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CHAPTER 15 More Than the Sum of Their Parts An Exploration of the Connective and Facilitative Functions of Food Policy Councils lindsey day farnsworth introduction Since the first food policy council was established in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1982, over two hundred state and local food policy councils have been initiated across the United States. Much of this growth is very recent; there was a nearly seven-fold increase in the number of food policy councils in the United States between 2005 and 2015 (Center for a Livable Future 2015). The proliferation of the food policy council suggests that this organizational model is perceived to fill a critical niche in community and regional food systems—but which? Inherently complex and highly interconnected, the food system has proven to be a challenge to coordinate and administer. Food policy takes a variety of forms and pertains to all phases of the food system, from production to waste. As a result, numerous local, state, and federal departments—ranging from Health and Human Services, to Agriculture, to Economic Development and Planning, to Parks and Recreation—oversee narrow subsets of food-related programs and policies. 246 community health and policy perspectives The community and regional food systems literature has documented a variety of problems resulting from this decentralization and has highlighted issues associated with conflicting normative objectives and overall lack of alignment across food policies (Barling, Lang, and Caraher 2002; Connelly, Markey, and Roseland 2011; Dahlberg et al. 2002; Koc et al. 2008; Muller et al. 2009; Pothukuchi and Kaufman 1999; Wekerle 2004). Food policy councils can assume a variety of forms and functions, but their central purpose is to “provide a forum for diverse stakeholders to come together and address common concerns about food policy, including topics such as food security, farm policy, food regulations, environmental impacts, health, and nutrition” (Broad Leib 2012, 1). As such, food policy councils have emerged as a popular organizational strategy for improving communication, regulatory alignment, and problem solving across different agencies and sectors that shape our food system. Despite their growing popularity, significant questions remain as to whether food policy councils will be able realize their potential. Concerns regarding food policy councils’ overall lack of staff capacity, funding, and political authority permeate the literature. For example, according to Harper et al. (2009), “The vast majority of food policy councils have either no staff at all or only one part-time staff person, relying instead on volunteers or on restricted amounts of staff time from city, county or state employees assigned to the council in addition to their usual government duties” (3). This has already contributed to the dissolution of several food policy councils. Further, food policy councils that are not seated in government have been criticized for competing with member organizations for grant funding and thus detracting from, rather than enhancing, collaboration. There is also meager documentation of the impact of food policy councils. Harper et al. (2009) note, “We were unable to quantitatively demonstrate the impact of Food Policy Councils on food access, food policy, public health, or economic development due to a lack of data or evaluation procedures within individual councils, despite numerous success stories” (7). Finally, some have suggested that food policy councils have inherently limited efficacy because they are fundamentally neoliberal entities that were never intended to transform the current food system (Alkon and Agyeman 2011; McClintock 2014). Nevertheless, food policy councils continue experimenting with a range of organizational strategies to maximize More Than the Sum of Their Parts 247 their impact and demonstrate their worth. In the absence of full-time staff and stable sources of funding, the expertise and political and social capital of their organizational members are arguably food policy councils’ greatest assets. As such, it is critical that food policy councils understand their members’ self-interest and motivations for participating. In fact, food policy councils may find it fruitful to incorporate such considerations into their structures and processes to ensure their own success. This chapter highlights initial findings from exploratory research conducted in conjunction with the University of Wisconsin–Madison Community and Regional Food Systems Project to understand what motivates individuals to participate in food policy councils and how their goals are addressed (or not) through participation in food policy council activities. We illustrate the connective and facilitative contributions of food policy councils to the ongoing work of their members by drawing on key interviews from a quota sample of members from two food policy councils. We first outline motivations for...


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