The recently formed Pima County Food Systems Alliance (PCFSA)
is one of several food policy groups in the state organized to provide solutions to food policy issues that arise within local communities. In places where food and culture form undeniably important relationships, groups like the PCFSA play an important role addressing food challenges and providing residents with information and advice about food policies and programs. In many cases, the alliance works in a collaborative manner to serve as a space to invite discussion and foster learning and education for those who are directly affected by food insecurity.
If you are unfamiliar with these groups, they are becoming more common in communities across the U.S. and work to respond to local food issues that would otherwise go unnoticed. Also known as food policy councils
(FPCs), they are made up of members who operate at city and state levels as a means of connecting food growers with food systems planning (see figure below). FPCs bring together a diverse group of members from different sectors to collaboratively solve problems. Unlike transportation, utilities and watershed management issues, food issues lack a city food planning department
or a dedicated city food planner. As a result, FPCs leverage food planning operations at the city and state level while simultaneously supporting sustainable food systems planning.
Local food problems
Many of the critical food problems that occur in smaller communities are addressed by FPCs. For example, food insecurity is a major area of concern along with supporting areas that have been referred to as food deserts
. These are areas characterized by populations with limited food access, limited mobility to grocery stores, and limited food income. In the case of Pima County, food insecurity is typically higher for people who live farther from grocery stores or supermarkets, so the PCFSA works to ensure that fresh, healthful food is widely available to all residents.
Other sorts of food issues the groups work on involve determining governmental, institutional, and corporate policies and the barriers — or opportunities — those policies provide to improve the conditions involved in growing and eating sustainable, local food. Once the food systems issues have been assessed for an area, the council works collaboratively with community members to identify solutions and solve problems.
Food planning solutions
An interesting fact about these local food alliances is that they make up a unique group of food systems problem solvers. Because solving food problems can be a monumental task, FPCs do this by reaching out to local growers and community partners in the private and public sector. Through collaborative processes they help build sustainable farming and food systems programs and assess how well organic food systems
operate. So as the number of food alliances continue to rise — and public awareness of these programs grow — it is likely these groups will have lasting impacts on the future sustainability of community food systems.