Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Strengthening Local Food Systems by Harrison Gibson, TCFPC Board Member

"These are strange times” is an often heard refrain these days, and it certainly applies to our food system right now. Crops are being turned under or rotting in the fields, milk is being poured down dairy drains, and feedlot animals are being euthanized for lack of a processor. Meanwhile, hungry people are encountering bare grocery shelves and longer than ever lines at food pantries. How can we be destroying food while we’re seeing record numbers of unemployment and hunger?

This juxtaposition of abundance and need is not new to our society, but the coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the inequities in our food system and perhaps its fundamental problem: distribution. The roots of the problems now visible in our food system are not unique to this moment in time, only especially evident due to the unique stresses of our circumstances. Given this unusual situation, we’re offered a unique perspective to view and address systemic deficiencies, recognize the good being done, and consider our own role and power in our greater food network. Before we can consider steps toward change, it’s worth taking a frank look at the situation and why we might be here.

In the past several decades, we have seen a considerable consolidation of the food industry. Small farm-centric communities and a diverse network of smaller food players have given way to an industrialized food system with concentrated ownership, global interest, long supply chains, and maximized profits for those large enough to reach the economies of scale. Most of this has been done with efficiency in mind, but it has come at a cost of overall resilience. Despite maximizing efficiency and producing record quantities, the system falls short in the face of our distribution problems and rising food insecurity.

The food industrial complex has struggled to divert products as typical supply streams have shifted along with consumer demand. Restaurants, where Americans formerly spent roughly half of their food budget, have closed and struggled to reopen. This has placed a remarkable burden on grocery stores to try to meet customers' needs. Food banks have done well to help bear increased strain and demand, and more Americans are turning to food pantries for help for the first time amidst record unemployment. Meanwhile, many industrial food producers are having to destroy product with their processing and distribution hindered by the pandemic and unable to adjust to the shifted demand. While everyone in the industry is facing hurdles and looking for solutions, some local producers are finding ways to get food into the hands of people that need it.

Throughout this crisis, local members of the food community have found solutions. Some have made creative changes to their business models, while other have stayed their course and increased productivity to meet the new demand. Here in Fort Worth, farmers markers have been full and some vendors have reported their best weeks of sales and increased demand for CSAs. Restaurants and entrepreneurs are coming up with innovative solutions, with restaurants selling to-go boxes of farmer's fare, chefs creating pop-up meals, and entrepreneurs canning, pickling, and fermenting excess produce from farms. The resiliency and success of these purveyors highlights the benefits and importance of building up our local food system.

While these times are strange, they offer everyone an opportunity to reevaluate our food networks and our roles in them. No matter our occupation, background, or diet, we all exist in our food system as consumers, and shifting consumption from a passive act to an engaged one can have a powerful effect. Wendell Berry championed re-establishing eating as an agricultural act, and he summed it up well with, "Eating ends the annual drama of the food economy that begins with planting and birth." So, honoring Mr. Berry's good sense and good writing, it's worth suggesting a few things anyone can do in this chaotic moment to tip the scales in favor of a robust local food system.

1. Buy local! Buying local can help ensure your food’s quality, reduces its carbon footprint, and you can know where your dollars are going.

2. Grow your own food. Participate in food production, whether it be in your own yard, a community garden, or lending a hand at a local farm.

3. Prepare your own food. You can ensure your own quality, add your own value, learn about produce, nourish yourself and others, and inspire the culinary arts in your own home.

4. Learn about our local food system. Explore the economy of it, the people involved, the variety of foods produced, their seasonality, and all of its history.

5. Participate in the decision-making process. Learn about laws and policies that affect this system, vote, and voice your opinion to legislators. A good starting point could be getting involved with the Tarrant County Food Policy Council.

6. Share it. Now is the time share your food, your time, your gifts, or your passion with a neighbor, especially if they’re struggling in this crisis.

Focusing on local food systems alone won’t fix our nation’s problems with food insecurity, but it can help nurture resiliency into a larger and more diverse network. Together, through small intentional acts, we can build a stronger local food community.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Starting a Good Food Business in Your Neighborhood

Looking for opportunities to start your own small mobile food business? The City of Fort Worth has changed two policies reducing required permit fees to help you do just that! With relatively low start-up costs, launching a produce cart or mobile market is a great way to bring fresh produce directly to neighborhoods that are underserved or unable to sustain a multi-vendor farmers market. This guide will give you the facts on what’s allowed and where to find additional resources to get your fresh and healthy business started!

