So, I went to a presentation about food deserts yesterday, it was a presentation for the common council, and here is what I learned.
Bottom line, mayor wants to hire a guy that is already doing the work, to coordinate work already being done. I was not impressed, to say the least. But, here’s a few other things of interest and I’ll let the mayor’s words speak for themselves at the end.
What I learned:
- They have money and resources to make pretty maps with GIS. And data to use. (Unlike affordable housing.)
- How much money you and your neighbors have doesn’t impact if you live in a food dessert or swamp.
- If you are minority, that has a bigger impact on if you and your minority neighbors will have access to food – and yes, it means you don’t.
- A food swamp is an area where you have access to food, but it is not good food (i.e. Walgreens, PDQ, etc)
- A food dessert is if you don’t have food sources within a mile of where you live.
- The maps they made don’t county any stores outside of City of Madison boundaries, so it appears to have more food issues on the periphery, but it doesn’t count the stores in Verona and Sun Prairie, etc.
- Good bus access to food is considered to be if you don’t have to walk more than 5 minutes to a bus stop and you don’t have to ride the bus more than 30 minutes. So, yeah, we have issues. And there is talk of realigning (can’t say bus route changes!) bus routes so people can get to food.
- Best practices are found in areas where there are food councils and food coordinators – to coordinate the food activities of others in the community.
- Ideas to improve access to food include give incentives to supermarkets to open in desserts and underserved areas, there may be zoning changes needed to allow people to have hoophouses to grow food in the winter, we need improved transportation and future developments should have a density that is enough to be able to attract a grocery store.
- Only 63% of people who qualify for supplemental food programs (WIC and SNAP) have applied for them.
- We should be encouraging green carts (special permitted carts that sell fresh produce), mobile markets, virtual supermarkets (order on-line nad get delivered to local community centers or libraries), meet and eats and kitchen incubators. (We seem to be doing almost all of this already on some level.)
- Transportation sucks, if you don’t have a car it is difficult to get food. (Bears repeating.)
- We should be doing community gardens (lots of benefits), allowing hoop houses, we should have a public market (one big one or several)
- We should consider regulating where fast food places can be located
- The list of groups working on this issue is too long to list . . .
- They recommend we have a food policy coordinator position for the long term.
- Food swamps is a bad name cuz swamps are some of the most productive pieces of land.
What I didn’t hear:
- I wanted to hear more about SNAP and less about WIC, where was the data on that? And no mention of the obstacles and hoops people need to jump through to get food stamps and then where they can use them. Why is that 63% so low and how will those issues be addressed? There were no strategies for that.
- No one mentioned food pantries or free meal sites that exist or any issues about access to them based on geography or hours of operation. (Hint: If you’re working day hours, food pantries are harder to access. ALso, weekends are bad for free meals.)
What the mayor said:
In response to a question about if the food policy coordinator would work for public health, the mayor stepped in and has this to say:
We have a mayor food and alcohol coordinator, Mark Woulf, who has been doing this work. His intention is to give the assignment to him, he is doing it well. He wants to emphasize that you can see from the presentation, there is a need for coordination. There are nutrition and health aspects to zoning and land use and we need a public market. You can also see how this impacts other services we have, we have to make choices and develop priorities. Meantime they started the “meet and eat” program. He says you can’t make a judgement based on one week, but they had a good deal of success and learned from it and will take another run at it this Thursday. They want to expand the constituency for it. We have questions of access, that is the most important challenge – not just a food dessert, but whole variety of issues. WIC and SNAP are good public and private programs and they can leverage $2 of food for $1. We’re not doing that. Schools did a good job expanding their free and reduced lunch programs over the summer, that was long overdue. We need to coordinate with the school district, we need to make sure that kids are guaranteed a breakfast, lunch and 4:00 snack and work with parents make sure there is a successful evening meal. We do well as a city with farmers markets and community gardens, but there is a lot we are missing. There is a lot to do and the agenda is broad. There is a contradiction betewen what we have done and our potential. This could be an exciting 3 or 4 years as we launch into this area. If strong neighborhoods have access to fresh foods, markets and restaurants, and we generally know that neighborhoods under stress have challenges accessing food, then if we can we introduce good food we can see neighborhoods improve, that is why he is excited about the “meet and eat” at Meadowwood.
Alders who attended:
In case you are dying to know. Staya Rhodes-Conway, Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, Scott Resncik, Sue Ellingston, Chris Schmidt, Lauren Cnare, Larry Palm, Mike Verveer, Anita Weier. Hope that I didn’t miss anyone.
Good, food is in good shape. Lots of people doing lots of things that could be coordinated more. Now, can we work on transportation and housing? We should have
- Free bus passes for the homeless and extremely low income
- A homeless day center with showers, laundry, phones, lockers, etc. which could serve as a cooling and warming center as well.
- Ahem, we need affordable housing people! But wait, I mean that they can ACTUALLY afford (yes, that means they pay 30% of their income towards rent, no matter the income).
We need to do more in the areas of housing and transportation. We need resources. And for housing we need data. In transportation and housing and services we need to do more than coordinate things that are happening, we need to make something happen! And, its going to cost money. But I’d rather spend some money on a new service than for someone to coordinate what is already going on!
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