Good Food Battle Creek Meets At The Hive
The Community House at 104 Calhoun St was this month’s site for the regularly scheduled meeting of the Good Food Battle Creek (GFBC) coalition. The site, sometimes referred to as “The Hive”, was indeed abuzz with a broad spectrum of participants to include the Kellogg Foundation, Calhoun County Conservation, Bronson Hospital Food Management, The Battle Creek Public Schools (BCPS), The Food and Water Watch, Environmental Health, The Clean Waters Project, Spout Urban Farms, Michigan State University (MSU), CS Mott Group for Sustainable Agriculture, and a regional farmer representing local food production. The group was creating answers to issues, seemingly drawn from the headlines of the day, from a uniquely Battle Creek perspective; food production and distribution.
The meeting opened with a presentation by Charlotte Bartter representing the Food and Water Watch (FWW) organization, which is an advocacy group seeking a level playing field for independent farmers through public policy. The current focus is the Omnibus Farm Bill 2012 which is in the committee process of Congress before coming up for vote later this year. The FWW’s efforts are centered on “Fair Farm Bill” language that seeks market place measures to reduce reliance on large agribusiness monopolies, changes to contracting that currently favors larger agri-businesses over independents, ensure food security through increased agriculture reserves, making healthy food more accessible and affordable over that of the cheap and processed variety, policies supporting local butchers, dairies, milling and other regional food systems and, making smart government purchases for schools, hospitals, prisons, and government agencies that encourages the recreation of regional food systems.
Ms. Bartter is unable to fully judge the effectiveness of the FWW efforts to date, but was not encouraged that great strides were being made given the economic issues of the country, the mood for austerity in Congress, and the impact of heavily funded agribusiness lobbying. The latter is evidenced in the news of the day that revealed “conservative” Republican members of Congress moving to set aside current USDA standards for school lunches by relaxing the restrictions on sodium content and potatoes (French fries) while designating tomato paste as vegetable allowing increased offerings of pizza in school cafeterias and dining halls. Ms. Bartter reports tepid support for the Fair Farm rules from Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow’s office measures as well.
In the regular meeting discussions that followed it became apparent that a discussion of “food” is so fundamental to mankind that it touches all other aspects of our existence. The various reports of initiatives, given by the some 20 odd people in attendance, highlighted the links between food and its production to education, energy policy, job creation, conservation and ecology, health and wellbeing, and social justice. The GFBC was recently described at the Oakland Food Security Conference, in Oakland California, as “not replicated anywhere else in the country.” In addition to such efforts as Bronson Battle Creek (formerly BCHS) using fresh and local foods in its patient meals, cafeteria, and vending, Battle Creek public schools buying local fruits for school lunches, Kellogg Foundation support for conferences and lectures on food issues, Sprout Urban Farms initiatives and, the various community gardens, all of these are working together with MSU, C.S. Mott Group to develop an assessment of the current food landscape of greater Battle Creek in terms of health, availability, affordability (fairness), and the environmental impact (greenness) of its production. The report will, among other things, identify pockets of systemic nutritional deficiencies exist known as “food desserts”. The information will be used to give direction for the various GFBC parties to act upon going forward.
There was a lively sharing of information about resources that were available for the various entities from how to make a low cost ”hoop shelter” greenhouse to discussions of initiatives underway in Oakland Ca. and Detroit brought back from recent conferences in those cities.
Meetings are held on the second Wednesdays of the month. Check on the BFBC Facebook page for locations and times. There are no membership requirements for attendance all interested parties are welcome to attend.