Wanted: Members for Hampshire County Food Policy Council

  • In this file photo, bags of food are ready at Jackson Street School for the Community Food Distribution Project. Gazette file photo

Staff Writer
Published: 2/22/2022 8:50:04 PM
Modified: 2/22/2022 8:49:40 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A food policy council for Hampshire County is seeking members to join its fledgling group, established two years ago as a means to address regional food insecurity and a systemic lack of access to healthy food.

The goal of the Hampshire County Food Policy Council, funded by a state grant, is to give people that are experiencing food insecurity decision-making power about the things that are affecting their day-to-day lives, said Kia Aoki, food policy circle coordinator for the council.

“Involvement in a project like this has been profound in ways connected to having power and agency over what we eat and … given power to help facilitate the changes we want to see,” Aoki said.

The idea behind the council came about in 2017 after a food access assessment from Healthy Hampshire, conducted in partnership with Cooley Dickinson Health Care, identified the establishment of an inclusive food policy council as a top priority, according to Caitlin Marquis, Healthy Hampshire program manager and operational coordinator for the council.

The goal was to set up an organization that would give people experiencing food insecurity and others involved in the county’s food system a chance to weigh in on decisions around food insecurity — a voice that many feel they don’t currently have.

The initial partners for the program included Cooley Dickinson Health Care, the Collaborative for Educational Services/Healthy Hampshire, Hilltown Community Health Center and Hilltown Community Development.

The partners, under the leadership of Cooley Dickinson, secured a $555,555 grant in 2020 from the state Health Policy Commission’s Moving Massachusetts Upstream Investment Program. Now, council leaders are looking for community members to join. People who have a stake in the county’s food system in any way — whether they work, live or play in the county — are all eligible to join, Marquis said.

“Systems should serve the people who depend on them,” said Jeff Harness, director of community health and government relations at Cooley Dickinson. “This project, with residents playing a lead role, is off to a strong start. Residents know best what they need and what will work.”

Much like other food policy councils throughout the country, Hampshire County’s council will propose solutions to make local food systems more economically and environmentally sustainable and socially just.

“When I moved back to Hampshire County in 2014, I really wished there was a space to connect with people who cared as deeply about food justice as I did,” Marquis said in a statement. “I spent the next seven years working toward that goal and I could not be more thrilled that the Food Policy Council is finally coming to fruition. The fact that we have spent so much time thinking about how to make the council an inclusive space makes me feel confident that anyone who feels passionate about food justice will be able to find a home there.”

Those interested in joining the council must submit the network interest form, available at bit.ly/3IgeoOs.

Because this initiative was founded on diversity, inclusion and equity, Marquis said it’s important for participants to have an understanding of how to show up in a diverse space, how to interact with others and have an understanding of how they’re interacting.

Interested parties are also encouraged to complete training on sociocracy, or “dynamic governance,” which the council uses as its form of government. Decision-making in sociocracy is distinguished by consent rather than a consensus, which means that things move forward as long as no one objects rather than a need to have everyone in agreement, Marquis said.

“It’s a really complicated structure and has its own language, but everyone that has used it ... has found that it’s a really empowering method of decision-making and organizing,” she said.

Self-guided training is available for sociocracy at the link above.

For more information, contact the council at foodpolicycouncil@collaborative.org.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.

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