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Food policy board will address “food desert”

The El Paso County Board of County Commissioners and the Colorado Springs City Council are teaming up to create a Community Advisory Board on Food Policy. Lawmakers expect the advisory board to improve coordination among government bodies, civic organizations and research resources to improve supply and access to locally grown nutritious food.ìFood desertsî are lower income neighborhoods where residents have little access to fresh and whole food markets, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA’s Food Research Atlas shows much of rural El Paso County, east of Curtis Road and south of Judge Orr to be out of a convenient range of whole food providers. In urban parts of Colorado Springs, lower income areas more than 1 mile from fresh groceries are also labeled food deserts.Residents in food desert areas rely on local fast food and convenience stores that tend to provide processed sugar and fat-laden foods, which contribute to the nation’s obesity epidemic, according to the American Nutrition Association.ìWe have such a poor food system that community members don’t have the money to buy fresh food, which is contributing to our chronic health care issues,î said Jill Gaebler, Springs City Council member. Gaebler has been working for more than a year to create the advisory board. ìWe as tax payers are paying more for health care,î she said. ìIt’s a cycle, and I’m tired of it. We have a lot of policy around air and water, and it’s time we start looking at policy in food.îThe new board’s members will provide ongoing analysis and recommendations to local governments regarding policies, programs, operations and land use regulations affecting local food issues, according to the county proclamation. The group will be an advisory body, and will not have rule making authority.ìIt’s important to remember that the board will only recommend policies to City Council and county commissioners,î Gaebler said. ìThe council members don’t have the time to do a deep dive into food policy research. We need a board to look into those policies and make recommendations for changes. At that point, we and the county have a stakeholder process to see if they wanted to move changes forward.îLocal urban market gardeners and the county extension officer praised the effort to create the board. At the January BOCC meeting, Barbara Bates, county director of the Colorado State University Extension, said the Pikes Peak region only produces 1 to 2 percent of its own food. ìIf we can create better private property rights policies around allowing people to have greenhouses, we can grow in all four seasons,î Gaebler said. ìLand owners should have more control over their property.îChristine Faith, who runs Ivywild Farm in Colorado Springs and the urban agriculture organization Right to Thrive, said existing local food resources and groups are working on similar problems but not working in the same direction. Faith said the advisory board will help provide direction for the community to come together and allow people to do more for themselves.ìThe group will be able to troubleshoot where the breaks in the system are and talk to the people who can make the changes,î Faith said. ìI feel in part because of our water situation and sprawling growth that we’ve lost more agriculture than most other places. Of the places I’ve been, Colorado Springs is struggling the most to keep a robust local food system going.îCounty commissioners expect that the new advisory board will seek to reduce barriers to local food growth. At the meeting, Amy Lathen, county commissioner, said, ìI look forward to seeing the recommendations that will come out of this board, so people can have more flexibility in what they can do at home. I look forward to us being able to not get in the way of that.îìThis is not in any sense to say that government is responsible for feeding the hungry; this is about reduction of barriers,î said Peggy Littleton, commissioner.The city will vote in March on an ordinance to create the board itself, Gaebler said. If approved, community members will be able to find information about how to apply for the board on the city and county websites. ìIt’s not a party we’re throwing for ourselves,î Faith said. ìThe intention is to create a space for the community to come forward.î

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