The Office of Sustainability is working closely with City departments and community stakeholders to support positive transformation of the local food system. Some of the key programs and initiatives that are led by our office include:
The Austin Area School Garden Collaborative brings together individuals and organizations interested in creating thriving gardens on local K-12 school campuses. This working group meets regularly to share best practices and lessons learned about growing plants, creating opportunities for hands-on learning for students, and enjoying the harvest from onsite edible and habitat gardens.
Through the collaborative, helpful resources have been collected and posted online to help people get started or maintain wildlife habitat gardens, food gardens, outdoor classrooms and trails, domesticated animal programs, pollinator programs, and water collection for irrigation. The goal is to ensure that school garden programs throughout Austin have sustained staffing and materials to improve student health outcomes, academic outcomes, and school experiences.
Launched in 2012, the Bright Green Future Grants program offers funding for Austin-area students, teachers, and parents to implement sustainability projects that promote lifelong environmental stewardship. Many of these projects strengthen the local food system and have included composting systems, rain gardens, and organic gardens.
Project funding comes from the Office of Sustainability, Austin Resource Recovery, Watershed Protection, Public Works, and Austin Transportation Departments.
Food Environment Analysis
The Office of Sustainability collected data in early 2017 from over 900 food retail establishments to assess the availability of nutritious food throughout the Austin area. Maps of each voting district will illustrate our findings along with information about the proximity of residents to food retail, household incomes, and vehicle ownership. These maps will provide the basis for prioritizing City of Austin efforts to improve healthy food access and will be available in fall 2017.
Cities, school districts, and other public institutions spend billions of dollars every year on food. These choices have a huge impact on everything from public health to the local economy. However, purchasing decisions are often based on the cheapest bid—not the best food.
The Office of Sustainability is leading a pilot of the Good Food Purchasing Program, a national, metrics-based, flexible framework to help cities and public institutions incorporate good food values into purchasing decisions and leverage demand for local food that is produced sustainably. The program is the most comprehensive food purchasing program in the United States and supports five core values: strong local economies, protecting the environment, worker rights, animal welfare, and nutrition.
The Office of Sustainability responded to a council resolution directive with recommendations for improving access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. A collaborative process involving six City departments, 33 community organizations, and resident input resulted in more than 100 ideas, which were shortlisted to six optimal strategies for council consideration.
Implementation of these strategies is underway, with day-to-day activities being led by multiple City departments. Our office continues to facilitate coordination between departments and community groups, as well as evaluate and identify opportunities for program refinements.