competitive with other communities.

In addition, there are far too many residents who do not have access to quality food in Detroit.  We know some of the solutions are more farmers’ markets, better grocery stores, more information about food, cooking and health. We will work to create and implement policies that accomplish these goals. We also need to support others who are advocating for better transportation, a stronger safety net and employment opportunities as part of our work.

And, perhaps the biggest challenge, creating a food system with racial equity at its core. We must come to understand by studying history, many of the policies and practices of our institutions have most negatively impacted people of color and low-income communities.  There are structural barriers to equity that must be addressed.

As we approach this election, we encourage every resident to find out about the mayoral and city council candidates and to vote on Nov. 5.

To the candidates, the Detroit Food Policy Council stands ready to work with each of you to build a food system in Detroit that is healthy, green and fair.

Cheryl A. Simon is a Detroit resident and Detroit Food Policy Council Coordinator.  For more information about the DFPC, visit www.detroitfoodpc.org. To read the DFPC’s voters’ guide,  follow us on Facebook, send us an email at detroitfoodpolicycouncil@gmail.com or call us at 313.833.0396.   

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