Harvesting Healthier Options
State legislatures continue to take an active interest in policy strategies that support local and regional food systems and increase access to local food options.
This report examines state legislation in all 50 states enacted between 2012 and 2014 that aimed to strengthen various components of local food systems. The report is organized into chapters focused on six policy areas with the most state legislative action during that time period: local food system approaches; farm-to-school programs; farmers’ markets; community gardens and urban agriculture; healthy grocery retail and food policy councils.
Each section contains an introduction to the policy area and relevant research, case study or studies highlighting notable state actions and an analysis of trends in 2012 to 2014 legislation, followed by summaries of all enacted legislation in the policy areas.
This report was generously funded by Johns Hopkins Center for Livable Futures.
Local Foods System Approaches
A local food system encompasses the various entities (i.e. producers, processors, distributors, sellers and consumers) involved in bringing food from the field to the table. Producers may sell directly to the consumer or rely on distributors, processors and sellers to purchase and eventually market to the consumer. State lawmakers consider procurement policies, food hubs and statewide programs as just a few of the policy options to support local food systems. Other chapters in this report examine specific aspects of the local food system such as farm-to-school programs, farmers’ markets and healthy grocery retail.
Between 2012 and 2014, Connecticut, Maine and New Hampshire enacted legislation to support or encourage a statewide approach for local food. Six states – Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, New York and Ohio – took legislative action to support food hubs, primarily through appropriations. This chapter presents a case study on Massachusetts efforts to strengthen the local food system and improve food access and a case study on recent legislative support for food hubs.
Farm-to-school programs seek to bring local, healthy food to students by connecting local agricultural producers with schools and by incorporating information about how food is grown into school curricula. Common state strategies to support farm-to-school programs include funding, changing procurement processes to ease purchase of local foods, creating connections to link schools and producers via websites and networking, establishing a state agency staff person who specifically works on a farm-to-school activities, and other approaches that aim to strengthen the relationship between agricultural producers and school systems.
Between 2012 and 2014, Missouri, South Carolina and West Virginia created new statewide farm-to-school programs or directives. Five states—Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and West Virginia—enacted laws that addressed or supported school or community gardens in some manner. This chapter’s case study examines Mississippi’s efforts to create stronger working relationships between farmers and school food service staff in the state.
Farmers’ markets, defined as “a multi-stall market at which farmer-producers sell agricultural products directly to the general public at a central or fixed location, particularly fresh fruit and vegetables…” have been expanding in the last two decades, increasing from 1,755 in the U.S. in 1944 to 8,394 as of June 2015. These markets provide an opportunity to increase food access for low-income populations, particularly in markets that accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
From 2012 to 2014, nine states—Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Vermont and West Virginia—passed legislation appropriating funds for farmers’ markets to support development, renovation, maintenance and promotion. Eight states—Connecticut, Louisiana, Missouri, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont and West Virginia—passed legislation supporting or expanding the ability to use SNAP, WIC and seniors’ nutrition program benefits at farmers’ markets. Connecticut and Kansas passed legislation to increase promotion of farmers’ markets. This chapter’s case study explores the expansion and promotion of farmers’ markets in New Mexico.
Community Gardens and Urban Agriculture
Urban agriculture including community gardens puts food production in close proximity to where it may ultimately be consumed by the growers themselves, neighbors and others in the area. Benefits of urban agriculture can range from an individual and community’s increase in physical activity while gardening, relationship building with others in the community and increased access to healthy food. States have supported urban agriculture projects and community gardens by allowing cultivation on public land or providing tax incentives to use vacant lots, legalizing the sale and consumption of produce from gardens and targeting specific at-risk populations such as seniors and children with programming.
Between 2012 and 2014, eleven states and the District of Columbia encouraged the use of urban areas for agriculture. Four states – New Jersey, New York, Tennessee and West Virginia – focused on the benefits of community gardens for financially or socially vulnerable populations. California and Missouri allowed for local governments to establish urban agricultural zones and encourage these initiatives with tax incentives. These two states are highlighted in one of this chapter’s case studies. The other case study in the chapter examines Tennessee’s recent amendments to the Tennessee Community Gardening Act of 1977 to encourage use by youth and older people as well as to allow the sale of produce grown at these gardens.
Healthy Grocery Retail
The availability of healthy foods is important to promoting healthy diets and eating habits. Healthy grocery retail, such as well stocked supermarkets and smaller markets which carry healthy foods, is essential. However, many people in the United States live in areas with poor healthy food access, often called food deserts. These individuals may be in rural areas where the nearest grocery store is miles away or in urban areas where transportation to a store one mile away can present a barrier. A number of states have programs to provide funding and support for grocers in underserved communities, as well as to improve options in smaller settings such as bodegas and corner stores.
Three states—Maryland, Massachusetts and Mississippi— passed legislation that attempts to make financial assistance available to promote healthy grocery retail. Only the Maryland legislation included funding, however. New Jersey passed legislation to help consumers purchase healthy foods by expanding the locations where SNAP benefits can be used. Texas passed legislation allowing land banks to sell property to a developer who will use that land to build healthy grocery retail. The case study in this chapter focuses on a mobile market in New Jersey that is working to bring healthy grocery retail into underserved communities.
Food Policy Councils
Food Policy Councils (FPCs) bring together various stakeholders in the Local Foods system. FPCs have a number of goals, including “supporting the development and expansion of locally produced foods … making recommendations to government bodies; [and] gathering, synthesizing, and sharing information on community food systems." These councils may have a relationship with the government or may be completely separate and distinct from the government.
Between 2012 and 2014, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia created food policy councils. Two states— Colorado and North Carolina—extended the lives of existing councils. Three states— Colorado, New York and North Carolina—modified the membership of policy councils. It also should be noted that Michigan’s FPC was disbanded by executive order in December 2014 and transitioned to an intergovernmental council. This chapter’s case study focuses on the work of the Colorado Food Systems Advisory Council.
A Word from the Funder and Acknowledgements