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By Lucy Weberlein

By the year 2050, the world will need to feed an additional 2 billion people. How do we begin to try and solve this looming crisis? It starts by addressing the challenges and opportunities of our local food system.

Last week, we invited leaders in Austin’s food system sector to discuss the obstacles of eating local and why our relationship with food is more important than ever.

“Buying local and eating healthy is important,” admits Edwin Marty, food policy manager, City of Austin, “but we can’t overlook the disparities in our community’s access to these resources.” Marty points to the rising costs of housing and reliable access to transportation, which are deeply connected to a resident’s ability to buy local food. When faced with the choice between paying for housing costs or buying locally-produced food, housing, rightfully so, is the priority.

That’s why the Sustainable Food Center (SFC) invests in programs like Double Dollars, which enables all SFC Farmer’s Markets to accept government food subsidies, like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC (Women, Infants and Children).

“Even some of our farmers use these subsidies,” explains Ronda Rutledge, executive director, Sustainable Food Center. “Having the ability to accept these programs at our markets creates opportunities for our customers and vendors to build relationships with each other and our food system.”

Max Elliot, executive director, Urban Roots, shares a similar belief that “local food helps build relationships.” Personal connection to local farms and food is a critical piece of the Urban Roots mission, which is why the organization focuses on youth development and community engagement through hands-on work at the nonprofit’s east Austin farm.

There’s a lot of important work and change that our community can help enact. From getting your hands dirty at a community garden or farm to making your voice heard in local and national elections. Our food system is a complex network. The support and collaboration of private organizations, nonprofits, philanthropy and city government are how we move forward to creating a local and sustainable food system for everyone in our community.

Thanks to our panelists for sharing their expertise and thoughts on transforming the Central Texas food system!

This discussion was part of our monthly Austin Area Funders series. If you’re part of a Central Texas Foundation interested in attending our next event, please email us at info@austincf.org

Panelists included: