What’s on Our Menu: Policies to Lead By

20130611policyblog The Ecology Center is perhaps best known for our local, service-oriented work. But as we’ve created infrastructure and piloted projects, we have frequently found ourselves at government’s door, advocating for policy changes that would stop harmful practices and allow our positive, local solutions to scale up. Even in this jaded age of low government expectations, policy is a vital arena in which to participate. After decades of gridlock, Democrats now hold a supermajority in the California legislature. This window of opportunity for rapid change has added urgency to our involvement. Here’s a sampling of policy issues in which the Ecology Center is engaged. Donate today to strengthen these efforts.

The Local Level
The Ecology Center hosts the Berkeley Food Policy Council, which is working to save Berkeley Public Schools’ Gardens and Cooking Programs. We are participating on the superintendent’s advisory committee, educating and encouraging the school board to support the program, and building a local base of vocal advocates. The Gardens and Cooking Programs are a jewel in Berkeley’s crown. For 15 years the program has served as a model for the rest of the country, helping kids and families fight obesity while improving learning readiness, academic
performances, and engagement.

The Ecology Center facilitates the Berkeley Climate Action Coalition. Through the coalition’s working groups, we are engaging local government to make changes to hasten climate change mitigation and adaptation. The Community Choice Energy Working Group is planning an informational community workshop for residents and councilmembers, to explore strategies that would enable Berkeley to purchase more power from clean, renewable sources. At the same time, the Land Use Working Group is working with City staffers to forge a replicable process by which residents can establish new community gardens and maximize urban food production.

The State Level
This spring, the Ecology Center held a free panel discussion on what fracking means in California and beyond, and what you can do to stop it. Leaders in the anti-fracking battle explained the tremendous risks, from contaminated aquifers, to increased greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and even earthquakes. In late April, the Natural Resources Committee voted to halt this controversial method of oil and gas extraction until California can examine the threats posed to public health and the environment. The Ecology Center continues to alert our members to key moments to contact representatives.

The Ecology Center is participating in the California Food Policy Council, which is making certain that state obesity prevention campaigns contain a strong “farm to fork” link, stressing access to local, safe, and sustainable food sources. The Council is developing a Good Food Report Card that tracks state lawmakers’ decisions on key bills affecting the alternative food system. Let’s hold them accountable!

This year, the Ecology Center launched CAFMA, the California Farmers’ Markets Alliance. We got off to a strong start, holding regional workshops to gather information and consensus on what farmers’ markets across the state want and need. Right out of the gate, new state legislation was proposed that dictates how certified farmers’ markets are regulated. CAFMA members were able to coordinate and communicate their desires, resulting in a better bill that improves enforcement of direct marketing laws and helps farmers’ markets thrive into the future.

The Federal Level
The Ecology Center wants healthy food to be affordable and accessible to everyone. Unfortunately, low-nutrient, high-calorie food is cheap, and nutrient-dense, low-calorie food is expensive in this country, due in part to dysfunctional federal food policy. As a result, obesity and diet-related illness are rampant among people on tight budgets. Our farmers’ markets were the first to enable people who receive food assistance to shop at farmers’ markets using EBT cards (the modern equivalent of food stamps). This past decade, we have helped hundreds of farmers’ markets across California to do the same thing.

Now we’re establishing an exciting new incentive program in California called “Market Match.” It’s designed to make food assistance dollars go twice as far at farmers’ markets. It’s a win-win-win: helping low-income shoppers to afford more healthy food while supporting California’s small farms and stimulating the local economy. This past January, we took leadership of expanding Market Match in California. Already, we’ve helped to connect 550,000 individuals and families receiving food assistance with 150 certified farmers’ markets in LA County!

At the same time, we are working with partners across the US to get food assistance incentives like Market Match incorporated in to the Farm Bill that is now under construction. As members of the National Fresh Food Incentives Working Group, we are informing federal lawmakers from California – especially those on the House Agricultural Committee – about how successful the federal food assistance programs EBT and WIC have been at California Farmers’Markets. Our national working group has been able to get $100 million for fresh food incentives through both the House and Senate agricultural committees. We must keep up the pressure to ensure that these programs remain in the Farm Bill as it moves forward.

The Ecology Center is committed to providing leadership for lasting change. Sometimes that means moving government to work for all people and the environment. It gives our on-the-ground programs added meaning if we can change the greater landscape so that responsible practices proliferate. Our members are crucial to this endeavor. Please donate to the Ecology Center today, and continue to use your citizen muscle to make government reflective of our best ideals.

[Photo by Brian Finifter on Flickr]


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