Making food healthy, sustainable, and accessible for everyone in San Antonio is the goal of the Food Policy Council of San Antonio. Though it involves immensely complicated and seemingly intractable problems, we are pushing some solutions that would be a good start.

Our current food system isn’t pretty. Nearly a quarter of children in San Antonio live in food-insecure homes. The food that is available in many parts of the city is often unhealthy, contributing to our struggles with diabetes and obesity. Dropping the diabetes rate by just 1% could save an estimated $16.1 million per year in health care expensesThe vast majority of what is eaten here comes from outside the state, while local and regional farmers struggle to find a market and stay in business.

We actively research and improve water and housing through San Antonio Water System and San Antonio Housing Authority, but there has been no in-depth study of the city’s food system to date, nor is anyone within our municipal government employed to work directly on these connected problems.

We sent out a questionnaire to all runoff candidates, asking what they thought of five policies that could make a difference. The intention was to publicize differences between candidate to help voters decide who they should choose to support.

What we discovered is that while the mayoral race is contentious and divisive, on this issue at least, Mayor Ivy Taylor and her challenger Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8) agree. Both candidates explicitly and enthusiastically endorsed our policy proposals, some of which will require city funding.

Those policies are:

  • Hiring a Food Policy Coordinator onto city staff, to connect departmental programs, engage community members, coordinate research, and suggest policy on the San Antonio food system and its resilience, production, and equitable distribution.
  • Executing a State of the Food System study to use a data-driven approach to assess current challenges and opportunities;
  • Creating a model local municipal procurement program to require a certain amount of food purchased is regionally produced
  • Establishing a Healthy Corner Store initiative in targeted neighborhoods to improve access to healthy foods and education programming to show residents how to cook them
  • Reviewing and updating livestock provisions of the animal code to ensure that San Antonians can raise their own food if they choose to without onerous restrictions.

Taylor stated:

“Last year, City Council adopted our first comprehensive plan, SA Tomorrow, which includes a Sustainability Plan. Sustainability focal areas include both Food System and Public Health and their target outcomes and strategies. I fully support SA Tomorrow strategies such as developing an urban agriculture pilot program (the community’s top choice) and those changes endorsed by the Food Policy Council of San Antonio.”

Nirenberg stated:

“I support the Food Policy Council goals and will work in partnership with its members to develop strategies to accomplish them. The work of citizens during the SA Tomorrow process has shown that the San Antonio Metro Health Department – and associated policy-making by City Council – should be data-driven around community health outcomes in all parts of the city. For this reason, I believe that the goals of the Food Council, including  a coordinator within SAMHD, will help achieve cost efficiencies and improved health outcomes.”

William “Cruz” Shaw, running for District 2 council seat, has also endorsed the above policies, along with Melissa Cabello Havrda, who is running in District 6.

“I believe that for sustainable growth in our communities, it is important to begin at a foundational level,” Shaw stated. “The idea of cultivating sustainable food is similar to cultivating a sustainable line of leadership in our community. It’s a matter that relies on foundational investment and empowering our communities with education on this kind of matter. The idea of affordable and healthy food isn’t possible without local government ensuring that the path to that is an efficient and replicable one. We have to make sure that bureaucracy is encouraging progress, as opposed to hindering progress. I look forward to pushing for regulations at city level to be logical and sensible, and I will encourage fellow officials and city staff to reach out to experts in these fields to assess/develop/implement pathways to make sure we are supporting improvement where we can.”

Havdra told us, “Finally, as San Antonio’s growth exploded over the end of the 20thcentury through today, the city’s land use and planning practices haven’t always had sustainability in mind.  Just as we incentivize weatherization, water conservation, and xeroscaping, we can incentivize gardening and cultivation inside the city limits and provide real education that will help residents take partial ownership of this problem. Ultimately, the problem of access to affordable, healthy food options is a question of culture:  do we care enough about each other to make necessary changes?  Are we willing to invest, provide resources, and see our efforts through?  Will we track our success and hold ourselves accountable?  As Councilwoman, I will do all these things, and will work with anyone to push my colleagues to do the same.”

It is incredibly encouraging to see different candidates come together on common sense programs to make the city better. For those elected, we intend to see these commitments honored, and we’re looking forward to the collaboration that comes with crafting meaningful policies.

Want to know more, or to join the Food Policy Council in pushing for the passage of these and other policies related to a sustainable, equitable, and economically vibrant food system? More details, along with meeting times, are available here.

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Mitch Hagney

Mitch Hagney is a writer and hydroponic farmer in downtown San Antonio. Hagney is CEO of LocalSprout and president of the Food Policy Council of San Antonio.