| Lauren LeBel
WARE — To improve local food systems, interested community members are coming together to form the new Quaboag Valley Food Policy Council.
Quaboag Valley Food Policy Council Coordinator Caitlin Geaghan explained that the town of Ware received funding from the state’s Root Cause Solutions Exchange to create a food policy council. Its goals are to use mainly upstream work to improve local communities and decrease people’s risk for COVID-19 and other chronic diseases caused by their lived inequities.
To educate the business and general communities on food policy and the new council, three informational sessions took place on March 2, 6 and 14. Geaghan co-presented the information with Ware Program Director Emily Coderre.
In the presentations, Geaghan explained that food access is a concern in the Quaboag Hills community. For example, in the span of 12 towns there are only five full-service grocery stores.
According to a 2022 Baystate Wing Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA), “Approximately 9 percent of adults and 13 percent of children in the communities served by Baystate Wing are food insecure.”
Another Baystate Wing CHNA statistic said, “In fall 2020, 1 in 4 residents from the communities served by Baystate Wing worried about getting food for themselves and their family.”
A food policy council is a grouping of people in the community who want to work on their food system.
“The food system [consists of] getting food from where it’s raised to people consuming it,” Geaghan said.
For example, an apple is grown in an orchard, picked, cleaned, waxed, packed, delivered to a grocery store, purchased, prepared and consumed. Throughout that entire process, people can be a part of it, she shared.
Food policy pertains to bills and regulations around food. A focus that has been talked about during the presentations is the need for food literacy for K-12 students.
Across Massachusetts, there are over 20 food policy councils, with five that are nearby, said Geaghan. Some of those council’s work includes community food assessment, community and school gardens, composting webinar series and developing a campaign to promote local produce sales at a diverse range of existing and new local businesses, to name a few.
The Quaboag Valley Food Policy Council will be focusing on upstream and downstream work. The downstream approach reacts to problems after they have occurred, whereas the upstream approach aims to prevent problems from happening in the first place. An example of a downstream approach that was provided to attendees is community gardens. An upstream example is changing policies regarding children receiving free school breakfast and lunches.
Geaghan noted that each food policy council is different. “[It is all about] improving local food systems, but that looks different to everyone,” she said.
The Root Cause Solutions Exchange grant covers the following towns: Belchertown, Brimfield, Brookfield, East Brookfield, Holland, Monson, North Brookfield, Palmer, Wales, Ware, Warren and West Brookfield. The hope is that this will eventually expand to all towns the Quaboag Hills Community Health Improvement Plan covers which includes Hardwick, New Braintree, Barre, Spencer, Ludlow, Wilbraham and Hampden.
Geaghan explained that there is not a set number of how many people can join the council. “Whoever wants to join can join,” she said. “It’s not an elected or appointed position.”
She went on to say that no prior knowledge on the topic is required. “We can educate everyone to make sure they are at the same level,” Geaghan shared.
Once the council is established, members will be responsible for creating organizational structure and bylaws, reviewing and discussing other food policy council structure to assist with their own, and more.
Geaghan said the Zoom sessions on March 2 and 6 had about six to eight people in attendance. The March 14 session took place after Reminder Publishing’s deadline, however, at the time of the interview, Geaghan said about eight to 10 people had pre-registered for it.
The informational meetings were recorded and will be posted for the public’s viewing.