Austin Food System Updates
Since taking on the position of Food Policy Manager for the City of Austin in April of this year, life has been a whirlwind of educating myself about the local food system and research about the role a City can play in the development of a more local, more sustainable, and more just food system. The first task at hand was simply to meet the people that are making Austin such a dynamic and innovative food scene; from aquaponics farmers and the dozens of local urban farmers to the chefs and food trucks turning those locally produced products into fabulous plates of food. Then there are the great local groceries, amongst other the global headquarters of Whole Foods but just as important, the vendors at the over 30 local farmers markets. But despite all this movement, the local food system faces some daunting challenges – farmland is being paved over at an unprecedented rate (Texas loses 360 acres a day and Austin is leading the charge), water is at an all-time low in our watershed with no relief in sight, logistical hurdles are preventing local producers from efficiently reaching their customers, dietary-disease related diseases are at epidemic levels, and minority producers and consumers are facing an uneven playing field.
Viewing this complex food system landscape, my first action will be to develop metrics for tracking some of this activity. We will be producing an annual State of the Food System report, with data attached to each of the five sectors of the food system. This report will provide some baseline for evaluating how we are doing in developing a local sustainable food system, both internally at the City of Austin and externally with our local stakeholders. The Food System Report will be the foundation for implementing Neighborhood Food Plans. This will entail dividing the City into quadrants and engaging each community to find out what each neighborhood envisions for their food system. We’ll then follow that up with opportunities to assist each community with tools to make the changes they prioritize. This could include developing more community gardens, increasing access to fresh healthy food at local corner stores, or creating neighborhood food-buying coops. Finally, we’ll aggregate these neighborhood food plans into a broad City of Austin Strategic Food Plan that will hopefully reflect the communities’ values and help drive a conversation about a nation food plan. So while I’ve been enjoying eating a lot of food truck tacos, I’ve found plenty to keep me busy and plenty to keep my learning curve steep.
Besides working to make the food system in Central Texas better, we’re spending lots of time learning how to ensure our own children eat good food! Not such an easy task. Edie’s in school at a local pre-school and loving making new friends. School’s a little different than Montgomery, if for no other reason than most of the parents sport body length tattoos…Tallulah is learning how to fend for herself, picking up a strong Texas accent. Andrea’s got her jewelry business up and going again, selling at a local art gallery. I’m spending as much time as possible taking advantage of the brisk Texas wind sailing on Lake Travis. And Rooster is intensely jealous of our new chickens we’re keeping in the back yard. So besides the infamous traffic here in Austin, life is good but we do miss all the delicious veggies from the farm and, of course, all the amazing people that make Montgomery forever ‘weirder’ than Austin.
Here at EAT South, we are very grateful for the heart and soul that Edwin poured into EAT South and we hope Austin knows how lucky they are to have him! We wish you and your family a very happy holiday season!