You heard right. After a nearly decade-long hiatus, the Sarasota Food Policy Council (SFPC) is back, thanks to the efforts of Dr. Robert Kluson, UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County's Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent.
Like its predecessor, this current incarnation of the SFPC came about in response to a major update of Sarasota County's Comprehensive Plan. And while the first round of SFPC meetings back in March were introductory and informational, the second round, which kicks-off this Monday night, will begin the process of brainstorming new policies.
This is especially good news because, as you can see from Dr. Kluson's presentation below, the SFPC has won meaningful victories in the past. For example, Policy 1.3.3 of the Comprehensive Plan's Future Land Use chapter reads: "Where appropriate, encourage the use of county parks for community gardens and farmers, as well as farmers markets". This has led directly to the creation of the Culverhouse and Bee Ridge Park Community Gardens, as well as the popular Phillippi Farmhouse Market.
However, many other policies formerly proposed by the SFPC have yet to be acted upon. In the same chapter, Policy 1.3.1 states that "Within the Rural Area, as designated on the Future Land Use Map, the approval of development shall acknowledge that the preservation of agricultural lands is a primary function of the Rural Area and is necessary for a sustainable community". Our County Commissioners would have done well to re-read this passage before deciding to dismantle many of the protections associated with our community's 2050 Plan earlier this year.
Furthermore, the clause in the aforementioned Policy 1.3.3 that advocates for "Support for institutional purchasing from local agriculture" could provide a rationale for the County adopting Transition Sarasota's 10% Local Food Shift Pledge in the future, just as the commitment to "Support an assessment of the community food system" could make a case for funding a new foodshed study, such as the one I have previously proposed by economist Michael Shuman.
In preparing for my presentation Monday night on "a model sustainable local food system", I hope that the new-and-improved SFPC will serve two equally-important purposes. This time around, it should not only seek to generate ideas for additional policies supporting sustainable food and farming, but also to hold our government accountable for the many good ideas they have already adopted.