Organizing for food policy: Nebraska Food Council’s 2021 priorities

Small Towns

By Justin Carter, former staff member

Since its founding by the Center for Rural Affairs in 2017, the Nebraska Food Council has worked toward its mission to strengthen Nebraska’s economy and environment while fostering food security for all Nebraskans through broad collaboration. 

The council’s growing membership base led to previous endorsements of a new state cottage foods law, the expansion of Double Up Food Bucks, as well as federal legislation to make local food more available in schools.

With the COVID-19 pandemic exposing more gaps in our food system, the Nebraska Food Council knows 2021 will be an even more important year. In November, council leaders gathered to determine policy priorities for the next year.

Farm to School continues to be a major motivator. Nebraska’s Farm to School network is growing under Nebraska Food Council leadership. In late 2020, council members began discussing a farm to school interim study with state Sen. Tom Brandt, with the hope of researching and finding farm to school opportunities. As of now, that interim study is underway with the intention of yielding state legislation. This legislation will be the first the Nebraska Food Council has assisted in forming.

The pandemic brought to light opportunities for the small meat processing industry. With heavy volumes of livestock being pushed to our local butcher shops, processors need resources to expand and meet inspection requirements. In October, the Nebraska Food Council endorsed the federal Strengthening Local Processing Act introduced by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry. We hope to see similar legislation at the state level.

In early 2020, members gathered at the state capitol to endorse legislation to expand Double Up Food Bucks. The council looks forward to continuing this push and working directly with the program at University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension.

Nebraska Food Council members recognize the inequity present in agriculture and our food system. Beginning farmers face tremendous barriers to entry into the industry, with farmers of color facing additional obstacles. The council views land access as key to this large issue. We are eager to work with partners and engage new members to listen and learn more about this issue and find solutions.

The pandemic has brought tragedy to so many and exposed weaknesses in systems we’ve
traditionally relied on. However, it has also shown us that there is opportunity to build a more resilient and just food system. The Nebraska Food Council aims to begin this process in 2021.

Feature photo: Katie Jantzen, operator of West End Farm near Plymouth, Nebraska, is a member of the Nebraska Food Council. In 2019, she took part in the council’s first legislation efforts by testifying for the cottage foods bill, which was passed into law.  |  Photo submitted