Food System Plan Accepted by Legislature

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Tompkins Weekly        7-27-22

By Katie Hallas

The Tompkins County Food System Plan: A Roadmap for our Food Future — presented to the County Legislature on July 19 — was enthusiastically supported with all 13 legislators present voting unanimously to accept the plan. The draft plan is available at, and community members are encouraged to read, comment and get involved with the local food system movement.

Lee Shurtleff, legislator for District 9, stated, “I applaud you for the work you’ve done. You’ve given me some ideas on how we might be able to collaborate with our local governments within the framework you’ve set forth. This is a plan that I can heartily support.”

Legislator Travis Brooks (District 1) recounted the Greater Ithaca Activity Center’s (GIAC) efforts to provide meals for youth, 75% of whom are on free and reduced-price lunch.

“So many kids were getting one meal a day and having to wait for lunch the next day,” he said. “We had kids begging for food. We know that there are kids all over this county who aren’t getting meals. Anything that I can do to help, I’m all in.”

The front page of the Tompkins County Food System Plan. Photo provided.

A dozen community members representing various aspects of the food system spoke in support of the plan during the privilege of the floor.

Community member and UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report author Rachel Bezner Kerr shared, “One of the core messages of the IPCC report is: all food systems are already being affected by climate change and there is an urgent need to take action now. The food system plan put forward today reflects some of the key ideas put forth in this report.”

Rebecca Cutter, resident and sustainable development facilitator, also shared a call to action.

“It’s imperative that our local government engage in this work,” she said. “Tompkins County has the resources, the expertise and the community support. We can lead the way.”

The Food System Plan offers a community-driven vision for our food future while providing a voluntary framework for collaboration and action toward meaningful change.

Climate change, equity, and community food security are the central issues impacting our food system and the key areas where transformation is needed. Alongside the countless partners who have been advancing local food system efforts for years, food system planning provides an opportunity to improve the lives of the people here in Tompkins County and to steward the land that sustains the community. Through intentional planning, Tompkins County can create synergies in a complex system and make meaningful progress on the issues that matter most.

Community health advocate Lara Parilla emphasized, “A county-accepted and supported Food System Plan will further enable my work with our local health care system to partner with community-based organizations and our county Health Department to make it easier for community members with food insecurity and chronic health conditions to access healthy food and hands-on nutrition education with dignity.”

Engaging over 2,000 members of the community and 50-plus businesses and organizations, the plan marks the first comprehensive approach to addressing the key concerns in our community food system and expanding upon our many strengths to build resilience, cultivate equity and economic opportunity and promote human and ecosystem health.

Contributions from residents formed the basis for the nine goals that aim to fight climate change, grow local food production capacity and strengthen systems to support collaboration; support deep reductions in food insecurity, grow opportunities for and prioritize community members who have been historically excluded, especially Black, Indigenous and people of color in Tompkins; and provide strategies for protecting natural resources, reducing food waste and integrating broad nutritional support.

The 47 recommendations include priority actions for the Tompkins County food system, spanning educational efforts, new policy tools, programmatic expansion and shifts in funding mechanisms among others.

Sarah DeFrank of the Food Bank of the Southern Tier shared, “We see this work as essential to the success and longevity of our communities. The food system touches every aspect of our lives. … It’s important we work together with our local governments for the communities we serve.”

Community member Max Buckner shared that we need to be “thinking about all of the arable land in our region as part of our foodshed that could potentially feed our community and could help address food insecurity, food access and environmental concerns.”

The food system planning effort — a partnership between Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County and the Food Policy Council of Tompkins County — is funded by the Tompkins County Legislature and the Community Foundation of Tompkins County, with in-kind support from Tompkins County Recycling and Materials Management.

Legislator Randy Brown (District 8) noted, “It is critical that everyone understand the complexity and diversity of our food system and the most important action is the development of a Food System Plan. We need to move the plan forward with a sense of urgency. We need to double the availability of local foods in the next five years, work with farmers and help support their businesses. Increasing local foods is a win for peoples’ health, local businesses and our economy.”

Anne Koreman, legislator for District 5, also spoke to the importance of the plan.

“We need a food system plan because I believe access to healthy food is not a privilege but a right for everyone who resides in our county,” she said. “A well-thought-out plan with community input, such as this Food System Plan, can help create more equitable accessibility and distribution of food so families can thrive, not just barely survive. A local Food System Plan will help prepare us for a changing climate and provide fair compensation for farmers and their workers, which are both priorities for this legislature.”

Tompkins Food Future will hold a celebratory community gathering in the fall to share the plan and hear ideas on priorities and next steps including ways to show your support and get involved. In the meantime, connect with us at or contact coordinator Katie Hallas at or (607) 272-2292 x281.

Katie Hallas has worked in sustainable community development and food systems for 15 years as an educator, planner, grant maker and program designer. She has worked on farms throughout the Northeast, helped launch a food cooperative in Keene, New York, developed nonprofit programs as a board member of the Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming in Ithaca and led the Sustainable Ithaca grantmaking program at the Park Foundation in Ithaca

Hallas also taught in the Sustainable Farming and Food Systems Program at Tompkins Cortland Community College and led long-term community planning initiatives throughout Tompkins County. Hallas is the coordinator of Tompkins Food Future.

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