Austin food system needs work, experts say


Jorge Corona

Left to right, Heather Frambach, Margaret Shaw, Mike Martinez and moderator Paula McDermott discuss the growing business of food sustainability during the ‘Food Justice and The Local Food Economy’ panel at the LBJ School of Affairs on Monday afternoon.

Barak Bullock

Inequal access to food obstructs the creation of a more just food system in Austin, according to an expert panel held Monday.

Four public affairs graduate students and Paula McDermott, Austin Sustainable Food Policy Board member, organized the “Food Justice and The Local Food Economy” panel as a part of a new course they designed on food policy. 

The invited panel consisted of Mike Martinez, Austin City Council member; Margaret Shaw, program manager of the Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Offices for the City of Austin; Heather Frambach, urban agriculture planner at the Sustainable Urban Agriculture and Community Garden for the City of Austin; and Laurence Denis, director of the Austin International School Association and McDermott, who moderated the panel. 

Early in the panel’s discussion, Martinez said he does not believe Austin has a just food system.

“A just food system means that everybody that lives in a community has the same access, and access to resources in that food system,” Martinez said. 

Martinez said access to food resources is most significantly limited in the East Austin area. 

While discussing efforts to expand food access, Shaw said the Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office works to bridge the gap between farmers and customers.

“We are now ready as a food community to figure out where is that space that we see in other communities that actually helps farmers have access to new customers… We’re marrying both education and training to farmers to help them be better business people, with expanding their access to markets,” Shaw said.

Frambach said although an emphasis on local food is good, so far it has not necessarily dented Austin’s current inequality in food access. 

“In Austin I think there’s a beautiful, wonderful growing local food movement here, but it hasn’t really necessarily translated into actual food access,” Frambach said. “Poverty is the root issue here, and job creation is one of the major tools that we’re going to use to fix the food system.”

Martinez also said the city should think creatively to improve its food system.

“At three o’clock at the end of the day, when all the moms go pick up the kids at the elementary schools, why wouldn’t we have a CapMetro bus converted into a produce stand sitting there waiting?” Martinez said.

Printed on Tuesday, April 30, 2013 as: Panel provides food for thought