Menu Bar

Home           Calendar           Topics          Just Charlestown          About Us

Thursday, October 27, 2011

"Buy Local" Gets Some Help

New Council Targets Local Food Movement

By DAVE FISHER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCERhode Island’s local food system has enjoyed a renaissance during the past 10 years. The number of farmers' markets has swelled to nearly 50 statewide, the number of farms increased 42 percent between 2002 and 2007, we lead the nation in direct-to-consumer sales from farms and Ocean State fishermen are enjoying the benefits of the state's new Seafood Marketing Collaborative.

Plenty of fresh food is available
at Rhode Island farmers’ markets.
(ecoRI News file photo)
While organizations such as Farm Fresh Rhode Island and Kids First have made significant strides toward providing access to fresh, healthful, local foods to Rhode Islanders, only about 1 percent of food consumed in Rhode Island is grown, produced or harvested in state.
In an effort to continue the positive growth of the state's local food system, the Rhode Island Food Policy Council was launched at a ceremony Oct. 24 at the Statehouse. The council is comprised of representatives from 16 Rhode Island governmental, nongovernmental, academic and nonprofit organizations. The council will be guided in creating a comprehensive food policy for L’il Rhody by the Rhode Island Food Assessment, which also was released, in part, on National Food Day.
It was nearly SRO In the Governor's
State Room Monday for the
preliminary release of the
Rhode Island Food Assessment.
(Dave Fisher/ecoRI News staff)
"The state of Rhode Island possesses a rich local food culture that supports and promotes the health and well-being of Rhode Island communities and the local economy," state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) Director Janet Coit said. "Strengthening our food system and increasing access to healthy and affordable food will take creativity, dedication and collaboration among all Rhode Islanders.”

Increasingly nationwide, strong local food systems are becoming viewed as a lynchpin of efforts to improve health, build robust, sustainable communities, fortify local economies, preserve open space and protect environmental assets. Localized food systems also seem to be a key component in adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change.
In Rhode Island, nearly 15 percent of households experience food insecurity, that is, they lack the money and resources to acquire the food they need. That percentage becomes even more shameful when one considers that nearly 50 percent of the edible food raised in the United States is thrown out at some stage of the food supply chain. Of those that do have enough — or too much — to eat on a regular basis, 24 percent of Rhode Islanders are considered clinically obese, and about 7 percent of the population suffers from type 2 diabetes.
"Available, affordable and locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables help Rhode Islanders stay healthy," said state Director of Health Dr. Michael Fine. "A healthier diet combined with more physical activity, will help Rhode Islanders reduce their risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer."
The assessment process posed many questions and sought many answers about local food supply chains. How do they function and how could they work better? How do they connect, or not connect, consumers, especially those with limited access to fresh foods, to food industry actors? Where are the opportunities for development of supply-chain connections that will contribute to Rhode Island’s food security? All of these are relatively simple questions with extremely complex answers.
The assessment identified 15 points in the food system that could be leveraged to bolster food security throughout the state, including improving the coordination and maximizing food benefits for those in need at farmers’ markets, increasing urban and winter food production, creatively using existing and new infrastructure, increasing consumer access in larger retail establishments, simplifying food safety regulations, and understanding and mitigating the food system’s environmental impact.
Sen. Susan Sosnowski, D-South Kingstown, chairwoman of the Committee on Environment and Agriculture, said, "As we continue to address the health and food needs for all the citizens of Rhode Island, it is essential that we foster locally produced, sustainable food sources that promote economic vitality and protect farmers for generations to come."
The Rhode Island Food Policy Council's full report will be released in December.