Media Advisory: USDA Investment Creates the Maryland Community Food Council Collaborative

November 15, 2022

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE  

Contact: Heather Bruskin, Executive Director 

‪(301) 244-9783‬, hbruskin@mocofoodcouncil.org

USDA Investment Creates the Maryland Community Food Council Collaborative

The Montgomery County Food Council has been awarded a $250,000 grant from USDA through the Regional Food System Partnership Program. The funds will be used to launch the Maryland Community Food Council Collaborative and will invest significantly in existing, growing, and emerging food councils throughout the state. The Prince George’s Food Equity Council will serve as a co-coordinator for this initiative, and key funded partners also include the Baltimore Food Policy Action Coalition, Frederick County Food Council, and Western Maryland Food Council. 

“These funds will significantly build statewide capacity for strategic collaboration between public and private sector agencies at the local, state, and regional levels,” said Heather Bruskin, Executive Director of the Montgomery County Food Council. “The need for effective, collaborative partnerships doesn’t end at our County border; strong coordination throughout the region is critical for both the immediate food security of all residents, as well as long-term resilience, sustainability, and equity in the Maryland food system.”

Sydney Daigle, Director of the Prince George’s County Food Equity Council said, “We’re excited for the opportunity to deepen our collaborative efforts with Maryland’s existing food policy councils as well as develop new partnerships to advance equity in our state’s food system.”

The effort receives essential in-kind contributions from the Maryland Department of Emergency Management (MDEM). Secretary Russell Strickland has co-chaired Maryland’s Food System Resiliency Council (FSRC), and the Department has provided staff support since its inception in 2021. The FSRC was created through legislation by the Maryland General Assembly (House Bill 831 / Senate Bill 723) to address food system challenges highlighted and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Rates of food insecurity and demand for food assistance programs sharply rose in March 2020, as thousands of Maryland residents faced unemployment, business closures, and limited access to normal support services while farmers and food businesses in the state faced unanticipated drops in sales and extensive supply chain distribution challenges. Food producers had few options to remain viable, as limited systems were in place to connect their agricultural supply with increased demand for food consumption and assistance. In order for the FSRC to develop and implement policies that effectively address these challenges, robust connections with local level networks and expertise are necessary. This USDA investment will build the capacity of neighborhood, county, and regional food system stakeholders to engage in and contribute to statewide efforts.

“I’ve learned a great deal about the important role of local food councils while co-chairing the Maryland Food System Resiliency Council, so when MDEM was offered the opportunity to partner with the Montgomery County Food Council on this grant, it was very logical. A key responsibility of the Department of Emergency Management is disaster risk reduction, and local food councils are critical in mitigating risk and increasing resilience across our food system. I look forward to helping build a stronger network of food councils across Maryland because they are a key part of shaping a resilient Maryland where communities thrive. “

By formalizing a community of practice between Maryland’s existing and emerging local food councils, this effort will fund local conveners and leaders to collaborate, pursue shared priorities, ensure effective implementation of statewide initiatives at the community level, and connect the insight and expertise of local stakeholders to inform efforts statewide. Key activities over the two-year grant period  will include engagement of new partner organizations reflecting the geographic and demographic diversity of Maryland in order to create the community of practice, coordination of a comprehensive stakeholder training to center community leadership and ensure recommendations are rooted in equity, and development of a collaborative funding and policy strategy to pursue the recommendations of the Food System Resiliency Council’s 2021 report to the Maryland General Assembly. USDA’s investment in the Maryland Community Food Council Collaborative will catalyze a statewide network of local partners to pursue shared goals and improve the resiliency of Maryland’s food system.

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