By Yustin Riopko
CHARLOTTE – The Charlotte Mecklenburg Food Policy Council welcomed Adam Bronstone as its new executive director in June.
The Food Policy Council is a board of volunteers and a collection of experts who aim at making healthy, fair and sustainable food accessible in the Charlotte area.
Former executive director Erin Brighton wanted to move to a new position within the council, where she could focus on her other role – leading a program that educates Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students on healthy and responsible food choices.
The 11-member board believes Bronstone’s personal interest in healthy food, as well as his professional background in general management, marketing, fundraising and advocacy will reinforce and propel the momentum the council has created in its five years.
The members of the Food Policy Council believe one of the biggest obstacles to improving access to healthy food in Charlotte is education. That’s why in 2015 they completed an assessment of all the food-related hot spots in Charlotte and performed surveys and focus groups with citizens and industry representatives to “take a pulse on the situation,” as board Vice Chair Nicole Peterson put it.
“The council wanted to find out who’s food insecure. How does that affect them? What programs can help?” Peterson explained.
The researchers made some recommendations. One was to make entitlement and assistance programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Women with Infants and Children acceptable at more locations. Another recommendation was to focus on zoning land to be more conducive to local food entrepreneurship.
On top of research, the organization is also involved with the community. The Food Policy Council employs two FoodCorps service members in partnership with CMS. These workers disperse their efforts among system schools to manage and teach in school gardens. The point of the program is to expose kids to healthy food choices. Bronstone said the FoodCorps members are doing important work alongside other CMS employees.
“This program is teaching them about resources and it encompasses science, like photosynthesis,” Bronstone said. “It’s how to cook and make good, healthy meals, for these kids – who through no fault of their own or their parents – aren’t generally exposed to healthy food. Science, home-ec teachers – everyone needs to be a part for it to work.”
Bronstone wants to expand the program’s reach by continuing to hire more FoodCorps workers, but he also said education is only half the job.
“Our work is two-fold. It’s from above and below,” Bronstone said. “To expose kids to healthy choices but then to say, ‘Oh, you don’t have it,’ wouldn’t be fair. We have to give them both knowledge of and access to these foods.”
That’s why the organization is trying to work the puzzle from all angles.
“We’re working not only in the grassroots, but also above that on the policy,” Bronstone said. “Are there zoning laws? Are there city guidelines that need to be redressed to make access to food more possible? There’s coordination with the city, and with the county, and with the farmers’ community. It’s a lot more than people normally think about.”
One project the council has been brainstorming on is what Bronstone called a “citywide food map.”
“Most people probably don’t know where the farmers’ markets are in this community. You can Google it on the web, but it might be convoluted,” Bronstone explained. “We would like to make an online map of food-related activities and hot spots so that if someone is looking for a location, all they have to do is log into the right website. We want to make it as easy as possible for people to find and access healthy food choices.”
Peterson said the project is still just an idea.
“We’re still trying to figure out what the categories are that will be most meaningful,” Peterson said. “We’re working with people on the feasibility of it. A lot of interfaces are pretty static, so we’re working with people on information technologies side about what actually could be created. Is it a map? An app? What’s user friendly?”
Even though Bronstone is proud of the work the Food Policy Council has been doing, he said there’s still more to do.
“It’s great to work with people who are that committed to this issue,” Bronstone said. “Being able to help people gain access to healthy food choices has long term benefits for every individual, and also the greater health of our community.”
Visit www.charlottefoodpolicy.org for more information.