Get a Taste of Boston's Food Policy at Congress of Cities

Boston Farmer's Market
September 24, 2012

By Howard Leibowitz

Does your city have a "food policy"? Perhaps you already do, but don't call it that yet. Are you working to attract supermarkets? Bring better food to your schools? Provide land for families to grow their own fruits and vegetables? Permit food trucks? If you do that, or many other related activities, your city has a "food policy".

Five years ago, few cities called it that, but in recent years, more and more cities have established food policy councils, hired knowledgeable staff and developed city-wide food strategies in the areas of economic development, healthier eating and an improved quality of life. Boston is one of these cities.

When Boston Mayor Tom Menino first ran for his office, one of his pledges was to dramatically increase the number of new supermarkets, particularly in inner-city neighborhoods. The Stop and Shop chain's willingness to locate in several of these communities was instrumental, as well as successful, as they generated some of their strongest sales in the region. Other chains and independents followed, bringing a wave of new shopping opportunities and jobs to our neighborhoods.

New supermarkets were necessary, but they were not sufficient to guarantee that Bostonians were eating healthier, so we have also launched a series of efforts to get more fresh and local foods into our neighborhoods, particularly for people of limited incomes. These include:

  • "Boston Bounty Bucks", a program that doubles the value of SNAP dollars at local farmers markets, allowing families to put more fruits and vegetables on their tables, while doubling their purchasing power, which attracts more farmers. The Wholesome Wave Foundation supported Boston, and subsequently other cities in this effort, and the U.S. Senate has authorized a pilot of this program in their version of the pending Farm Bill.
  • The sale of "day boat" fish for the first time in more than 70 years at our farmers markets. A number have reported that in this first year of the program, market sales have soared. One market reported a 70 percent increase overall, and another had a line of over 50 people recently, waiting for the market to open. Mayor Menino recently met with Mayor Jon Mitchell of New Bedford, MA, to discuss how together, they could get more local fish into Boston markets, thus boosting both cities.
  • Boston has also been cited by our state for our "Farm to School" program, through which we buy locally grown produce from the New England region. It is fresher, costs less to transport and supports our rural communities.

Every day, we have new food related initiatives coming forward - food trucks; urban farms; a public market for our downtown and winter markets for our neighborhoods. We have a successful incubator for food enterprises, Crop Circle, which now houses 36 businesses and is looking to expand to a second site. We are also moving forward on a new seafood processing facility at our Marine Industrial Park.

Want to learn more about Boston's successful food initiatives? Come to our Mobile Workshop on Thursday, November 29 at noon during the Congress of Cities. Lunch, of course, will be served.

Howard Leibowitz is the Chief of Projects and Partnerships for the City of Boston.

Details: Attendees at the Congress of Cities and Exposition to be held November 28-December 1 in Boston will have the opportunity to learn more about Boston's efforts during the mobile workshop session on Thursday, November 29 at noon. Continue the conversation Saturday morning (9:00am) December 1st at the workshop “Growing Your Local Food Economy,” moderated by the Director of Food Initiatives for the City of Boston. For more information and to register for the conference, visit www.nlccongresssofcities.org.