Produce Cart

The new policy allows:
  • Pushcarts that offer whole, uncut produce in residentially zoned neighborhoods
  • Produce carts may be up to 4’X3’X6'
  • Cut fruit prepared in a commissary kitchen, a licensed, commercial kitchen often rented to caterers and food truck operators
  • Sales can be made from residential sidewalks and from property used for non-residential purposes with permission from the property owner
  • Operation between 7 am and sunset in residential neighborhood

Mobile Food Market

The new policy allows:
  • For sales from a truck, bus or other vehicle that sells fresh fruits and vegetables along with other food items
  • No permit fee is required if selling only whole, uncut produce
  • Permit fee is reduced if 75% of its goods are whole, uncut produce
  • Sales can be made:
    • As a transient vendor in one place for up to 60 minutes
    • From non-residential lots with permission of the property owner. Examples include churches and schools.
    • From a vacant lot in nonresidential districts with a valid Vendor Certificate of Occupancy. Examples include commercial, industrial or mixed-use districts. 


Starting a new business and steering it toward success can be daunting. There are never any guarantees, but there are resources and support available to guide you along the way. Here’s a few organizations that can help:

City of Fort Worth Consumer Health Department 
Provides guidance and permitting for food businesses and mobile food vendors. fortworthtexas.gov/health or 817-392-7255

Fort Worth Business Assistance Center
Provides business plan assistance, workshops, loan assistance. fwbac.com or 817-392-2622

SCORE Fort Worth
Provides expert volunteer mentors, free workshops and resources. fortworth.score.org or 817-871-6002

Small Business Administration
Provides resources and support to help you plan, launch, and manage your business. sba.gov or 1-800-827-5722

Chambers of Commerce
Local business associations dedicated to supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs as well as advocacy, talent development and more. 

          Fort Worth Chamber fortworthchamber.com or 817-336-2491
          Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber fwmbcc.org or 817-871-6538
          Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber  fwhcc.org  (817) 625-5411

TCFPC Community Gardens & Urban Ag Working Group
Provides support and expertise for garden and agriculture initiatives. 

This material was developed by the Tarrant County Food Policy Council and Blue Zones Project Fort Worth. For more information on these organizations and their efforts to support good food in our region, please visit http://www.tarrantcountyfoodpolicycouncil.org/ and https://fortworth.bluezonesproject.com/. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Waste Not...

by Dorothy Cadet, TCFPC Intern

Up to 40% of food produced in the United States goes uneaten, is thrown away, spoils or is dumped into landfills across the country. This amount of food waste that sits and rots in landfills could have been used to feed families, animals or turned into nourishing compost to enrich the soil for more produce to grow.   

With nationwide focus, the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched the U.S. Food Waste Challenge to challenge retailers to reduce their waste and loss by 50% by the year 2030.  Many large retail companies have taken on the challenge and embraced it: Ahold USA, Blue Apron, Bon Appetit, Campbell’s, ConAgra Foods, Kellogg’s, PepsiCo, Sodexo, Unilever, Walmart, Wegman’s, Weis and Yum! Brands, have all stepped up to help prevent, recover and recycle loss and waste of food and food-related waste. 

Local Focus

Sodexo has partnered with Texas Christian University (TCU) to prevent food waste by recovering and redistributing excess food to a local homeless shelter, Union Gospel Mission, through TCU’s Food Recovery Network (FRN). The recovery and redistribution effort between Sodexo and TCU is led by FRN President Lexi Endicott and fellow students. Endicott states that at present, TCU FRN recovers food weekly from two campus dining halls and delivers it to the partner agency on Mondays and Fridays. Food from Sodexo’s other retail and entertainment locations, such as basketball and football arenas, is also collected and delivered to Union Gospel Mission. TCU FRN has also partnered with Einstein Bros Bagels to collect landfill-bound bagels each week and divert them to a food pantry – Northside Inter-community Agency (NICA).

Endicott reports that the efforts of dozens of student volunteers has prevented over 12,000 pounds of food from going to the landfill in just the last year and a half. Instead of being thrown away, this food was diverted to those in need. This program is a team effort that takes approximately three volunteer hours per week, many hours serving at Union Gospel Mission, and countless administrative hours. Students have been impacted by becoming more aware of their own personal food waste, and FRN has been an important catalyst for increased understanding of the impact of nationwide and global waste, loss, and recovery.

TCU students get fresh, leftover food from Sodexo ready to transport to Union Gospel Mission.

