Columbus and Franklin County have been working for years to understand why some parts of central Ohio don’t have easy access to healthful food. Now, they say, they have a plan to address it.
The city and county unveiled on Monday their Local Food Action Plan, the product of a two-year effort to address access to nutritious food, economic-development issues around food, and food waste in the region.
“There are many areas in our city where people don’t have access to healthy, affordable food,” Councilwoman Priscilla Tyson said.
About 20 percent of Columbus children are food insecure — meaning they don’t know where their next meal is coming from — and less than 25 percent of adults in Franklin County say they consume fruits and vegetables at least five times a day, according to the report.
The plan outlines 27 steps that the city and county can take to expand food access and use the food industry as a way to boost the local economy and reduce food waste.
It calls for more coordination among farmers markets, education programs, repurposing vacant real estate for the local food system and providing assistance to neighborhood food businesses.
“We didn’t have a real plan and strategy,” said Cheryl Graffagnino, the city’s healthy foods access manager. “This is a road map for the city and county and community to engage around local food.”
The plan calls for food access to factor into transit planning, meaning bus routes could be reconfigured to better access groceries and farmers markets. And Graffagnino said the committee will look at ways to expand access to public-assistance programs that encourage people to shop at farmers markets.
It also calls on public and private institutions to adopt policies to buy “healthy and local food.”
“It sets policy but also puts forth a plan for us to work with all of the stakeholders,” Franklin County Commissioner John O’Grady said. “We live in an affluent community but we have too many people who don’t have access to appropriate foods.”
O’Grady said the plan will better coordinate manufacturers, growers, food distributors and others in central Ohio to grow the local food industry.
The working group that developed the plan found that the region needs to do more to focus on developing food processing and distribution businesses, including small businesses in local neighborhoods, Graffagnino said.
Zoning codes and permit requirements should be revised to encourage more agriculture and food systems in the region, according to the plan. It also says vacant properties should be used for local food system uses.
About 13 percent of the material in the county landfill is food waste, and the plan calls for reducing that. Once it mixes with other trash, food waste doesn’t break down as easily as it does in compost heaps, Graffagnino said.
The city can use Columbus Public Health’s connections to restaurants to make sure food is donated instead of thrown away, she said, and the plan recommends economic incentives for businesses to develop food-waste-prevention programs.
The Columbus City Council approved the plan on Monday. Franklin County commissioners are expected to vote on it on Tuesday.
Tyson said a committee that the city and county appoint will provide annual progress reports on the food plan.
“It certainly will not be a plan that will sit on a shelf,” she said.