How do you define a Resilient Food System? Twenty months ago, the answer to that question might have looked very different than it does today. The COVID-19 pandemic created a dramatic rise in the number of individuals needing access to emergency food resources in Montgomery County and brought to light many of the frailties in our food system.
Both established and newly formed Food Assistance Providers (FAPs) stepped up to fill a critical need in our community during the pandemic, and did so with a wide variety of methods and resources. Now, as food assistance efforts move from an emergency response to a recovery phase, it is vital to build upon lessons learned to build a more resilient, food secure Montgomery County.
The Montgomery County Food Council is proud to support these efforts with recommendations for a COVID-19 recovery strategy based on direct feedback from the food security community. Through surveys and listening sessions conducted virtually in the fall of 2021, the Food Council sought input from 50 food assistance organizations and other stakeholders about what a more resilient and efficient local food system could look like. The goal of this process was to identify specific strategies to strengthen our local food system by reducing food insecurity and placing the County in a better position to deal with future crises.
The Food Council has documented this process in its recently released report: Recommendations for Post-Pandemic Recovery and a Resilient Food System. The report organizes the reflections and feedback of the food assistance community around these eight recommendations:
- Advance the collection of quantitative and qualitative data to identify where the need for food assistance exists, how Food Assistance Providers meet that need, and whether there are gaps in service.
- Encourage flexible food distribution models that allow for customization and a diverse selection.
- Continue fostering robust partnerships among food assistance providers to improve efficient operations.
- Support capacity building initiatives that help FAPs seek diversified funding opportunities.
- Support local farmers and farmers’ markets to increase access to fresh produce.
- Increase enrollment in federal supplemental nutrition benefits programs through education and advocacy initiatives.
- Connect Food Assistance Providers with other support services to enhance the overall economic health of individuals experiencing food insecurity.
- Engage in educational programming and policy development that examines the impact of racial inequity on our local food system.
The listening sessions and feedback we received made one thing clear: no organization acting alone can make these recommendations a reality. Strengthening the food system in Montgomery County will need support from a community of stakeholders across the food system, including food assistance organizations, local government, farmers, philanthropic foundations and social service organizations. The Food Council is committed to creating a space for the collaboration, learning and advocacy necessary to make this happen, and we invite you all to join us in this work.