What is Food Policy?

Food policy is defined as “any decision made by a government agency, business, or organization which affects how food is produced, processed, distributed, purchased and protected,” according to Neil D. Hamilton in Putting a Face on Our Food.

What is a Food Policy Coalition?

Food policy coalitions/councils are comprised of stakeholders from various segments of a local food system. The primary goal of most food policy coalitions/councils is to examine the operation of a local food system and provide ideas and recommendations for improvement through public and institutional policy. A food policy coalition or council can address issues surrounding the following topics, however many policies and projects integrate some of these topic areas, and some represent topics not mentioned below.

  • Food security & access
  • Land-use planning to promote & preserve local food production
  • Institutional support of the local food economy
  • New farmers (urban & rural)
  • Food waste recovery
  • School nutrition programs
  • Transportation, distribution, & value-added processing

In Cleveland-Cuyahoga County, we refer to our FPC as a “coalition” rather than “council” because it is not administered through any government organization, as food policy councils typically are. Merriam-Webster defines a coalition as “a temporary alliance of distinct parties, persons, or states for joint action,” which is a good description of the types of partnerships that develop within the Coalition around policies, programs, and projects.

For a comprehensive list of food policy coalitions/councils across the United States  visit: http://www.foodpolicynetworks.org/directory/


For more information on the scope and scale of Food Policy Councils and Coalitions across the US, visit Mark Winne’s website and check out his 2012 publication Doing Food Policy Councils Right: A guide to development and action. (Mark Winne is a leading authority on FPCs in the US and the co-founder of the now disbanded national Community Food Security Coalition.)

What is a Food System?

A food system is the network of food producers (farmers), food consumers (eaters), and all the industries that link them together. The five key segments of food systems are production, distribution, processing, consumption, and waste recovery.

How does the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition define “food security?”

While food security, like so many community food system concepts, has many working definitions that vary across practitioners and place, the FPC defines it as the ability for all people of varying incomes to secure healthy, fresh, culturally-appropriate and affordable food at all times and to be able to access and use that food through adequate retail venues, transportation amenities and knowledge streams available in the communities they reside.

How does the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition define “local food?”

The 100, 75, 50, 25-mile meal. That’s all local to us! The FPC seeks to engage many different partners whom each have the autonomy to develop their own working definitions of what is local. For this reason, we have not accepted one strict definition of what constitutes local food. By treading neutral on this concept, we feel we can be inclusive to all entities and individuals working towards a more sustainable food system in our region.

Why does the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition focus on local food?

The development of a holistic and diverse local food system fosters direct connections between growers, businesses, organizations, and consumers while addressing larger challenges in health and nutrition, economic development, environmental sustainability, and community vitality.

Cleveland and Cuyahoga County residents are struggling with issues related to food security and health, there is significant and growing interest in local food systems as a means to better health, food security, and economic development, and there is an economic opportunity for Northeast Ohio in leveraging the food purchasing power of local residents. Local Food Policy and systems change can impact the availability and affordability of fresh, healthy food, change land use patterns and preserve farmland, and create economic opportunity in urban markets for local producers. The role of the Coalition is to help coordinate and advance these efforts in a more efficient, effective, and collaborative manner.

What is the geographic focus of the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition?

Our local food system encompasses the geographic regions of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, and more broadly, Northeast Ohio.

How does local food production affect land use?

Given the prolonged population decline in Cleveland, an economic recession, and the continued devastation of the foreclosure crisis, local leaders acknowledge a need for innovation and re-evaluation of community and economic development policies, particularly those policies related to abandoned properties and vacant land. In Cleveland alone, there are approximately 3,500 acres, or 18,000 lots of vacant property. In addition to an increase of available vacant land, Cuyahoga County’s farmland has also vanished at the second highest rate in Ohio, with a decline of 29% from 2002-2007, to the current total of 1,176 acres. Urban agriculture is one innovation that utilizes otherwise vacant land, while increasing the food production and farmland of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. Community gardens in particular produce $2.6 – 3.0 million worth of fresh produce per year in Cuyahoga County, which accounts for over 55 acres of production. Local food production is a great economic use of urban vacant land, and also provides a source of fresh produce in urban areas.

Is there consumer demand for local foods?

Despite the decrease in available farmland, there has been documented rising demand for local food in Greater Cleveland and Ohio in recent years. A 2004 survey by Ohio State University found that 89% of Ohioans indicated they occasionally or frequently purchase locally grown foods, and 50% indicated they would be willing to pay 10% more for local food. In Cleveland, 37% of residents say it is “important or very important” that their food be grown locally in Northeast Ohio. In addition, the number of farmers’ markets has doubled in Northeast Ohio and jumped from one producers’ market in Cleveland in 2005 to 11 in 2010. The potential impact is significant when one considers that Northeast Ohioans spend an estimated $9.2 billion on food purchases and consumption. Presently few of these dollars support local farmers or local food businesses in the region – estimates range from 1% to 5%. Just a 10% shift in the 16-county region could result in a billion dollars a year in increased local spending, and numerous studies show that money spent in the local economy circulates through the area much more than dollars spent on the products offered by corporations based far away. Because food connects all of us and because there will always be a demand for food in any region, there is an opportunity to transform the regional economy through the creation of a local and sustainable food system through policies and programs that support it.

