Soglin kicks off first food policy council meeting

Mayor Paul Soglin made the opening statements at the first Madison Food Policy Council meeting during National Food Day on Oct. 24.

The MFPC is an extension of the Dane County board. It joins the Dane County Food Council and Coalition, but aims more at the question of accessibility and affordability than connecting producers to buyers, which is the focus of the county’s council and coalition.

Mayor Soglin commenced the Food Policy Council by explaining its importance.

“In terms of the farmers’ market, we have one of the best known markets in the world. When it comes to food policy, there is this enormous gap. I see that as an opportunity to take us to another level,” Soglin said.

An affordable food experiment this past summer sparked the food policy council idea for Soglin. The four-week experiment, called Madison Meet and Eat, took place in the Meadowood neighborhood and was an effort to make reasonably priced, healthy food accessible to low income families.

The Meet and Eat featured food cart vendors from around Madison who set up in an Meadowood area every Thursday.

According to Soglin, the experiment succeeded at bringing the neighborhood together and caused some food vendors that regularly attended the Meet and Eats to lower their prices. After the fourth week was over, residents wanted the program to continue, so it was brought back in the beginning of September.

“If we know they don’t have access to fresh food at good prices, can we introduce quality foods into neighborhoods?” Mayor Soglin questioned to the council. “I’m convinced that the introduction of food can strengthen the neighborhood, we should not wait for it to be the other way around.”

The Madison Food Policy Council hopes to meet once more before the end of the year. Some of their first goals focus on placement of community gardens in city parks as well as interest in zoning laws for new, local fast food restaurants. Such zoning laws determine what is defined as fast food and where fast food restaurant locations should or should not be approved around the city.

The Dane County Food Summit, hosted by Dane County Food Council, was another event that took place on National Food Day.

Over one hundred people attended the summit’s nine different events, spread throughout the day at the Christ Presbyterian Church in Madison.

Events included workshops that covered issues such as local food infrastructure and access to farmland, and a film and discussion about food stamps put on by Second Harvest Foodbank.

Madison Food Policy Council member Chris Brockel attended and participated in the Dane County Food Summit. After seeing the crowd of people at the summit and attending the first policy council meeting, he was feeling positive about Madison's progress on food issues.

“I think there is a real sense of optimism in the group, in that the county is really moving forward on food issues. We have better communication and better energy around what is going on and needs to happen in the future,” Brockel said.