The first food policy council in Alabama was recently established as a direct result of work done by AARP and other stakeholders in 2011. Through the “Drive to End Hunger” initiative, AARP sponsored a hunger conference with UAB; made $10,000 donations to two food banks; organized activities and food drives around two races at Talladega; and participated in dozens of projects like chapter food drives. Those efforts helped AARP and other stakeholders identify barriers to access to safe, affordable, healthy food.
Using that knowledge, the group came together to find solutions. Larry Logan, executive director, Community Food Bank Central Alabama, said economic conditions have worsened the hunger situation in Alabama, and he is thankful AARP has turned the spotlight on the issue. “Most people don’t realize their elderly neighbor could be going hungry. It’s something most people don’t think about or talk about. AARP brought the issue to the forefront and brought together organizations fighting hunger. Now we can work as a group to find solutions,” Logan said.
Mark Winne, national community food security expert and author, was in Birmingham to help kick off the initial meeting of the newly formed Greater Birmingham Food Policy Council, and to advise the group on developing and organizing an Alabama statewide food policy council. He also presented recommended models and shared his experiences fighting hunger through food policy councils.
Winne met with AARP Alabama staffers; Maggie Biscarr, project manager, AARP Foundation Hunger Impact Area; and representatives from the Centers for Disease Control, the American Heart Association, the North Alabama Food Bank, the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network, Auburn University, the United Way and others.
As in Alabama, food policy councils across the nation are made up of stakeholders from various segments of a local food system. Councils are typically sanctioned through government action such as an executive order, public act or joint resolution. But, as in Alabama, many councils have formed through grassroots effort. The primary goal of many Food Policy Councils is to examine the operation of a local food system and provide ideas and recommendations for improvement through public policy changes.
Anna Pritchett, associate state director for advocacy outreach, said this grassroots effort began after the AARP-UAB hunger conference. “When we brought together government, academia, non-profits and other interested parties to talk about hunger in Alabama, we ended up with a broader conversation on food insecurity,” Pritchett said. “The challenge was bringing everyone together and not having the same crowd saying the same things with few results. This is where AARP brings a lot of value to the table, particularly by adding momentum.