Do the residents in your geography have trouble securing food?

Although demand for local foods is rising, availability of fresh, healthy, and affordable food in urban neighborhoods is decreasing, thus creating a “food gap.” According to a Cuyahoga County Planning Commission assessment in 2008, fast food is 4.5 times more accessible than larger-scale supermarkets throughout Cleveland and 3 times more accessible throughout the county, and only 21% of Cleveland adults report adequate daily fruit and veggie consumption. In a study conducted by the Food Policy Coalition in 2009, Food Deserts were identified across various areas of Cleveland, particularly in Glenville, Hough, and Central neighborhoods. These are areas where residents are geographically located far distances from the nearest grocery store, and also have low access to transportation. Furthermore, fresh, healthy food has also become more expensive. The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the inflation adjusted cost of highly processed foods made from high calorie commodities dropped 10% from 1982-2008. During the same period, the price of fruits and vegetables increased by 50%. This is a major problem for many residents of Cleveland. By looking at the chart at the right, one can see the high rates of poverty and negative health indicators in the city and, to a lesser extent, in the surrounding county. It has become difficult for certain residents to afford the types of nutrients that would be most helpful in preventing or diminishing the effects of diet-related chronic diseases. Increasing prices coupled with rising unemployment and an economic recession have made it even more challenging to secure healthy food. This is evidenced by a rise in the number of Food Assistance Program recipients. From 2009 to 2010, there was a 24% increase in the number of food stamp recipients in Cuyahoga County, and in Cleveland there was an 18% increase in the number of food stamp recipients. A 2009 American Heart Association Survey found that 29% of Americans are purchasing fewer fruits, vegetables, and other perishable food items due to financial concerns.

How is public health affected by food security?

One of the results of the environmental and economic conditions of food insecurity is an alarming rate of preventable chronic diseases and conditions, including obesity and diabetes. A recent Robert Wood Johnson Report (F is for Fat released in July 2010) ranked Ohio #13 in the nation for adult obesity (29%) and documented a rising disparity between racial and ethnic groups, with 40% of African-Americans, 33% of Latinos, and 28% of whites classified as obese. Ohio’s youth are 12th in the nation with respect to obesity, with 18.5% of Ohio’s children identified as obese. In Cleveland, 10.8% of residents have been diagnosed with diabetes and 33.8% are obese.

Why should the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition promote food access?

Many inner-city neighborhoods can be considered “food deserts,” where residents lack access to foods needed to support a healthy diet. Locally-based food systems can foster increased connections between local growers and urban residents, adding to the availability of healthy foods. By addressing issues of Food Access, the FPC has the opportunity to improve the health and nutrition of community residents, and create a more sustainable food supply system for residents of any income level.

How can a local food system affect health and nutrition?

A local food system can increase the quantity and availability of fresh fruits and vegetables and other less-processed products. Access to these healthier foods can balance the tendencies in our society to eat highly processed “fast foods” that cause heart disease, diabetes, and other diet-related illnesses. Moreover, a holistic local food system may be leveraged to improve institutional nutrition standards (e.g. schools, hospitals, employers, etc.)

How can a local food system affect community development?

Creating a mix of businesses, farmers markets, community supported agriculture networks, community and market gardens, and other outlets for local food can improve health in neighborhoods while creating spaces for social mixing and commerce to enhance urban communities. Additionally, the FPC leverages critical community partners like community development corporations and community leaders to partner on projects that will improve the local food system of our region, while benefiting and developing the local community. Additionally, with more than $3 billion spent annually on food in Cuyahoga County, there are many entrepreneurial opportunities in food production, distribution, processing, and restaurant or food service operations, which can economically develop a community.

How can a local food system promote environmental sustainability?

Because most food consumed in Ohio is processed and distributed from outside of the state, increasing the use of local food can reduce reliance on fossil-based energy and related carbon emissions by decreasing “food miles” or the distance traveled between food production and consumption. Additionally, many of the foods that are locally produced are produced organically, or by other methods that reduce the use of fossil fuel-based fertilizers and pesticides, and preserve the nutrient content and health of the soil. These growing techniques can reduce our negative impact on the earth’s land, water, and atmospheric systems, and can create a positive impact on urban community development and health.

How can a local food system connect rural and urban communities?

Local food systems foster deeper social and economic ties between urban and rural populations while building a stronger regional economy. In our own economy and community, a local food system can improve the ties between Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, and Northeast Ohio, and can better the relationships between producer and consumer in both urban and rural areas.

How can I get involved with the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition?

The Food Policy Coalition hosts quarterly convenings on relevant and current topics in the food system. If you are interested in learning more about food systems, and getting involved in the Food Policy Coalition, these forums are a great way to engage.