Do we, as a community, care about local food?

We need energy and investments to breathe life into local food system projects, build regional economy

Shawn Morrill

Who cares about local food?

I do. Local foods are fresh, nutrient rich and minimally processed. I care about local food because it helps me stay focused on my health.

I’m also interested in developing local and regional economies and building bridges to connect people and communities. Local food is a growth market with ever increasing demand and I see countless opportunities for entrepreneurs and people in our community doing some very innovative work.

It’s exciting to see all of this energy and interest here. Local groups are building new support infrastructure. Our emerging restaurant and food truck scene is getting media attention. Groups are working to increase awareness and help consumers find ingredients that are grown right here.

Who Cares About Local Food?

My fellow members, past and present, of the Clark County Food System Council certainly do.

Since 2008, we have been working to improve community health through access to safe, local, healthy food for all residents of Clark County. Our vision is to have a healthy community and thriving food system. With more than 70 different members over eight years, the council represents a diverse cross section of food system stakeholders including people from: Clark County Public Health, Burgerville, Kaiser Permanente, WSU Extension, Clark County Food Bank, Clark College, Clark/Cowlitz Farm Bureau, Slow Food SWWA, Farmers Markets, Local and National Retailers, Marketers, Farmers, Chefs, Advocacy groups, and Citizens at large.

In order to improve access to healthy food we must improve access to information. Everyone benefits when we openly share information across all sectors and with stakeholders of our local food system and regional food economy.

Our strategies were founded on this idea and have included providing a forum and maintaining dialogue. We prioritize issues and strengthen work to strengthen connections. We analyze, report on and advocate for policy. We promote events and provide education. We have spoken at city of Vancouver, Clark County and Planning Commission hearings on a variety of topics. We have also developed a number of documents designed to help inform and educate the community about the issues.

Our public testimony and outreach was instrumental in conserving the 78th St. Heritage Farm in NE Vancouver. The 79-acre farm now houses the Washington State University Extension, Master Gardeners, 4-H, a community garden, plant research facilities and plenty of space to grow vegetable crops for the Clark County Food Bank.

There are a number of other food-focused initiatives emerging in our community right now. The Port of Vancouver’s Terminal 1 Marketplace, 4th Plain Forward (Vancouver’s Multicultural Business District), Hazel Dell Commons, the newly-formed Vancouver Farmers Market Foundation to name a few. The local food sector is also on the radar of the Columbia River Economic Development Council, who this year commissioned a survey and report to look at local agriculture as a sector of focus to consider adding to their strategic plan.

We play the role of convener and connector. I believe that connections are the core of innovation and that is how we strengthen local communities. We are creating space for an open dialogue about the future and the types of food production we want to see in Clark County. We need to work together to build bridges of trust and break down the information silos that slow our progress. We need energy and investments to breathe life into these projects. We need to decide as a community whether or not we care about local food. Do you? We need leaders across all sectors to join the discussion.

There are several ways to join the conversation online and in person. Please join us for a free event from 4 to 7 p.m. on November 7 in Foster Hall at Clark College as we host the Washington State Food System Roundtable. We will discuss, as a community, how our local plan aligns with the efforts and strategies being implemented at the state level.

Join us and let’s enable health, wealth and innovation for Clark County.

For more information about the event and other ways to have your voice heard, visit clarkfoodsystem.org.

Shawn Morrill is a member of the Clark County Food System Council. He can be reached at hello@clarkfoodsystem.org.

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