The Pasco County Food Policy Advisory Council met on Sept. 30, in its second meeting since the Pasco County Commission appointed nine panel members in June.
Pasco County is the only county with an active food policy council in the Tampa Bay region, according to county officials.
Statewide, similar councils exist only in Duval, Miami-Dade and Orange counties.
The group’s first goal is to complete a food assessment to identify resources, needs and challenges within Pasco’s food production and delivery system. Members also are working on a draft of an urban agricultural ordinance to recommend to Pasco County commissioners.
Regulations for community gardens, backyard chickens and beekeeping could be part of the proposed ordinance.
“It gives an opportunity for citizens to have a voice, and a powerful voice,” said Dell DeChant, who encouraged county officials to create the advisory council. “They (food policy councils) are at the cutting edge right now of agriculture in the nation.”
Others who helped establish the council were Kathryn Starkey, a member of the Pasco County Commission; Todd Engala, a planner for Pasco County; Deanna Krautner of Pasco County Department of Health; Travis Morehead, a farmer and business owner; and Whitney Elmore, director of Pasco County Extension.
In the past, agriculture meant big corporate farms, but there has been a shift in recent years to agricultural activities that are small, local and often urban, said DeChant, a professor at the University of South Florida.
As the council moves forward, the long-range goal is to develop policies to improve access to “culturally appropriate, nutritionally sound and affordable food produced in Pasco County,” according to a mission statement.
The council will have a public workshop on Nov. 4 from 10 a.m. until noon, at the West Pasco County Government Center in New Port Richey. Council members will review five urban agricultural ordinances including ones adopted by New Port Richey, Dade City and Boston, with a goal of recommending a draft ordinance for adoption by Pasco County commissioners in 2016.
General meetings will be held quarterly.
Members have a range of issues to review.
Some municipalities, including Tampa, allow residents to raise backyard chickens, with restrictions on how many can be kept.
The idea of having chickens in residential neighborhoods may not appeal to everyone, but it is an idea that Morehead hears frequently.
“There’s more people looking for backyard chickens than anything in this area,” he said. “I think it’s important to at least present it, even if it gets shot down.”
The issue of backyard chickens could be crafted as a stand-alone ordinance.
The issue of food deserts also will be addressed.
Food deserts are areas where residents lack access to grocery stores, farmers’ markets or places where fresh, healthy food choices are available.
Lester Cypher, chief executive officer of The Volunteer Way, provided the council members with a map locating 10 food deserts in Pasco. He founded his nonprofit food bank more than 20 years ago.
“We’re looking for areas to expand (food delivery),” Cypher said. He has had discussions with Publix representatives about purchasing boxes of food that the grocery store chain could deliver for distribution.
Another possibility would be mobile food pantry trucks if county regulations allowed that, he said.
Farmer’s markets also are likely to get attention.
Trina Messano, marketing director for M.O.M’s Friday Night Market in New Port Richey, told council members about the obstacles people face when trying to get permits to have farmer’s markets.
The county doesn’t have a category for them, and they can end up classified as flea markets.
“We need more clear guidelines,” Messano said. “There are no real guidelines for what they need to do.”
Published October 7, 2015