After more than a year of planning as a working group, the Food Advisory Council (FAC) for Memphis and Shelby County held its first official meeting last week to discuss everything from urban farming to the Peabody ducks.
Led by Chris Peterson, executive director of the local nonprofit Grow Memphis, the FAC seeks to bring together food system stakeholders and address problems in the Mid-South's food system through community involvement.
Food system stakeholders include farmers, chefs, community garden organizers, representatives from the Shelby County Health Department, concerned consumers, and any number of citizens interested in how food is produced and distributed in the Mid-South. The FAC is currently accepting applications for those interested in being on the council.
As a long-term goal, Peterson said he'd like the FAC to be recognized as an advisory body for all food policy work on the local level, and he's even participating in a new push to create a statewide food policy council. But for now, the FAC is focusing on projects like urban farming, creating a farmers market alliance, and making fresh foods available in underserved areas of the city.
The first big project of the Food Advisory Council has been a massive overhaul of Memphis' food ordinances. With the help of the Health Law and Policy Clinic of Harvard Law School and input from the Shelby County Health Department, the FAC has whittled down the existing food code — which hasn't been updated since the 1980s — from hundreds of pages of duplicative and outdated code to around 14 pages.
While the Harvard law students recommended scrapping the local code altogether and deferring to state food ordinances, Carole Colter of the FAC said Memphis and Shelby County has specific needs that might not be covered under state law.
And then there are the Peabody ducks. Because these iconic fowl walk through a food establishment, which is not allowed by state law, a special local ordinance is in place to grant the Peabody ducks an exception. And the FAC was careful not to step on any webbed toes.
"We didn't want the first big win for the Food Advisory Council to make it illegal for the Peabody ducks to march," Peterson said.
Colter said she sat down with Otho Sawyer of the Shelby County Health Department and Janet Shipman, assistant county attorney, and went through three drafts of the ordinance handbook.
"A lot of things were changed," Colter said. "There is little to no redundancy anymore. There's a lot of new progressive ordinances with mobile food and mobile grocery stores, which is good because these mobile markets target food-insecure neighborhoods."
Peterson said they are looking at introducing the new ordinances to the Memphis City Council and the Shelby County Commission as early as January.
"I'm really happy with the progress we've made," Peterson said. "It's an example of how community members and government can get together and compromise."