“I have seen people transform from volunteers into food waste champions. FRN has been a great motor for education and awareness on our campus, it has been a great outlet for students to serve their community, and the food donations have certainly benefited our recipient organizations,” Megan McCracken, TCU FRN’s former president said.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Cowboy Compost has pioneered the effort to reduce and recycle waste.  They provide individuals with composting services which include education, compost buckets, and reasonably priced biweekly home pick up.  For the retail, sporting, and entertainment venues, they can craft a plan to help that location become a “zero waste” zone.  Surprisingly, as part of their reasonably priced marketing package, anyone can contact them to coordinate a “Zero Waste Party” and purchase compostable plates, cups and utensils, which encourages all items be sent for composting. 

Local Impact

It isn’t just our partners that have the power to stop food waste. You have the power to impact not only Fort Worth through prevention of over-purchasing or wasting of food, but you can recover food by donating uneaten food directly to those in need or recycle food waste and loss to composting.  If every individual reduced their personal waste and loss, along with retail business commitment to reduce wastes by 50%, we can all impact hunger, our environment, and our planet.

If you are interested in learning more about how you can become involved in learning about food waste, click on any of the links above or contact Tarrant County Food Policy Council to find out what our Food Recovery Working Group is doing to prevent food from being wasted and how you can help.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Sowing Food Justice with the Community Gardens & Urban Agriculture

by Dave Aftandilian, CGUA Working Group Leader and TCFPC Board Member

Making Fresh Produce More Accessible to All in Tarrant County

If people in a community lack affordable access to healthy, nutritious produce, they can pursue a range of remedies:
  • They might try to convince a full-service grocery store to locate in their community. 
  • They could work with the city to help local convenience stores stock more healthy produce, or to locate a farmers market in their community. 
  • Or they might decide to grow their own.

That’s where Community Gardens & Urban Agriculture (CGUA), the Tarrant County Food Policy Council’s CGUA Working Group, comes in.

Plant Your Produce
TCU student, Sharon Fronk, assists a
volunteer in the Southside Community Garden.

CGUA helps people grow fresh produce, both for themselves and for others, and we especially want to assist people who are living in areas that lack affordable access to healthy produce. We have created the following how-to-garden curricula that we offer for free on the TCFPC website:
  • Backyard Gardening Curriculum
    • Soils and Composting
    • Planning and Planting
    • Tending and Harvesting
  • Container Garden Curriculum 

All the curricula are specific to North Texas. Our backyard gardening curriculum also has summaries in Spanish.

Community Efforts

One of the biggest challenges Tarrant County faces in terms of our local food system is that there are not enough farmers growing here to supply the demand for fresh produce. To help address this gap, CGUA:
  • Helped develop and publish a new urban agriculture ordinance that lets people sell extra produce they grow in their own neighborhood and establishes guidelines for larger-scale urban farms along with Blue Zones and the City of Fort Worth’s Planning Department.
  • Is currently writing and promoting a garden/farm-based entrepreneurship curriculum for high school students—partly with the hope that some of them might decide to start urban farms here when they graduate.
  • Is developing and promoting various programs to assist existing local farmers reach wider markets for their produce, including supplying local restaurants and institutions.
  • We also offer a free monthly newsletter, How’s It Growing?, that shares news about upcoming garden-related events, seasonal planting tips, and recipes for simple but tasty dishes that feature seasonal produce.
  • And maybe, most importantly, we support folks who want to start new community gardens or urban agriculture projects by connecting them to existing resources, to knowledgeable people and institutions who can advise them, and to each other, so that we can all work together to make Tarrant County a greener, healthier, and happier place.

If you’d like to join us, please email the CGUA Working Group’s Chair, Dave Aftandilian, at d.aftandilian@tcu.edu, or come to our next bimonthly meeting on Thursday, November 29, 3:00-4:30 p.m. at Tarrant Area Food Bank’s administration building, 2525 Cullen St. in Fort Worth.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

The State of Our Local Food System

What Every Citizen Should Know About Food From North Texas

by Micheline Hynes, Chair, Tarrant County Food Policy Council

To improve access to healthy foods, you have to have a community that produces it. The North Texas region needs more farmers and gardeners to meet the needs of our community. Most local growers are family run small businesses. When you buy local, it can often mean fresher, more variety, and foods that are more nutritious than those that have been transported hundreds of miles, and your dollars stay in the community where you live.

