Local food producers and educators take first steps to connect region
By John McCracken
BROWN COUNTY – An effort to bring food producers, growers, educators and advocates together in Northeast Wisconsin has been stewing for years.
Now, the NEW Food Forum is ready to present its findings and take steps toward developing the region’s first food action plan.
NEW Food Forum, an initiative of local nonprofit-connecting family farms, local government, consumers and New Leaf Foods, reported its findings at a hybrid virtual and in-person event June 29 at the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) Landscape and Horticulture Building, located at the Green Bay Botanical Garden.
A food action plan develops and recommends policy and planning for local entities to look at food’s economic, social and environmental impact.
Amanda Chu, a sustainable garden and farm manager for NWTC and Brown County District 3 supervisor, has been coordinating the surveying process for almost two years.
The mostly volunteer-run initiative was energized by shortfalls in food production and a rise in demand for food insecurity plans caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The goal of the survey and planning is to connect all the different groups, such as restaurants, crop farmers, indoor aquaponic growers, local food pantries, health agencies, agriculture educators and local government bodies to think about food in an integrated fashion.
By connecting all these groups, Chu said it will be easier to rely on the strengths of the region’s unique food and agriculture production.
“We’re looking for immediate short-term wins that we could be making in these policy priority areas if it relates to the work that folks are already doing,” she said.
After the findings are presented, Chu said the next step is to develop a food action plan, among other future plans for the landscape of production in the region.
Of the 53 responses from stakeholders – which she defines as individuals or groups who work in Northeast Wisconsin’s food value chain – food production, access to healthy food and food sovereignty were the top priorities among respondents.
Other counties, such as Dane and Milwaukee, have developed action plans and subsequent food councils to connect food producers, growers and educators.
Chu said respondents ranking food sovereignty highly was a “really great surprise.”
The U.S. Department of the Interior Indian Affairs defines food sovereignty as a community’s ability to determine and control the quality, quantity, production and distribution of food consumed.
She said there’s more work to be done because one stark finding was a lack of response from people or organizations working in marginalized communities, something Chu said she believes is necessary for the plan to be effective for all types of consumers and producers in the region.
“There’s a lot more work that needs to be done to develop relationships and find a meaningful common point between food systems and the world of social agencies,” she said.
Questions about the event and NEW Food Forum can be directed to Chu at firstname.lastname@example.org.