The next mayor of Indianapolis has an unprecedented opportunity to leverage the power of food for the good of our city. Good food is good for business. It creates economic opportunity, provides jobs, helps retain a talented work force, and improves health.
In Indiana, about $14.5 billion of an average $16 billion of our food dollars are spent on imported food. Study after study has shown that in nearly every urban area, the demand for local food outstrips the available supply. Statewide marketing programs like Indiana Grown and the success of local food businesses like Green BEAN Delivery are evidence of this growing demand.
The city of Indianapolis should take a more proactive role in supporting the development of a robust local food economy. City government can leverage resources to support urban food enterprise zones, a comprehensive urban agriculture policy, and small-scale food businesses.
Taking a food systems perspective also helps the city meet public health and food security objectives. In the last 15 years, the adult obesity rate in Indiana has risen from 15 percent to 32.7 percent. Not only are we gaining weight, but many residents struggle to find good food. In 2014, Indianapolis was rated the worst food access city in the country. To add insult to injury, 173,000 people in Marion County are food insecure. We simply can’t have a thriving community when so many are hungry and underemployed.
What can the next mayor do? Hire a food policy director to bring a systems perspective to the various food issues embedded in city government: economic development, neighborhoods, transit, planning/zoning, and food waste. Louisville, Minneapolis and Baltimore have all taken this step.
The City-County Council has already passed the Healthy Food Resolution. A food policy director can build upon this bipartisan support, providing leadership and coordination within city government and in the community. Through this approach, the next mayor can lay the necessary groundwork to help make Indianapolis a great city for decades to come.
To read the Indy Food Council’s open letter to the next mayor and related food policy opportunities, visit www.indyfoodcouncil.org.
Indy Food Council co-chair