Event: Growing Regional Food System Opportunity: Capital and Beyond

In partnership with Hope Credit Union Enterprise Corporation, Self-Help Credit Union, and Food Well Alliance, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta's Community and Economic Development team hosted the event Growing Regional Food System Opportunity: Capital and Beyond on April 12, 2018, to discuss health, equity, and the economic impact of community food production.

According to Food Well Alliance's Atlanta Local Food Baseline Report, a food system is the social and spatial relationship between a food producer and its consumer. The five major parts of such systems include production, processing, distribution, consumption, and recovery. The importance of regional food systems is their ability to help build community wealth by sustaining community-based jobs, providing direct marketing channels between farmers and their markets, and even turning vacant tracts of land into productive spaces.

As identified by opening speakers Kim Karris of Food Well Alliance and Kelly Brownell of Duke World Food Policy Center, urban agriculture systems can be used to transform communities by addressing food insecurity and obesity. Both speakers addressed the lack of available data that measures the who, what, when, where, and why of participating in community agriculture (for example, the pounds of food produced, the amount diverted from landfills, the revenue generated from direct farmers' market sales, and the total number of people employed by the farm/garden). Brownell emphasized the need for food systems to be used to alleviate health issues and identified four major disparities: hunger and food insecurity, obesity, agriculture and environment, and food safety and security. Strategic policy could be used to target changing behaviors in communities experiencing any of these disparities, and a focus on early childhood development and nutrition can be instrumental in changing how Americans interact with their food system.

The morning session included a variety of southeastern practitioners from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development, Common Market, and Conetoe Family Life Center. Panel members discussed the need for community self-reliance, human capital development, and technical support, all through an equitable lens. Some states have implemented policies that provide guidelines for smaller producers to work with large food providers, but policies on the link between small agricultural producers and the overall network could be strengthened. For a food system to be successful, the community has to take ownership of the process. Federal entities like the USDA and the CDC can help by creating policies that address technical assistance and improve access to capital.