While buying local is great in many ways, it may require a little adjustment to consumer expectations. Here's the real deal about locally grown in North Texas:  

1. Locally grown is not cheaply grown. Small-scale, local farmers typically have higher costs and sometimes shorter growing seasons than large-scale farmers or suppliers from other regions (or even other countries). Many times, local farmers are not using the expensive, mechanized equipment or cheap labor that can significantly reduce operating costs like large-scale producers do.They're also not as likely to farm exclusively in massive hoop houses, greenhouses, or other climate and pest-controlled environments which increases yield and sometimes lowers the sticker price on their inventory. Comparative length of growing season is a factor, too--while we can grow some truly lovely, tasty little strawberries here in North Texas between March and June, we cannot compete with southern California's twelve month growing season of gorgeous, large (albeit relatively flavorless) mass-produced fruits. Locally grown is not cheaply grown, but it is worth the difference

2. North Texas has unique soil fertility and microclimate. This presents both some opportunities and challenges for our farmers. Eastern parts of DFW, boast the more fertile Blackland soil which drains relatively well and is quite conducive for vegetable production. Western parts of DFW, like Tarrant and Parker counties have Grand Prairie soil, which has comparatively inferior drainage and is more suitable for ranching, although vegetable production is certainly possible. This is one factor in why there are more produce growers circling the eastern edge of the metroplex and the western side leans toward beef. Whether you're growing in the east or west of our region, our shared microclimate gives the advantage of extended growing seasons for all of us compared to our northern neighbors--we can grow something in the soil all year long. We typically have a long season for things like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and okra, but you'll only find table staples like broccoli and cauliflower for a short while in spring and late fall and never in mid-summer at your farmers market. Droughts, deluges, hail, and the occasional 85 degree day followed by a 45 degree night is rough on plants and can result in some significant crop loss for area market farmers. Our extreme weather events can simply break a farmer's heart, but amazingly, they just get out there and start again!

3. Sometimes ugly or weird vegetables taste better than pretty, standard ones. What makes something beautiful to behold (and transport well from field to distributor to grocer to consumer) is rarely also the best tasting. Flavor comes from compounds present in any given plant cultivar, the nutrients in the soil, and the interplay of sun, wind and rainfall on the crop. We've become accustomed to all the perfect looking produce at the grocers and have let our eyes fool us into thinking what looks best, tastes best, too. There are 10,000 varieties of tomato plants alone, each with a unique flavor profile and I promise you that the vast majority of them taste better than those pale-but-perfectly round hothouse sandwich slicers you can get all winter. So, trust your farmer and take a chance on something different, for they know the secrets to great flavor. 

4. Your patronage really does matter, but more markets may not be the solution. One recent study in California discovered that, “for every dollar of sales, direct marketers are generating twice as much economic activity within the region, as compared to producers who are not involved in direct marketing.” There's some good evidence that farmers markets and other types of direct-sales benefit local farmers and stimulate their local economies. Adding new farmers markets in our region is always a popular idea and could be a great thing, but not if there aren’t enough farmers to fill them. At this moment, we don't have enough small-scale farmers in North Texas and the ones we do have on average aren't able to effectively scale up their production to support multiple weekend markets. Small neighborhood markets seem like a good idea, but the past few years have demonstrated they tend to have few vendors, limited product diversity, low sales, and typically close within a year. For the time-being at least, there is more overall benefit from the presence of a few, well-run, large markets with robust traffic.

So whenever you can, make the effort to get out to our region's farmers markets, stop by the on-farm road stands, get your harvest share through a CSA or dine at restaurants featuring locally grown food. When you do, you can be proud to know that you're supporting our hard-working growers who in turn, not only put great food on your table, but create jobs and spend their money supporting local, too. They're right at the heart of the local food movement and what makes food grown right here in North Texas something to treasure. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Passionate about Child Health and Wellness

by Noah Drew, JD and Vahista Ussery, MS, MBA, RDN
Co-leaders of the TCFPC Children's Working Group

In the United States, the percentage of children and adolescents affected by obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s. Data from 2015-2016 shows that nearly 1 in 5 school-age children and young people (6 to 19 years) in the United States has obesity.  As of 2018, more than 44 percent of children in the Fort Worth Independent School District were overweight or obese.

While genetics and physical activity play a part, a healthy diet is the keystone for maintaining a healthy weight. More than 90 percent of American children have poor diets. Some children have it harder than others, living in food deserts, where there are few nearby places for their parents to purchase healthy foods. Despite their economic situation, our overall environment sets a child up for failure when it comes to health. To help combat this problem, our mission is improving access to healthy foods for children at home, restaurants, schools and in the community.

