Human Environments Analysis Lab (HEAL)


Local food networks as catalysts for food policy change to improve health and build the economy

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Local food networks (LFNs) are growing in popularity, in part as a response to broader criticisms of conventional food production. Municipal policy-makers have the opportunity to work with stakeholders to build LFNs to increase access to healthy foods in cities and ultimately improve population health and well-being. Building opportunities for healthy eating is particularly important in our study area. Flint, Michigan, is a post-industrial shrinking city suffering from the economic and health effects of deindustrialisation. Various stakeholders in Flint have responded to a significant issue with access to food by strengthening collaborations through a food policy council (FPC). Growth in the local food system has been supported by administrators and community advocates alike, through supporting community gardens, farmers' markets, and urban agriculture in a manner similar to nearby Detroit. Participant observation was conducted with stakeholders involved in the development of the LFN and the FPC in Flint. Stakeholders were exposed to existing research on the food system to help inform their policy direction. The group expressed several core concerns and prospects for future work, including a strong emphasis on consensus-based decision-making. Based on the synthesis of stakeholder opinions, policy recommendations are made to aid in continued planning of the LFN. Planning for food is an important first step in improving public health and strengthening local economic development in post-industrial cities. This research highlights the issue by making explicit the challenges and opportunities for policy advocacy in LFNs.

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