The City of Wichita (pop’n 390,000), located in Sedgwick County, Kansas, is in the south-central part of the state. For the past 20 years, the Health and Wellness Coalition of Wichita has promoted people, programs, and policies that build a healthier community. The Coalition fosters long-term partnerships among public health, business, government, grassroots organizations, planners, developers, schools, and neighborhoods. It is backed by the Greater Wichita YMCA and engages members from over 100 community organizations.

Their Challenge

The Coalition’s Food Policy Committee has a mission to “create a culture where locally produced food and health foods are in demand and valued.” They’ve conducted food system assessments of their region, including a deep dive into food insecurity which revealed that there are 44 square miles of food deserts in the city of Wichita. They also heard from stakeholders that the city’s zoning codes were restrictive for gardeners and urban farmers, that the sales tax on food was too high, and that food business entrepreneurs needed support to navigate city and county processes.

The Food Policy Committee members realized that they needed a roadmap to guide their efforts and reflect diverse perspectives in their community. Also, they recognized that if they aimed to change local policies to better support the food system, then the City of Wichita and Sedgwick County needed to be key partners.

Partnering with New Venture Advisors

Although they had a strong steering committee of community leaders involved in local foods and the support of key local government staff, they needed a strategic leader to help them turn those food system ideas into policy action steps. The Coalition and the Greater Wichita YMCA turned to New Venture Advisors to guide the process and help them pull it all together.

New Venture Advisors assisted the Food System Master Plan steering committee to:

  • Create a shared vision for their Food System Plan process, helping them identify the values and goals driving their work.
  • Plan a robust and inclusive community process that engaged 2,200 survey respondents, 187 attendees at policy roundtable meetings, and 25 partner organizations.
  • Navigate conducting this project amid the COVID-19 pandemic, pivoting our research methods and engagement plan to keep community members safe.
  • Analyze and synthesize the findings from this community engagement process, turning them into actionable policy proposals that the community wanted and that elected officials could support.
  • Pursue formal adoption of the Food System Plan by the Wichita City Council and the Sedgwick County Commission.

With the participation of key institutions, thousands of residents, and funding from the Kansas Health Foundation, the coalition created a Food System Master Plan. This long-range planning document guides and supports the growth of the local food system through policies such as ordinances, zoning regulations, and government programs and incentives. The Plan is derived from community input and prioritized by community members, truly creating a roadmap for their food system.

Moving Forward

NVA helped the coalition identify three primary goals for the City and County to work on over the next ten years: Fostering food system education and coordination, Improving access to healthy food, and Increasing local food production.

What happens next? First, City and County staff are working on the ordinance language to formally adopt the Food System Master Plan. Second, a joint city-county Food Policy Council will be established to move the plan’s recommendations forward and serve as a food systems advisory body to the City Council and County Commission.

 

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