Part of the Food Policy Councils in Action spotlight series
Year it started: 2012
Mission: To build an equitable, resilient, and sustainable local food system through collaboration, transformation, and cultivation.
Members/Structure: There are 25 volunteer members of the Food Council and 9 members on the Board of Directors. Candidates are selected by the Council each year to serve two-year terms on the Council and/or Board. The Board of Directors is the governing body for the Council, while Council members are subject matter experts who guide the Council’s four working groups and policy committee. In addition, the Community Advisory Board consists of 15 members who have experienced food insecurity. These members advise on Food Council initiatives and participate in advocacy for selected key issues. They are compensated for their time.
Council members must have expertise in at least one local food-related issue and represent either a sector of the food system or a community stakeholder. They are required to commit to a two-year term, participate in at least one working group or internal committee, and attend at least 75 percent of Food Council and working group or committee meetings.
Board members must participate in at least one Board or Council committee and attend bi-monthly Board meetings, an annual Council retreat, and at least one working-group meeting per year.
What they do: The Council is a nonprofit organization that serves as the primary connection point for businesses, nonprofits, government agencies, and residents in relation to food system issues in Montgomery County, Maryland. They bring together more than 2,000 local and regional partners to build community-wide food education, advocacy, and capacity-building initiatives. Their work cultivates a more resilient, sustainable, and equitable local food system by enhancing food access for the more than 100,000 residents at risk for hunger, expanding food education opportunities for all residents, supporting the County’s farms and food and beverage businesses, and addressing the impact of local food production, distribution, consumption, and recycling on natural resources.
How they do it: The Council receives funding from public and private sources including Albertsons Company Foundation, the Food Research and Action Center, the Greater Washington Community Foundation, the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation, the Maryland Department of Human Services, the Mead Family Foundation, the Montgomery County Government, the USDA Local Food Promotion Program, the USDA Regional Food System Partnership Program, and No Kid Hungry.
The work of the Council is carried out by monthly meetings and communities of practice that focus on specific priority areas. These meetings are led by staff and Council Members and are attended by Montgomery County residents who are interested in making positive changes in the food system.
- Community Calls: The Food Security Community Call and Food System Advocacy Community Call bring food systems stakeholders together on a monthly basis to learn about resources and opportunities in the community. They often feature high-profile speakers and are an opportunity to learn and ask questions.
- Policy Priority Working Groups: These groups connect community partners via virtual learning opportunities and in-person site visits to advance understanding of issues and the pursuit of policy change. Topics evolve over time to align with current organizational Policy Priorities. Each group meets monthly, alternating virtual meetings featuring panel presentations, subject matter expert speakers, and facilitated discussion with visits to sites across the region that showcase real-life examples of a policy issue in action.
- Communities of Practice: These four groups support specific food system activities, including SNAP enrollment, gardening, sustainability, and small food businesses, including food farmers.
- Projects that have been created via the above community meetings include:
- The MoCo Made initiative, which provides support to local farmers and food businesses while promoting locally-made foods and beverages.
- The Montgomery County Food Security Plan, which was created in 2017 and serves as a guide for businesses, nonprofits, government agencies, and individuals to help ensure that all residents have access to adequate nutrition.
- The Food Council was recruited by the Montgomery County Council to create a Strategic Plan to End Childhood Hunger, which will be released in late spring, 2023.
Latest project/campaign: In addition to the Strategic Plan to End Childhood Hunger mentioned above, another new Council project has been developing the Maryland Local Food Council Collaborative with support from a USDA Regional Food System Partnership planning grant. The Collaborative is a community of practice for local food councils across the state of Maryland.
Interesting fact about how they are working to positively affect the food system: In 2021 the Council introduced their only direct-service initiative by becoming a state-funded Community Benefit Organization to conduct direct SNAP outreach and enrollment. In 2022, the Council held 79 SNAP outreach events reaching 1,968 residents, received requests for SNAP assistance from 1,224 individuals, prescreened 531 individuals for SNAP eligibility, and completed 523 SNAP applications for the community.
Location: Bethesda, Maryland
Number of staff: 10, plus 15 Community Advisory Board Members who are also compensated for their time participating in council initiatives, meetings, and events.
Number of volunteers: 25 on the Council, and 9 on the Board of Directors
Areas served: Montgomery County, Maryland
Founder/Director: The organization was started by grassroots volunteers. Heather Bruskin was the longest-serving Executive Director and oversaw significant organizational growth, as well as the transition to an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Massa Cressall serves as the Interim Executive Director, and a hiring process is underway to select a new Executive Director.
P.O. Box 34412
Bethesda MD 20827