County Food System Plan will cover ‘everything from seed to sandwich’

Committee seeking public input on plan to improve food system
July 22, 2022 at 12:27 p.m.
Raspberries grow at the City of Bellingham garden next to the Post Point Treatment Plant.
Raspberries grow at the City of Bellingham garden next to the Post Point Treatment Plant. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)

Staff Reporter

A Whatcom County Council advisory committee is seeking community input on the development of a new Food System Plan. 

When finished, the plan is intended to provide actionable recommendations and solutions to deficiencies in the county’s food system. Whatcom’s Food System Committee determined five key goals for the plan this spring — cultivate equity and justice; protect and regenerate soil, water and land; build a resilient and vibrant local food economy; ensure access to healthy food for all; and adapt the community food system to a changing climate.  

The committee is now looking for feedback from the public on those goals and what actions should be taken to achieve them. 

A food system is “everything from seed to sandwich,” said Riley Sweeney, the committee’s chair. “It’s planting the food, growing the food, harvesting the food, processing the food, delivering it to the people, making sure they have access to it and dealing with the waste afterward. It’s that entire ecosystem for how we harvest and consume food on this planet.” 

photo  Whatcom County is developing a new Food System Plan and seeking public feedback. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)  

The groundwork for this plan was laid in 2011, when the first Whatcom County Community Food Assessment was published. The food assessments, done by Whatcom Food Network until 2019, provide an analysis of the state of the food system, but don’t provide solutions — prompting the need for a plan with actionable recommendations, said Ali Jensen, a program specialist at the Whatcom County Health Department.

More than 200 experts were interviewed for the most recent food assessment in 2021, Sweeney said. It includes summaries of eight sectors connected to the food system: land, water, labor, farming, fishing, processing and distribution, consumption and waste. 

“The way that we produce and consume food is broken," Sweeney said. "The labor system is not reflective of respect and dignity. The way that we process and consume food prioritizes cheap, poor-quality food — rather than sustainable, good-quality food that's healthy for us — and produces a lot of waste. There's a lot of things that we could do better, and we're not going to solve them by tackling them one by one. We need to look at them as a whole system.”

The committee released a survey to the community in May, which just concluded in early July. Now, the committee is hosting some in-person and virtual events, including a “community get-together" held Sunday, July 24 at Shuksan Middle School to allow community members to learn about the plan and provide input. 

In September, the committee is aiming to complete a draft food system plan, based on community feedback. Then, the draft will go back to the community for more feedback. Eventually, the committee will bring the finalized plan to the County Council for approval. 

Sweeney said he’s hopeful the County Council will take up this plan when it’s complete because he believes the council is passionate about the same issues as the committee — from agriculture and waste reduction to sustainability. 

“I'm sure they'll take the steps to meet those goals, and the Food System Plan is the roadmap to solving those problems,” he said. 

The importance of this works comes in the simple fact that everyone needs food, Jensen and Sweeney said. 

“Food is the most essential part of our lives,” Jensen said. “There's so many different things that are involved in the food system … I bet everyone is really passionate about one of the things in the food system.” 

Read more about the Food System Plan here. For more information on the community event on Sunday, click here.  

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