Alabama Food Policy Council: Coalition-Building and Food Policy Activism in the Deep South

Will Thomas 18 October 2013

Overview
• Alabama’s Food System • Alabama Food Policy Council Steering Committee • Surveys and Listening Sessions • Survey Results • Next Steps

In Alabama, we love food. In fact, it’s one of the few things that actually brings Alabamians together.
But far too often Alabama exemplifies some of our food system’s worst problems.

Alabama’s Food System
• Alabama is dually one of the hungriest and most obese states in the nation (2010 Census):
– 17.3% of households are food insecure (4th) – 32.2% of adults are obese (3rd) – Obesity rate will be 62.6% in 2030 at current trajectory (RWJF 2012) – Over 900,000 residents on SNAP, 140,000 on WIC

• And we have some awful food habits:
– 87.1% of Alabamians didn’t eat 2+ servings of vegetables/day – 77.5% didn’t eat 2+ servings of fruit/day (CDC 2012)

• Our farms aren’t producing food anymore:
– Between 1997-2007, acreage dedicated to vegetable production fell 29% – AL farmers only receive about $0.19 for every retail dollar – Alabama’s top agricultural product is trees.

Alabama’s Food System
Though while these statistics are daunting, food systems change is primarily about the people who comprise that system.
In early 2012 a coalition of stakeholders formed, and with grant money from the AARP Foundation and technical support from Auburn University, sought to understand what Alabamians thought about their food system.

Alabama Food Policy Council Steering Committee
• AARP Alabama • Auburn University/ Alabama Cooperative Extension System • Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network • Food Banks: North AL Food Bank, Bay Area Food Bank (Mobile, AL) • Existing Local FPCs: North Alabama FPC, Greater Birmingham FPC, River Region FPC (Montgomery, AL) • Other Advocacy Groups: Alabama Poverty Project, EAT South, Emerging Changemakers Network

Surveys
• 14 (long) questions • Ranking Exercise
– School Food – Nutrition – Food Security (Hunger) – Local Food

• Dues • Food Attitudes • Demographics

Listening Sessions
• Community conversation based on Oregon Food Bank’s Community F.E.A.S.T. model. • Acquainted participants with idea of food system and asked them to identify stakeholders, strengths, and weaknesses.

Listening Sessions
• Nine listening sessions were held by steering committee members, and 228 people participated in the survey. • Steering committee organizations were in charge of hosting meetings, and some took interesting forms.

Listening Sessions

Survey Results
• Food insecurity (hunger) emerged as most important issue (53.1% voted as top issue)
Food Insecurity (53.1%) Nutritional Quality (16.2%) School Food (12.3%) Local Food (11.8%)

Survey Results
• 63.2% indicated they’d be willing to pay dues to a statewide FPC, avg. of $43. • 85.1% said they cared where their food was produced, but only 29% had any idea where their food was from. • 67.1% said food production increases local economic development. • 62.7% agreed/strongly agreed that “we need state policies to reduce food insecurity in AL.”

Survey Results
Do people respond differently to local food issues based on political affiliation?
Table 5: Top Policy Idea Rankings by Political Affiliation Very Conservative Ranking Policy Idea or Conservative 1 Job Creation 14 Sustainable Agriculture/ 2 8 Agri-tourism 3 Reduce Regulations 13 4 Grants/Tax Incentives 15 Sum 50 Moderate 28 20 22 13 83 Very Liberal or Liberal 13 25 7 11 53 Sum 55 53 42 39 175

Survey Results
Do people respond differently to hunger issues based on religiosity?
Table 7: Food Insecurity vs. Other Issues by Religiosity Food Insecurity Other Issues Sum Top-Ranked Top-Ranked Yes, religion is important 88 60 148 No, religion is not important 24 27 51 Sum 112 87 199

Demographic Issues
Table 8: Comparing Survey Sample Demographics to American Community Survey Survey Sample ACS Difference Demographics (2011) Gender Female 68.8% 51.6% +17.2% Male 28.8% 48.4% -19.6% Age Median Age 28 38.1 -10.1 Employment Unemployed, Seeking 2.1% 6.8% -4.7% Employment Education Four-year Degree 18.4% 13.9% +4.5% (Completed) Graduate/Professional 29.9% 8.4% +21.5% Degree Income $75,000 or Greater 30.8% 25.2% +5.6% (Household) Race White 73.5% 70.2% +3.3% African-American 14.5% 27.2% -12.7% American Indian 1.3% 1.1% +0.2% Asian 0.85% 1.4% -0.55% Hispanic/Latino 3.8% 3.9% -0.1%
Table 9. Comparing Survey Sample Political Leanings to Gallup Conservative Moderate Survey Sample 24.3% 38% Gallup (2011) 49.8% 31.9% Difference -25.5% +6.1% Liberal 24.7% 13.1% +11.6%

Next Steps
• Where does this coalition go from here? • What kind of governance structure is needed? • What kind of advocacy agenda does the AFPC want to pursue? • Do the demographic issues in the survey have any impact on how the AFPC should move forward? • How do you use the relationship with academic institutions to continue to collect data and create food systems research?