The creation of a Food Insecurity Dashboard is just one of the highlights of the Washtenaw County Food Policy Council's recently released 2020 annual report.
The council, a sub-committee of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, includes representatives from various sectors of the local food system, including education, economic development, and waste management. The council created the dashboard in partnership with the Washtenaw County Health Department and with support from a Michigan Local Food Council Network Seed Grant. The dashboard shares data and community stories about food insecurity and information on how the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity.
Markell Miller, chair of the council and director of community food programs for Food Gatherers, says the council's goal is to provide everyone access to food they want and that benefits them. The dashboard shows those things are not always accessible for everyone in the county.
"People’s ability to buy the food they want to cook and enjoy contributes a lot to your life satisfaction and health," Miller says. "It impacts so many aspects of our lives."
The dashboard's data show an increase in people ages 65 and older living below the poverty level and an increase in students eligible for the National School Lunch Program.
The annual report also features other work done by the council, including a virtual forum held with 2020 state representative candidates and research regarding meat and poultry processing options for farmers. This research shows the difficulties for local farmers in the meat processing supply chain and recommends a meat and poultry processing plant for Washtenaw County. Miller says this research has also been shared with local governments to educate them on the issue and recommended next steps.
Miller says she hopes the annual report helps Washtenaw County residents know the council and its work better, and to understand the importance of food policy.
"People can understand that food impacts us all. Everyone has to eat," Miller says. "We want to make sure our food system is fair and working for everyone, both on the production and consumption side."
Emily Benda is a freelance writer based in Ann Arbor. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy of Washtenaw County Food Policy Council.