“Broadly defined, food policy is a set of collective decisions made by governments at all levels, businesses, and organizations that affect how food gets from the farm to your table. A food policy can be as broad as a federal regulation on food labeling or as local and specific as a zoning law that lets city dwellers raise honeybees. (Winne, 2012)”
The PFPC serves as a collaborative advisory organization, bringing together stakeholders from diverse food-related sectors to examine, develop and improve Pittsburgh’s food system. Working with local, state & federal agencies and communities throughout our region, the council hopes to build a more just and sustainable local food system. Housed in the Penn State Extension Office, the council is an initiative of the University and benefits from the intellectual, administrative and technological resources of Penn State while contributing to Penn State’s food systems and community development foci.
Started by a small group of local leaders, the group began meeting regularly in 2009. Their goal, to explore how they could collaborate to advance a common agenda and priority projects that touched their respective missions. As momentum grew, so did the membership of representative stakeholders. During the past five years the Council has been active! The group has successfully advanced projects such as Just Harvest’s Fresh Access Program; Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank’s and PASA’s Harvest for the Hungry; and the Penn State Extension objective to market CitiParks Farmer’s Markets through a ‘Buy Fresh Buy Local’ Campaign.
Constantly evolving, the PFPC currently consists of over 20 non-profit organizations, urban agriculture and farmer organizations, restaurants, food-sector businesses, universities, nutrition and wellness initiatives and anti-hunger advocacy groups whose work informs the priorities and action of the Council. In 2014, the Council secured funding to hire two staff members; a full-time Director, Dawn Plummer and part-time Outreach Coordinator, Dora Walmsley. Both have ties to social justice and food systems issues, and are in the process of developing a policy agenda in collaboration with Council members. The Council’s Steering Committee consists of leaders from Penn State Extension (Heather Mikulas, chair), Grow Pittsburgh, Just Harvest and Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA).
In the greater Pittsburgh area, the challenges facing our food system include: the fact that nearly half of Pittsburghers do not have access to fresh food and live in what are called “food deserts” due to economic and physical barriers, among others; urban agriculture zoning laws that make it difficult for people to benefit financially from growing their own food or keeping livestock for personal use; and a supply chain that has relatively weak connections to smaller-scale diversified regional farms or is ecologically unsustainable.
What we hope to accomplish is an effective policy agenda that will work to establish a food system that is thoughtful of farmers, livestock, small business owners, and, most importantly, neighbors and communities who face food insecurity in our region.