On Wednesday morning, the New Haven Food Policy Council met in City Hall to discuss community goals and efforts to secure equitable food access.
The council — which is a volunteer advisory board composed of members appointed by the Mayor and Board of Alders — considers local and regional challenges such as sustainability, economic development, health and food education. Wednesday’s meeting specifically included discussions on past initiatives and future collaborations in education and outreach across city organizations.
“Thinking of the problem merely as the lack of food doesn’t go far enough to address the poverty that creates hunger in the first place,” said council chair Austin Bryniarski ’16 FES ’19, who led the meeting.
New Haven’s Food System and Policy Director Latha Swamy FES ’16 reported updates on the Policy Advancement Committee, one of the committees that submits to the council. She emphasized the need to begin organizing for the community’s food needs next summer, when the demand for food assistance increases because students are not in school. Swamy said that the committee plans to create a working group that will establish guidelines for summer meal programs. One challenge the group hopes to address is the gap between the end of summer meals and the beginning of school, which is roughly 10 days.
“We just want things to go smoothly and be community-driven,” Swamy said.
Swamy also highlighted new initiatives that support residents’ understanding of new city and state regulations. The Micro-Food Business ordinance, passed by the Board of Alders in April, decreased fees for commercial kitchen space and limited regulatory inspection needs for certain businesses. However, some community members are still unsure of how to take advantage of the ordinance. Swamy said that they are developing a guide to explain the ordinance to Elm City residents.
In addition, the Policy Advancement Committee’s working group is planning to develop another guide on the “cottage food” law passed last year in Hartford. The new law defines a “Cottage Food Operation” as “any person who produces cottage products only in the home kitchen of such person’s private residential dwelling and only for sale directly to the consumer.” According to the Connecticut State Department of Consumer Protection, cottage food is a designation for food that is prepared in a home kitchen with fewer regulations than in a food preparation setting in a restaurant or grocery store. Swamy noted, however, that it can be unclear to New Haven residents how the state law fits into city regulations, especially around the city’s zoning requirements. Therefore, educational literature from the Policy Advancement Committee could clarify the process.
Representatives from community organizations, including United Way and the Community Alliance for Research and Engagement, also provided updates at Wednesday’s meeting.
Jason Martinez, community impact director of United Way of New Haven, highlighted the organization’s partnership with the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen. This past summer, the groups served more than 1,000 people, over half of whom were children. Martinez said that the event was “really very successful,” and United Way is looking at possibly expanding both throughout the year and across the region.
Martinez also highlighted the upcoming “New Haven Day of Caring” on Saturday. Community members, including Yalies, will package up to 36,000 meals intended for use by local agencies. Local food banks will pick up the remaining meals and distribute them to the community.
Alycia Santilli, the director of CARE, spoke about the organization’s efforts to release its food resource guide, which would compile a list of food assistance services into one document. During the meeting, CARE considered whether to translate the upcoming guide into Spanish and a variety of other languages. In conjunction with the intended publication of the new guide in October, CARE is planning a meeting to coordinate with other organizations.
New Haven Food Policy Council meetings take place on the third Wednesday of every month and are open to the public.
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