Tompkins Weekly 8-8-21
By Katie Hallas and Don Barber
Food Policy Council (FPC) of Tompkins County is a grassroots Good Food advocacy group created in 2016 with representatives from all facets of our food system: production, food access and security, retail, consumption and waste.
In 2020, in partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County, we embarked on the development of a communitywide planning process to develop Tompkins County’s first-ever Community Food System Plan (FSP).
This two-year planning process, titled, “Tompkins Food Future,” aims to lay the foundation for a more sustainable, equitable, affordable and healthy food system for all residents of Tompkins County.
Funded by the Tompkins County Legislature and the Community Foundation of Tompkins County, our goal is to develop a comprehensive long-term plan for a stronger local food system. Reversing corporate concentration while eliminating policies and practices that reinforce differential outcomes by social identities such as race, class, gender and others is critical for creating a fair and sustainable food system.
We can choose a different future if we put control of our food systems back in the hands of the people, particularly local, small-scale food producers and those most impacted by food system challenges. See more and learn how to get involved at our website: tompkinsfoodfuture.org.
The FSP development is in two phases. Phase 1 is the documentation of our current food system challenges and opportunities through a baseline assessment. Phase 2 is development of the community’s vision for our food future in the form of a food system action plan.
The FPC has created a Food System Planning Team that has guided the process of data collection while also having hundreds of conversations with stakeholders and residents throughout the county. While this work is ongoing, we are now focusing on creating executive summaries of these sections to share with the community.
We will share the results of this work at a community gathering and continue the community engagement process of visioning our food future. The event will be held Sept. 29 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at the Ithaca Farmers Market at Steamboat Landing. All are invited. Please RSVP at: tompkinsfoodfuture.org/rsvp.
Thus far, the data, survey responders, vulnerable residents and stakeholders tend to agree that a living wage is crucial to eating healthfully, food is too expensive, transportation is lacking, and food assistance is not easy enough to access nor does it support a dignified, sovereign population.
Food insecurity impacts 11.6% of adults and 13.3% of children in Tompkins County. Food insecure families need an additional $7 million to have enough food (“Map the Meal Gap,” Feeding America 2019). Hotspots of food insecurity exist throughout the county, with Enfield, Trumansburg and Groton experiencing the greatest use of SNAP benefits and greatest lack of access.
Food insecurity exists both in and outside of poverty, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic increasing food insecurity and shining a light on long-standing inequities. A recent study by Horn Research LLC found the people most at risk of food insecurity in Tompkins are: unhoused people; some rural residents and seniors with limited transportation; families with children, especially with single mothers; low-income individuals; and historically marginalized Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) residents.
Surveys in late 2020 and early 2021 completed by nearly 1,000 residents found that residents facing food insecurity have reduced the amount of food eaten, worried about not having enough food, run out of food, borrowed money to buy food and shared the effort or cost of getting food with others.
An overwhelming response was that those facing food insecurity reduced the quality of food eaten, which has been shown to create or exacerbate health problems for our neighbors already financially stressed.
When asked why they did not have the food they wanted, 11% cited “not enough money,” while 21% cited “not enough time for cooking or shopping.” Notably, food access and security was the highest priority issue, with 59% of respondents stating that making sure everyone has enough food/reducing food insecurity should be the number-one focus in our community.
When asked about barriers, food pantry patrons cited, “not enough money for food,” “transportation issues” and “lack of information,” as their biggest challenges. One person shared:
“I’m concerned about access to affordable healthy food. I prefer local and organic, but I don’t want to be picky about free food.”
Our work identified these food security assets: the plethora of food pantries and food assistance programs, collaboration between pantries and local businesses, strong volunteer base, some public funding support, and strong local donor interest.
Our work identified these barriers to food access: dietary restrictions (healthy, religious and preference), money, cooking facilities and equipment, cooking skills, limited mobility, transportation, trouble getting information about affordable/free food and the hidden but ever-present structural racism.
When it comes to food security, the local reality in Tompkins County is characterized by a mix of strengths, as well as many specific and unique challenges. One of the most frequently cited concerns we heard during interviews and focus groups was: How can so many people in our community still be struggling with food security given the abundance of resources, programs, and free and low-cost food?
A local nonprofit director responded:
“I think that there is availability of food. It’s just coordinating it better — working with farmers, restaurants. We have the resources; it’s just that we aren’t using [them]. Find a way to get food to people. We need to work better as a community to make that food available”
Food access organization volunteers and employees have provided suggestions to support better coordination of emergency food efforts, which are the last line of defense in the battle for increased food security.
What are your innovative ideas to provide dignified access to affordable food, reduce dependence on emergency feeding systems, and improve the free/reduced-price grocery and pantry options available in Tompkins County?
The great majority of food consumed in the county comes from beyond our borders. Our food system relies on the global food system. Pervasive climate uncertainty promises food uncertainty and system instability.
Our ability to access food in Tompkins County depends upon a vast global network of producers who use a wide array of means to safely transport perishable and staple items to us. Worldwide, these systems are under threat from shifting temperatures, extreme weather and rising seas.
Currently, 75% of the world’s food comes from just 12 types of plants and five different animal species. Crops are increasingly under threat from extreme weather and the resulting pests that thrive in a changing climate. “High-temperature stress is predicted to result in global yield losses of 45%, 52%, and 25% in corn, spring wheat and soybean, respectively, late in the century,” according to “Our Changing Menu,” Hoffman, et al.
Because we are all eaters, we’re all part of the food system. All Tompkins County residents are invited and welcome to join this community effort to bring about much-needed change to our local food system. To join the Food Policy Council, volunteer for the Food System Planning Team, or simply to share and learn more, visit tompkinsfoodfuture.org/get-involved or email Katie Hallas kh***@co*****.edu.