As you know we included a voters guide in the latest issue, filled with questions for you to ask candidates. We just received answers from one such candidate, Janelle Rettig, incumbent candidate for Johnson County Supervisor. Her answers are posted below, unedited and without comment.
You can see all the questions for candidate for local, state and federal offices, in our e-edition. You are encouraged to ask any/all of any candidate you meet (especially with video!), and post it to Twitter with the hashtag #FoodPoliticsIA – we’ll repost all the responses we find.
Again thank you to The Iowa Food Systems Council‘s Food Access and Health Working Group Leadership Team for designing the questionnaire.
1. Many neighborhoods in our community suffer from lack of food outlets that offer healthy food options and as a consequence, poor health outcomes related to food and nutrition. These factors contribute to a lack of community food and nutrition security. What would you do to ensure community food and nutrition security and strengthen our local food system?JR> I think Johnson County is experiencing growing poverty. There are something like 16,000 Johnson County residents that are food insecure. I think this is an issue that all levels of government and the private sector need to be engaged in. I don’t think it can be truly addressed without working on issues of poverty such as livable wages, affordable housing, health care and access to nutritious food. I have been supportive of forming a hunger task force. I’m also supportive of raising the minimum wage and encouraging more affordable and accessible housing.
2. What would you do to increase the amount of local, healthy food made available to schools, childcare centers, after-school programs, summer programs, senior meal programs, food banks, and food pantries?JR> If we want more local foods served in institutional settings, we have to make local food as affordable and accessible as the mass-produced food available at the regional food banks (HACAP) that many of the local food providers rely on, or we have to to find more funding sources to subsidize local food. I think this is a difficult struggle with so many local food providers already facing record demands for services with federal, state and United Way cuts occurring. I believe the system would benefit with more collaboration and even consolidation of programs, but they also need more funding and local donors.
3. With fatty, salty, sugary foods causing heart disease, obesity, and other chronic diseases, which impose huge expenses on governments at every level, what should the mayor, health department, and city council do to improve diets?JR> I think accessibility of healthy foods and funding that make those choices more affordable are keys to people eating better foods. There also is a large education component to making different choices. The local government involvement in wellness and Blue Zones is a step in the right direction.4. Many cities are adopting policies and passing laws to ensure that the food available on city property—cafeterias and vending machines in government office buildings, day-care centers, schools, parks, and other venues—are healthful. Some cities are providing land for community gardens or even farms. What would you do to foster that trend in our city?JR> I think vending machines should offer a variety of choices which include healthy foods. I’m supportive of a private or non-profit partnership to farm some, part or even all of the County Poor Farm with local healthy foods. Proposals would be more exciting to me if they included plans to grow foods for local charities, food providers and people living in poverty.
5. Many supermarkets and restaurants are beginning to do more to promote healthier diets. What would you do to encourage them to do more to put health into the sales equation?JR> I think the County could have a role in recognizing, honoring and promoting local businesses that promote healthier diets. I would need some additional information to comment further.
6. Doctors have identified soda and other sugar sweetened beverages as a major cause of the obesity epidemic. What are the pros and cons of an excise tax on sugar sweetened beverages with the revenues used to support public health measures that promote healthy diets and physical activity? Would you support an excise tax on those drinks, with the revenues used to support measures to promote healthy diets and physical activity?JR> I don’t think an excise tax is an option for local government in Iowa and thus I would need additional information. I also have a hard time distinguishing between sugar beverages and other products that are not healthy. Would this tax apply to cookies, cakes, ice cream, etc.?
7. Studies have shown that proximity to fast-food restaurants increases one’s weight as compared to proximity of a grocery store reduces weight (American Journal of Public Health, 2009). What should the city do to encourage healthy choices and/or provide incentives within restaurants and grocery stores?JR> I think this is a City issue as most County unincorporated land is not zoned for grocery stores and restaurants. I would prefer this type of development occur in cities.
8. Farmers’ markets are a great vehicle for putting more locally grown food on the plates of local community members. What would you do to help establish or expand farmers’ markets in our community?JR> While this is mostly a City issue, I think the County as a whole would benefit from centralized marketing and promotion. If people knew about other farmer’s markets, they may be more likely to stop by one outside of their normal area. The other issue is the market needs to expand as some growers are struggling to find enough customers.
9. Supporting local food businesses and food entrepreneurs is a critical component of strengthening our local food system. What strategies will you use for increasing local food production, processing, and retailing to address the growing consumer demand for local food?JR> I think we should encourage local food production, processing and retailing, but we must do so in a way that protects us from additional urban sprawl. I think it would be a mistake, for example, to get rid of zoning as some have suggested. I think we can creatively expand local foods without throwing out zoning and land use plans. I don’t see a single magic solution, but a series of small decisions. Access to land and competition with large traditional farming and land development are huge hurdles to someone getting into local foods farming. With land going at up $15,000 per acre for farming and $100,000 for development, a small farmer often cannot afford the land. The demand for land in Johnson County is extremely high and unlikely to change for some time.
10. What would you do to encourage more urban agriculture in the city? What actions would you take to create more community/school gardens and urban farms?JR> I think this is an issue that should be raised with every City Council. It is possible to have local farming and parks and ground be compatible and appealing to all types of users. This can also be accomplished on County owned land at the Poor Farm or other areas.
11. What would you do to reduce food-related waste in our community?JR> While, I have no say in the issue, I’m an advocate for complete composting. I support Iowa City’s landfill in an expansion of composting and turning that into composted material for local residents to improve our soil structures.