Healthy Food Procurement Options Explored at 2018 Summer #MACoCon

County attendees to the 2018 MACo Summer Conference learned how to incorporate healthy, sustainable food products into to their procurement processes at the “Putting Our Best Food Forward: A Sea of Possibilities” panel on August 16, 2018.

From L to R: Chloe Waterman, Delegate Sheree Sample-Hughes, Elizabeth Marchetta, & Council Member Dannielle Glaros

Friends of the Earth Senior Food Campaigner Chloe Waterman stated that public procurement is one of the few leverages local governments have over a globalized food system. Waterman explained how values based procurement can align policy with purchasing in a beneficial and cost effective manner. “Plant Forward” is the policy of reducing (not eliminating) meat and dairy purchases while increasing plant-based food purchases in order to reduce both carbon emissions and health issues. Waterman discussed several examples of “Plant Forward” programs including Sweden’s Eat SMART program and San Diego’s Live Well program. Finally, Waterman outlined how a county can implement a Plant Forward policy.

Baltimore City Public Schools Food and Nutrition Services Executive Director Elizabeth Marchetta cited the importance that diet plays on children both physically and academically. (Maryland ranks 9th among states for schools that purchase locally produced food.) Marchetta noted that within Baltimore City, there are adjacent neighborhoods with a 19-year difference in life expectancy. Marchetta described different actions taken by the City’s school system: (1) using local vendors where possible; (2) removing pork from the school diet, serving better quality chicken, and promoting fresh fruits and vegetables; (3) promoting farm and culinary arts field trips and experiences; (4) offering free breakfast and lunch to all students; and (5) eliminating polystyrene trays in favor of compostable ones. Any county can piggyback on the school system’s contracts, which are made affordable through group purchasing.

Prince George’s County Council Chair Dannielle Glaros noted that the County has urban, suburban, and rural districts, and has taken several actions to combat resident health and social issues caused by lack of access to nutritious foods. Glaros described how the County has done a food systems map to determine where there are “food deserts” in the County. Using this information, the County has taken or is contemplating several actions, including: (1) providing healthy options in vending machines located on county property (enacted); (2) providing food desert areas with healthy food options through food trucks (in concept phase); (3) targeted funding to promote healthy food options, such as helping farmers markets accept federal SNAP benefits (ongoing); and (4) utilizing the County’s economic development corporation to address food deserts (ongoing).

Maryland Delegate Sheree Sample-Hughes moderated the panel.