How Kansas councils are supporting their communities during the pandemic



Food, farm, and policy councils have seen their fair share of the spotlight in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. And for good reason — at no other point in our public memory has so much attention been paid to the importance of local, national, and global food systems.

Kansas certainly has not been immune from the food system impacts of the pandemic. Food, farm, and policy councils say their communities are currently expressing three big concerns:

  1. Increased rates of food insecurity, especially among the most vulnerable populations including children, older adults and the working poor. 
  2. Increased demand on local food assistance programs. 
  3. The feasibility of operating farmers markets and community gardens. 

As a result, many councils were called on to connect their community members to trusted local aid programs and the best practices that would keep markets and gardens open and safe.

And, wow, did they step up! While it’s true that a new normal has taken hold,  local food and farm councils across the Sunflower State have set to work supporting their communities in the best way they know how. Here is a brief snapshot of their work over the past three months:

Eat Well Crawford County adjusted their community garden planting calendar and volunteer regulations to comply with social distancing guidelines, and also managed to plant extra spring and summer crops in an effort to alleviate the mounting food shortages and insecurity in their community. 

The Franklin County Food Policy Council compiled a community resource guide and distributed it throughout their county. The guide directs citizens in need to the various social services and assistance programs available in their area.  

The Greater Kansas City Food Policy Coalition is actively working on measures to increase food system worker protections and justice in the midst of the pandemic. Their work was spotlighted by the Food Policy Network, a national network of food policy councils, as an example of thought leadership around the issue. 

The Lyon County Food and Farm Council lobbied Senator Pat Roberts’ office for extensions on Pandemic EBT benefits through the end of summer, provisions of personal protective equipment to school food service workers, and for increased grant funding to schools to cover the additional meals they would need to provide. 

The Food and Farm Council of Riley County and the City of Manhattan, Kansas worked with the Manhattan Farmers Market on best practices for opening the market safely while maintaining the health of the community. The market has now seen several successful weekends of operation with no cases of the virus traced back to it.

The Reno County Food Policy Advisory Board has prioritized the increase of SNAP registrations in their county. The percentage of individuals who qualify for the nutrition assistance program far outweighs the number of people who are actually registered in their community – a number that has only grown during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The Western Prairie Food, Farm and Community Alliance has begun exploring the ways in which Kansas Cottage Food Laws (regulations that allow for the sale and distribution of low-risk food not prepared in a commercial kitchen) compare to those of surrounding states. The goal is to find ways to make their regional food system more self-reliant while maintaining the health and safety of all.

These highlights are but a snapshot of the work being done by all 25 councils across the state. Over the coming months, we’ll share more about their work and the impact it has made on their respective communities.

By Miranda Klugesherz, director of Kansas Alliance for Wellness

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