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Our Local Food System: The Little Economic Development Engine That Can

Buffalo Food Policy Summit brings a new idea to the table; event is planned for UB's Inauguration Week

Release Date: September 8, 2011

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The Buffalo Food Policy Summit is part of a growing national trend that brings together policymakers, farmers, retailers and the public to enhance community health, says Samina Raja.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Few people realize that a handful of food retailers and processors on Buffalo's West Side have a $40 million annual economic impact on Erie County.

But that is the case, and experts associated with the Buffalo Food Policy Summit, to be held Sept. 20-21, say that like other communities across the country, we can use our food system and its network of producers to generate a higher food-based economic multiplier, making our food system a major engine for economic development.

The Food Policy Summit is funded by the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo with additional support from the University at Buffalo Civic Engagement and Public Policy Research Initiative.

The summit is a UB Inauguration Week event, being held to mark the formal investiture of Satish K. Tripathi as UB's 15th president. The inauguration events, to be held Sept. 19-24, will honor the university's proud past while celebrating its extraordinary present and vast potential for the future. Events held on Sept. 20 and Sept 21 as part of Inauguration Week are highlighting the themes, "UB: Creating a Healthy, Vibrant Community;" and "UB: Engaged in Our Community."

Internationally recognized food security expert Samina Raja, PhD, UB associate professor of urban and regional planning, says food summits are being held in many places. Already, in such cities as Oakland, Portland, Detroit, Cleveland, Philadelphia and elsewhere in New York State, policymakers, farmers, retailers and the public, working together, have accomplished considerable economic development while simultaneously enhancing the health of their communities. There is no reason why we can't do it here, she says.

"The food system and its network of producers -- farmers, processors, retailers and consumers -- are a significant part of our local and regional economy but we're not using either in the best possible way," Raja says.

"It has been established by communities across the country that local government policies that support a more local/regional food system make good economic and public health sense," she says, pointing out that a significant portion of our food dollars leak out of the local economy when food we sell here is purchased from producers outside the region. "Why should we promote such practices?," she asks.

She points out that agricultural economy planners in one Iowa county suggested that if each of the region's consumers ate five locally grown fruits and vegetables each day for only the three months when they are in season, it would create $6.3 million of labor income and 475 new jobs in the locale in question.

The summit has been under development for months by Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities, the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Erie County, Grassroots Gardens of Buffalo, New York Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, the Massachusetts Avenue Project, the UB Civic Engagement and Policy Research Initiative, and the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab (UB School of Architecture and Planning).

The summit has four parts, aimed at different audiences:

The "Policymaker Food Summit" on Sept. 20 from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. is intended for local government policymakers, officials and planners from across the region. It is not open to the public. National experts will engage them in a discussion of successful strategies and practices that have resulted in food systems that promote health and, at the same time, foster economic development.

Participation is by invitation only. The press is invited to attend the opening remarks by UB President Satish Tripathi at 8:30 a.m. and the keynote address at approximately 12:30 p.m. by Cleveland, Ohio, Councilman Joe Cimperman. Press can call 645-4602 if they wish to attend.

Cimperman is Cleveland's "Food Justice Hero." He has been very involved with food work in that city as head of a new "Healthy Cleveland" initiative and chairs the city's Health and Human Services Committee. He will discuss how the food justice utopia he helped establish has leveraged economic growth and promoted health with tools like backyard chicken coops and beehives, urban farm zoning laws and corner stores that carry affordable, locally grown food.

"Economic Development and the Food System: Ideas for the Future" is an event for the general public that will be held Sept. 20 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Karpeles Manuscript Library, 453 Porter Ave., Buffalo. Refreshments will be served. An RSVP is requested to CeppRsvp@buffalo.edu.

The event will highlight the important role played by the local food system in promoting economic development and health in Buffalo and Western New York, as well as opportunities for growth.

Speakers will include James Johnson-Piett of Urbane Development Inc., a group that focuses on food security and sustainable development with distressed communities including Philadelphia, Newark, and Detroit; author Mark Winne, food policy council director of the Community Food Security Coalition in Portland, Ore.; and Heather Wooten, senior planning and policy associate with Public Health Law and Policy in Oakland, Calif., whose work with communities connects land use, economic development and health.

The Local Food Systems Bus and Luncheon Tour on Sept. 21 from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. is closed to the public, for reasons of space, but members of the press will have the opportunity to attend, on a first-come, first-serve basis, upon prior request to 645-4602. The tour will visit local, healthy food production, processing and distribution sites in the City of Buffalo, and will highlight the resources of and challenges to the city's food system.

Tour speakers and guides will include Susannah Barton of Grassroots Gardens of Buffalo; Diane Picard of the Massachusetts Avenue Project; Dan Oles of the Oles Family Farm & Promised Land Community Supported Agriculture; Mike Lee of the Community Action Organization; Mark Stevens of Wilson Street Farms; Judy Einach of the New York Sustainable Agriculture Working Group; Brad Draudt, a Hamburg area grower; Tucker Curtain of the Curtain Family of Restaurants; Craig Turner of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership; and Sharon Bachman of Cornell Cooperative Extension. Informational packets about the tour leaders and the sites will be provided and the tour will end with a "Local Foods Lunch."

Research Roundtable: "Rebuilding Community Food Systems: Opportunities for Multidisciplinary Research" on Sept. 21 is open to the public and will investigate the serious consequences of our broken food system and propose strategies for building a new and healthy one for this region.

It will take place from 2:30-4 p.m. in Harriman Hall, UB South Campus, and a public reception will follow. An RSVP is requested to CeppRsvp@buffalo.edu.

Speakers will include Raja, Leonard Epstein, PhD, SUNY Distinguished Professor, Department of Pediatrics, UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and a specialist in community health and health behavior; Sara Metcalf, PhD, assistant professor, UB Department of Geography, a specialist in urban sustainability and community health; and Sarah Robert, PhD, assistant professor, UB Graduate School of Education, an expert in social education.

Also participating will be Michael Conard, senior principle in the firm Design + Urbanism Architectural, LLC, a practice that includes the development of sustainable ecological and investment systems and who teaches in the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. Conard will also give a free public lecture at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 21 in 301 Crosby Hall, UB South Campus.

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