The need for such collaboration as a statewide council became evident at the 2007 Virginia Food Security Summit convened by the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech as it focused on local and regional food availability and accessibility. Since 2007, Tanya Denckla Cobb of the University of Virginia’s Institute of Environmental Negotiation and Matt Benson and Eric Bendfeldt of Virginia Cooperative Extension have worked with a resulting working group of key stakeholders and foundational organizations to coordinate and establish the Virginia Food System Council, which was formally incorporated in 2009. The Council’s purpose is to strengthen Virginia’s food system from farm to table with an emphasis on access to local food, successful linkages between food producers and consumers, and a healthy, viable future for Virginia’s farmers and farmland.
“The Council is bringing together a broad range of parties from both private and public sector interested in food related issues that haven’t been at the same table before,” explains Katherine Smith of the Virginia Association of Biological Farming. “The hope is that the Council will identify where the gaps and needs are and collaborate to bring all segments of the food system together in synergy.”
Goals of the Virginia Food System Council include:
- Expanding and strengthening local food systems in Virginia
- Educating and communicating to the public and key stakeholders a sustainable food system’s impact on health, economic development, natural resources, and social well-being
- Identifying barriers to and opportunities for improving the local, regional, and state food system
- Making policy recommendations and implementing strategies to improve the availability and accessibility of healthy, nutritious foods for all Virginians.
By pursuing these goals, the Virginia Food System Council will be helping to support agriculture and food-based economic development for revitalizing rural Virginia and low-income urban neighborhoods; improve Virginia’s food security through increased local and regional food supply and distribution chains; reduce the high public health cost of obesity; support and encourage the development of new economic networks, small businesses, and industry for processing, storing, and distributing locally-grown Virginia products to Virginians.