State lawmakers consider recommendations for sustainable foods

Getting local foods into more Louisiana schools and promoting the use of food stamps at local farmers markets are among the list of recommendations from a group of food and health experts tapped to advise state lawmakers on agriculture and food issues.

The Louisiana Sustainable Local Food Policy Council, formed by state law in 2010, recently submitted its findings and recommendations to lawmakers in preparation for the 2012 Legislature that begins in March. Click here to view the council’s final report.

The council consists of food growers and retailers, researchers, public-health professionals, business and financial representatives, state lawmakers, and government officials in education, health and agriculture. For more than a year, the state's sustainable food council has met in various communities across Louisiana to learn about school food programs, seafood businesses, local dairy and agricultural farms and policies that promote the sale of fresh fruits and vegetables.

The Tulane Prevention Research Center (PRC), which was specifically asked to have representation on the council, provided technical assistance in drafting the recommendations, said Kate Lolley, policy and legislative analyst for the Tulane PRC. Specifically, the Tulane PRC identified applicable policies in other states and provided information on policies taking shape in New Orleans through that city's Food Policy Advisory Committee.

"Not only are we part of the New Orleans Food Policy Advisory Committee, but we also have a role as a research group for the state," Lolley said.

The group's findings have been sent to state Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain and state lawmakers on the House and Senate agriculture committees, said Dr. Carrie Castille, deputy assistant commissioner and special advisor to the commissioner at the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

"The council was a two year project but there's a lot to be discussed and take place and explored," Castille said. "We just started to touch on the issues."

The most promising recommendations, Castille said, include replicating the work of the New Orleans Food Policy Advisory Committee in other cities and towns, such as setting up financial incentives for food stores to stock more local fresh fruits and vegetables. Another recommendation that could be implemented is holding a statewide summit for state departments, non-profits, businesses, and others involved in anti-hunger and food access issues to identify goals, strategies and strengths, Castille said.

Other recommendations include:

  • Increasing the amount of sustainable local food in the National School Lunch program and School Breakfast program in Louisiana public schools.
  • Increasing the availability of sustainable local food under public assistance programs, including food stamps at local farmers markets.
  • Promoting urban gardens and backyard gardens for the purpose of improving the health of citizens, making use of idle urban property, and lowering food costs for Louisianans.
  • Identifying local and regional efforts that could provide information and training programs to assist entrepreneurs and local farmers pursuing opportunities related to a sustainable local food economy.
  • Continuing the purchase of local foods for families in the SNAP food assistance program and incorporating that as part of the annual state budget with a dedicated line item and set amount of funding.

By Naomi King, Tulane PRC

(Photo courtesy of Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry: Members of the Louisiana Sustainable Local Food Policy Council visit WesMar Farms in Moreauville, Avoyelles Parish.)

Topics:   nutrition , policy , agriculture , school food , farmers market , WIC , SNAP

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