King County took a big step in becoming a leader in metropolitan food systems planning in 2014 when Executive Dow Constantine launched the Local Food Initiative (LFI) to expand the local food economy, to benefit county food businesses and farms, and to improve access to health and affordable food in low-income communities.
Now, nearly a decade later, King County is launching a refresh of the LFI and King Conservation District’s complementary Regional Food System Program (RFSP).
“The time is right. Climate change is more urgent than ever, the COVID-19 pandemic showed just how fragile our food system is, and inequities can no longer be tolerated,” said Michael Lufkin, Local Food Economy manager for King County and project lead for the LFI update.
The LFI is a policy roadmap that guides King County and the region toward a more vibrant, sustainable, and equitable food system. The LFI has led to county investments over the past decade, including preservation of farmland to be leased to underrepresented producers, expansion of farmland planning in the Snoqualmie Valley, and development of the South Seattle Food Hub.
Just as significantly, the LFI has served as a catalyst and shared roadmap for private organizations, businesses, and partners working across the food system. Since 2014, King County has seen an expansion of the local food market through projects such as Business Impact Northwest’s Food Business Resource Center and expansion of urban farming education by Cultivate South Park, among dozens of other innovative additions.
The LFI update is a joint effort between King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks and King Conservation District.
“The goal is to build synergy between the LFI and Regional Food System Program,” said Mary Embleton, senior manager for the RFSP. “The program was created in part to support and fund LFI strategies, so it only makes sense that we work together on updating both programs.”
To date, the program has provided over $6 million in grant funding to help implement the LFI, including a diverse range of projects addressing access to working farmland, new market opportunities for farmers and food producers, climate resiliency, consumer education, and food access.
In addition to the Regional Food System Program, there are many more food system-related plans and programs that the county and King Conservation District have created over the past decade that are not incorporated into the 2014 LFI, including King County’s Strategic Climate Action Plan and Fish, Farm, Flood initiatives.
The refresh process is expected to take approximately 15 months, with the new LFI completed by the end of 2024. A central component of the refresh will be engagement with communities and food system stakeholders across the region to help identify key issues and challenges and shape priorities for the new LFI.
To sustain engagement, a new King County Food Systems Advisory Council is being convened to guide both the development and implementation of the new LFI and Regional Food System Program. This council consists of 20 diverse members from across the food system and the county.
The advisory council will guide and evaluate implementation of the LFI through development of Regional Food System strategic initiatives, grant proposal review, regular meetings with county and King Conservation District staff, and community building among food systems stakeholders. Council members will serve two-year terms to allow for new voices to be regularly incorporated into food systems work.
The timing of the LFI refresh coincides with two exciting developments for the county and KCD that demonstrate the organizations’ commitments to equity and sustainability in the food system: King County recently received a $2.5 million grant from USDA to expand farmland access for underrepresented producers, and KCD is investing $150,000 annually into agricultural climate resilience. These projects will expand access to land, education, equipment, and markets to help King County farms thrive.
“It’s an exciting time for local food,” Lufkin said. “So much important work has been done since the first LFI, and we must continue to do more to address inequity in our food system. This refresh allows us to refocus and build on that through more creative and impactful ways.”
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