Good Food Purchasing Policy, a Q&A with Alexa Delwiche

Alexa Delwiche is the Executive Director of the Center for Good Food Purchasing (CGFP). She previously served as Managing Director of the Los Angeles Food Policy Council, overseeing overall operations of the organization from 2011–2015. At the LA Food Policy Council, she spearheaded the development, launch and implementation of the Good Food Purchasing Policy (GFFP).

CGFP is an outgrowth of the work started in LA and is responsible for expanding Good Food purchasing nationwide. CGFP works closely with national partners and local food policy councils and grassroots coalitions in cities across the US to build a cohesive movement in support of Good Food purchasing.

The premise behind Good Food purchasing is that institutions have the power to positively impact our food, environment, and local economies through their purchasing power. The GFFP provides the standards and support to help major public institutions (schools, hospitals) to procure local, sustainable, fair and humanely produced foods, while improving access to healthy, high-quality food for all communities. GFFP standards fall into five key value categories: (1) local economies, (2) environmental sustainability, (3) valued workforce, (4) animal welfare, and (5) nutrition.

Thyme Fries: How did GFFP start? What was ‘the aha moment’ for revamping the purchasing policies of large institutions?

Alexa Delwiche: The work started with the Los Angeles Food Policy Task Force. The Mayor of Los Angeles commissioned the task force and its charge was to develop a food policy framework for the city of LA. It was a 20-member, cross-sector group (mostly LA residents) that helped craft this food vision for the city of LA. In addition to monthly meetings, the task force held listening sessions, focus groups and individual meetings with over 200 individuals to help inform the Good Food for All Agenda. The nonprofit Roots of Change organized urban roundtables across the city, inviting stakeholders from food producing counties in Southern California to provide input about what the city of LA could and should do. We wanted to develop strategies that better connected issues of food access and equity for low-income consumers and communities of color, struggling farmers, environmental sustainability and worker justice. The challenge was figuring out how to do it as part of a system. We wanted to make sure that we were meeting the needs of both urban areas and rural food producing counties. Procurement became a clearer way of doing that.

The Task Force and the subsequent conversations around good food purchasing (and many other strategies) happened from 2009–2010. This eventually led to the Mayor’s office incubating a food policy council, which officially launched in 2011.

The Food Policy Council launched with 55 major action steps. We prioritized 20 as the first set and formed a number of working groups to focus on particular issue areas. One of these working groups dealt with good food purchasing and it took close to a year of meetings and discussions for the strategy to emerge.

In our early experiences at the LA Food Policy Council, we found that for a working group to be really successful there needs to be some staff support, whether it was LAFPC staff or dedicated staff from another organization. The most successful working groups had someone helping to guide the group forward. The support from and access to the Mayor’s Office was also critical to our success.

The working group brought together a broad coalition of leaders and experts. We had animal welfare experts, labor organizers, public health practitioners, school food buyers, food processers, distributors, and farmers, among others. Through the working group, these actors all got to know one another really well. They started to understand what each other’s issues were. The breakthrough or aha moment for the working group was to develop a policy that recognized the interests and values of all of those cross-sector groups participating in the process. We did that by structuring a policy that identified five core values: local economies, environmental sustainability, valued workforce, animal welfare and nutrition. Institutions are expected to meet at least a baseline standard in each value category, so the institutions are not able to limit themselves to changes that are easy. Instead, they must engage with difficult questions, such as how workers and animals in their supply chain are treated. By placing equal weight on five categories, the Good Food Purchasing Program gives institutions an opportunity to have a transformative impact on the food system at every level.

It was a more complicated and more nuanced approach and it took time to develop the policy, but in the end because it was a comprehensive framework and encompassed all of our collective values, we could build a broad-based coalition, and we had a much stronger foundation for getting the policy adopted and implemented with integrity.

Thyme Fries: How is the Center for Good Food Purchasing a continuation of that work?

Alexa Delwiche: After LA Unified and the city adopted the policy, we worked with the city and the school district closely on implementation. We provided the tools and technical assistance and did the analysis to help the institutions understand their baseline purchasing practices prior to implementation. That first year was focused on creating supply chain transparency, which was very time intensive. In the beginning stages of implementation, we spent a lot of time building a shared understanding of the policy and program with the institutions — providing background on the policy, issues along the supply chain, the five values and why they were important, and the power that they possessed as major purchasers of food. We then worked with the institutions to communicate to their vendors what information was needed in terms of reporting. It was also very new to the food service management companies and distributors. At first, this required a lot of back and forth, but eventually we obtained a lot of really detailed information that traced an institution’s food to its sources.

