Montgomery County has named its first director, Heather Bruskin, for the newly created Office of Food Systems Resilience (OFSR), established to streamline and coordinate the County’s efforts to address local food system challenges. Ms. Bruskin is an expert in food security, economy, education and environmental policy creation and implementation.
OFSR was created based on the recommendation of the Montgomery County COVID-19 Food Security Task Force and established by the County Council in July 2022 under Bill 20-22 to serve as a liaison between County government agencies and community food systems partners such as nonprofits, farmers and businesses.
The Office of Food Resilience will be charged with developing and maintaining a strategy for improving the efficiency, equity, sustainability, and resilience of the food system in Montgomery County. Ensuring greater County government focus on food systems data collection, monitoring, and reporting (including food access and security data) is a priority of the OFSR.
“The Office of Food Systems Resilience is an important step in the County’s efforts to address the root causes which lead to food insecurity for our residents,” said County Executive Elrich. “I look forward to working with Ms. Bruskin in this new capacity to ensure our residents receive all available resources to end the cycle of food insecurity.”
The County is home to approximately 1.05 million people, of whom 87,190 (8.3% of total population) are estimated to be food insecure according to Feeding America’s Meal Gap Map. According to the American Community Survey, there are significant disparities in risk for hunger in our community, particularly related to race (8-14 percent food insecurity rates for Black and brown residents compared to just 5 percent of white residents) and age (14 percent or 34,000 residents 18 & younger.) Additionally, the high cost of living in Montgomery County results in thousands of additional households with incomes that are too high to receive benefits assistance but too low to make ends meet.
For more than 12 years, the new director has been a leader in community-based organizations. Her roles have included financial management, strategic planning, data collection and analysis. She has been actively involved in engaging residents, employees and volunteers in collaborative and effective program operations. Ms. Bruskin has a master’s degree from the University of Virginia and a bachelor’s degree from Tufts University.
“Launching this innovative new office will connect my passion for building resilience, justice, and sustainability in our food system to a role in public service,” said Ms. Bruskin. “I look forward to a continued partnership with the community toward systems change, expanding upon the County government’s investments in ensuring equitable and dignified access to nutritious, culturally diverse foods for all residents. It also will be important that we harness the unique strengths of business, nonprofit and government partners to enhance the health of our people, our economy and our natural resources.”
The OFSR will develop a case management system for residents experiencing food insecurity and the long-term strategy for government investment in community nonprofits in the food security sector. Rising food costs and persistent rates of hunger across our county, a reduction in federal and private funding for food assistance programs, and deep systemic inequities and supply chain fragility that existed well before the pandemic, all require interagency strategies that maximize local dollars and leverage additional external funding to be better prepared for future crises. Two additional staff positions focused on data analysis, policy strategies, and community engagement will be posted for recruitment soon and hired this Spring.
As the Executive Director of the Montgomery County Food Council, Ms. Bruskin led the County’s primary food system advocacy nonprofit organization through significant expansion. Under her leadership, the Food Council launched a nutrition benefits outreach and enrollment direct service program in partnership with the State of Maryland, connecting more than 1,000 residents to food assistance resources and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Ms. Bruskin serves in leadership roles with numerous local and regional food systems and nonprofit organizations, including currently as the elected co-chair of the Maryland Food System Resiliency Council and as an appointed member of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Food and Agriculture Regional Committee.
Food Resources in Montgomery County can be found at https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/covid19/get-help/food.html