5 questions: Taylor Huff, United Way of Central Alabama food systems facilitator

Taylor-Huff-United-Way-Central-Alabama.jpgTaylor Huff, food systems facilitator with the United Way of Central Alabama, is involved with coordinating the first Birmingham-Jefferson Food Policy Council.

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Taylor Huff, food systems facilitator for the United Way of Central Alabama, has been helping create an organization that aims to help Jefferson County residents get better access to healthy food

The Birmingham-Jefferson Food Policy Council, as it’s called, brings together community and business leaders, farmers and health experts to combat what has been called “food deserts,” residential areas where healthy foods are difficult to find. The group just named its first members, including Monica Baskin of UAB’s School of Public Health, David Fleming of Operation New Birmingham, Ellie Taylor of the Alabama Grocers Association and Spencer Taylor at Birmingham City Schools.

The council, Huff said, will help identify problems with food systems in the area and determine how to help low income families get healthy food or improve wellness policies.

“We have been talking about many of these issues for years,” she said. “But I’m really excited to see this diversity around the table, a different type of diversity and coming together to address some of the issues we’ve been working on.”

Huff joined the United Way in July 2010 and is responsible for managing a portion of a $13 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control. Her job also entails working with urban farms such as Jones Valley Urban Farm to get healthy food into the Birmingham and Jefferson County school districts.

In an interview, Huff talked about the Birmingham-Jefferson Food Policy Council and what it hopes to accomplish when the 21-member body meets for the first time next month.

Q. What is your role in the Birmingham-Jefferson Food Policy Council?

I have worked very closely with Greater Birmingham Community Food Partners to develop a food policy council. I’ve worked with them to help facilitate the process and provide some strategic guidance. It’s really been a community-wide effort to pull this together. I’ve really functioned more than just in an administrative role of reporting on their process, but also as a supporter to help them get where they are today, which is to prepare to convene for their first meeting.

Q. Why is the Food Policy Council needed and what does it do?

The Food Policy Council serves a need that I feel is unfulfilled. There is not a formal department of food in our community or one organization in our government that serves as an advocate for healthy food systems and our public’s health. So the food policy council really has the opportunity to .¤.¤. identify opportunities, challenges, barriers and pathways to improve our local food system, access to healthy food and ultimately community health. It acts as that voice through engagement with local policy makers and the local government specifically related to our local food system.

Q. Which types of problems do you see in the Birmingham-area food system?

The Food Policy Council will initially assess our local food system to see what the needs are. Some of those types of policies could be related to, for instance, urban agriculture, acceptance of WIC (food stamp program) or supplemental nutrition assistance programs for farmers markets, or just different types of policies. It could be transportation policies that help residents (get) to grocery stores. Or it could be incentives that attract grocers to “food deserts.”

Q. How did you choose the council members?

There were certain sectors that we identified. We had an open call for applications and really made a strong effort to ensure that we got the word out so that we would have the diverse representation we’re looking for. We had a great response. Applications, and they ranged from community to political. Those applications then were categorized based on those. It was a blind scoring process. So when the review committee of five looked at applications, they didn’t know whose application they were reviewing. The panel looked at experience with the food system and the sector that they were involved in.

Q. What role does the business community play?

First and foremost, we’ve really tried to have that diversity at the table, that it is a diverse representation of our community. So, we’ve worked hard to have the business voice at the table, have it be part of the conversation as we’re trying to address some of the issues in our community. At the end of the day, everything comes back to the bottom line, so when addressing any sort of policy, we have to take into account the overall economic situation. Pubic-private partnerships, I believe, are more successful than ever in addressing these issues.

I believe the business community is absolutely important in addressing some of these issues and in giving them an opportunity to invest in the well-being of our community, both physically and economically. Once they identify their barriers, their opportunities, their pathways, undoubtedly the business community will be connected to those in some way. So the Food Policy Council will have recommendations and opportunities for improvement.

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Article source: http://blog.al.com/businessnews/2011/12/5_questions_taylor_huff_united.html