This may sound very technical and in the weeds, but obtaining that level of information — that transparency — was fairly groundbreaking. This was when people across the country really began to take interest. They saw the early success we had with getting a policy adopted that incorporated the five values, as well as managing both the implementation and verification parts of the process. We were showing it was possible to achieve food supply chain transparency and work with institutions on complex issues like how workers were treated in their supply chains. As a result, we started to receive requests from other cities and food policy councils.

At this point we knew that we had something that worked. We understood what was needed to execute the policy and had the technical know-how to do that, but at the same time, the LA Food Policy Council is an LA-based organization and we wanted to ensure that our staff resources were serving Los Angeles. The growing interest in the Good Food Purchasing Program coincided with a strategic planning process within the LA Food Policy Council. The future of the Good Food Purchasing Program was a key area of focus during that process. In Spring of 2015, the Leadership Board of the LA Food Policy Council decided to spin off the Good Food Purchasing Program from the Council and the Center for Good Food Purchasing was created to house the national initiative.

By separating the two organizations, the LAFPC could focus on expansion of the Good Food Purchasing Program to other Los Angeles institutions and then provide the advisory support to connect the school district and other institutions with suppliers in the region and create change through the contracting process. The Center for Good Food Purchasing would provide the technical support to FPC’s and administrators to get the process started and learn best practices, like how to determine which institutions to start working with first. It could also serve as an independent body to conduct the supply chain verification.

Thyme Fries: Outside of LA, what other cities and institutions are adopting the Good Food Purchasing Program? How is the Center involved in those efforts?

Alexa Delwiche: Oakland Unified School District approached us back in 2014. They had learned about the policy from one of our partners at the Food Chain Workers Alliance and were very interested in testing out the Good Food Purchasing Program to see how their farm to school efforts aligned with our standards. We did an analysis for them showing them their baseline, prior to implementing any farm to school programs and then we conducted a comparative evaluation to see what impact programs like School Food Focus’ National Learning Lab, California Thursdays and Meatless Mondays had on their purchasing practices. After that, they decided they were interested in using the policy to identify new goals and future benchmarks to help them continue innovating and making progress across all of the value categories. They’re expected to formally adopt the policy this fall.

The San Francisco Unified School District adopted the policy this past May.

The Chicago Food Policy Action Council and the Chicago Mayor’s Office are working together to bring all of the city’s various departments and sister agencies together around the Good Food Purchasing Program. The Chicago Park District and Chicago Public Schools are piloting the Good Food Purchasing Program this year.

Austin has a very similar effort underway. And a number of other cities are in various stages of advancing GFPP.

We’re working with a cross-sector group of national campaign partners who collectively support the work of place-based coalitions working toward GFPP adoption. The GFPP is serving as one unifying force for bringing these national groups together.

The Center manages the Good Food Purchasing Program, working with institutions to establish supply chain transparency from farm to fork and evaluate how current purchasing practices align with the Good Food Purchasing Standards. We work with all of the various stakeholder groups to identify short- and long-term goals. We assess the institutions’ purchases annually and celebrate their progress.

It’s been really exciting to see this model take hold and emerge in other cities. It’s a grassroots and multi-sectored movement that’s working with institutions supported by community partners to rethink their purchasing practices. We’re seeing one winning model in places like Chicago, when there’s an existing food policy council or grassroots coalition that’s working in conjunction with leadership from city government to help bring public institutions to the table.

Thyme Fries: What’s needed to gain greater adoption for GFFP?

Alexa Delwiche: To be successful, there are three key ingredients: an engaged local coalition, internal leadership from a food service director, and elected official support. The best chance of success is to have all three of those ingredients working together.

Another important factor is transparency. We have to be able to create the systems that can obtain the information that’s needed — we need to know where are food is coming from and what the issues are, in order to make changes. Price is another factor and always one of the first questions raised. There is a real concern that, for example, fair food will cost more. That’s where we can come in, do an analysis and show that’s not necessarily the case, offer best practices and innovations that institutions are undertaking all over the country — and the cost benefits for employing such a program.

Networking across regions and among institutions with similar values has tremendous power to move markets and transform supply chains. The Good Food Purchasing Program is gaining momentum. Together, the school districts and municipal agencies in cities with efforts underway to advance the Good Food Purchasing Program represent over $500 million in food purchases and by harnessing their collective buying power, these institutions can compel major food companies to improve their production practices. The aggregated purchasing power within and across cities can create a very clear demand for a transparent food system that ensures food is no longer produced at the expense of low-income consumers’ health, food chain workers’ safety and wages, and the environment.


Originally published at www.thymefries.com on September 21, 2016.