Our Children’s Working Group is made up of members from a variety of backgrounds and areas of work, but all of us share a passion for children’s health. We are currently working on the following initiatives:

  •  Children’s Menu Program: We want to ensure children have healthy dining options when visiting restaurants in Tarrant County. Currently, many menus feature popular “kid foods,” but these foods do not provide the nutrition kids need. We hope to help increase fruit and vegetable options, decrease soda and other sweetened beverages, and promote healthier cooking techniques.
  • Summer Feeding Promotion: Many kids rely on the National School Lunch Program and other feeding programs throughout the school year. When summer begins, many have nothing to eat at home. Through the Seamless Summer Program and Summer Food Service Program, free meals are offered to children under age 18 throughout Tarrant County. Unfortunately, many families do not take advantage of these programs, so we hope to increase awareness and ensure we have less hungry kids in our county.
  • Vended Meal Food Quality Improvement: Many afterschool programs rely on vended meal companies to provide nutritious snacks and supper meals to children. We unfortunately have discovered a lack of quality with these meals, and plan to help improve the acceptability. The Tarrant Area Food Bank has already taken steps to ensure their vendors understand the importance of quality. They have modified their procurement procedures to require vendor sample meals, and are working with their current vendor to improve their offerings. We hope the Food Bank’s story will help to lead others to encourage other food vendors to make changes to their meals.

If any of these initiatives sound like something you would like to get involved with, please consider attending our next working group meeting. We would also love to hear feedback and other ideas!  

Monday, July 2, 2018

Local Partnership Reduces Food Waste

by Becca Knutson, TCFPC Board Member

Since January 2014, Tarrant Area Food Bank (TAFB) has operated their demonstration garden, The Learning Garden, on a residential lot owned by Ridglea Christian Church in the Ridglea North neighborhood. The garden serves the purpose of demonstrating several different types of growing methods, different materials that can be used and different watering techniques. From this garden, volunteers and staff work hard to grow fresh fruits and vegetables to donate to local food pantries. They also maintain a robust composting program that provides enough organic material to nurture the entire garden, year-round.

Community Composting

Composting is a very useful process that can be implemented in any garden. It involves taking garden waste, kitchen scraps, yard clippings, leaves and other discarded organic materials, combining them with water and air to encourage the process of decomposition. After a couple of months, the finished product is beautiful, organic material that will provide nutrients to the garden crops and help improve the soil tilth.

TAFB’s Learning Garden has been able to produce enough compost to supply all of its needs for the last two years, resulting in thousands of dollars in savings. While the composting program has been successful using contributions from the community and the garden, not having a consistent source of high-nitrogen “green” materials was the only thing keeping it from producing at capacity.

Gardener Marshall Harris adds vegetable scraps from the CSFW to the worm bin at TAFB's Learning Garden. Vermicomposting is one of several methods of breaking down organic matter like vegetable scraps into useful soil amendments for the garden. 

Clever Collaboration

On January 10, 2018, Edward Gutierrez of the Culinary School of Fort Worth (CSFTW) contacted Lauren Hickman, gardener at TAFB to find out if the two organizations could work together to reduce food waste. Edward suggested that CSFTW’s students start saving their compostable kitchen scraps to donate to TAFB’s compost piles. CSFTW is located on Camp Bowie Boulevard, less than a mile from TAFB’s Learning Garden which makes the relationship simple and convenient.

After a few conversations to work out the logistics, the two partners came up with an effective program that would benefit both organizations. Each week, students at CSFTW use small buckets at their workstations to collect any unused food scraps. When the buckets are full, the students empty their buckets into larger bins stored by the dumpsters. Then, each Tuesday before the regular volunteer workday at the Learning Garden, TAFB staff picks up two 33-gallon tubs full of fruit, veggie and grain scraps that will be used by volunteers in the compost piles.

Food scraps are added to a newly built compost pile and turned in, to the delight of billions of microbes. These bacteria, fungi, and other microscopic animals will transform the pile into useable compost over about 8 weeks using the hot composting method. 

As of June 2018, TAFB’s Learning Garden has incorporated approximately 790 gallons of food waste donated by CSFTW. The food waste is used by volunteers to build new compost piles during almost every workday. It also allows opportunities for Master Composters to earn volunteer hours by teaching others how to compost. The increased amount of compost produced will benefit TAFB’s Learning Garden by increasing production of fruits and vegetables and allow us to share compost resources in the future.

CSFTW also benefits from the partnership. Saving food scraps in separate containers facilitates instructor and student awareness of food waste. Instructors are also able to use the discarded produce to critique the student’s methods and provide teachable moments. Removing the food scraps from the waste stream also saves on dumpster space and diverts organic material from the landfill where it would not break back down into usable materials.
As TAFB and CSFTW continue to work together, the culinary students hope to be able to volunteer their time at the Learning Garden to learn more about growing their own fruits and vegetables. Eventually, the culinary school would like to have a garden of its own.

To find out more about TAFB’s Learning Garden and volunteer opportunities, please visit www.tafb.org/volunteer or register for a garden workshop at www.tarrantareafoodbank.eventbrite.com. Information about the Culinary School of Fort Worth can be found at www.csftw.edu.