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The Prince George’s County Food Security Task Force: A roadmap for a more secure and resilient food system

The ongoing economic and health challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic underscore the need for a just and healthy food system in Prince George's County. Before the pandemic, the county had the highest food insecurity rates in the DC Metro Area. According to Feeding America, the 2021 projection for food insecurity in Prince George’s is 10.5%. Although the 2021 projected rates are lower than the rate during the height of the pandemic, food insecurity is still higher than before the pandemic. The pandemic exacerbated food insecurity, which historically has disproportionately impacted Black and Latinx communities and was particularly harmful to immigrants and older adults.

Seeing a need to address these challenges, in July 2020, Prince George’s County established the Prince George’s County Food Security Task Force by Council Resolution 62-2020, which was later extended by Council Resolution 70-2021. Introduced by Council Member Dannielle Glaros, District 3, the Resolution was formed to address healthy food access, food-health connections, school meals, and food insecurity in the county. Chaired by Council Member Todd M. Turner, District 4, the Task Force included 21 members from nonprofit, government, faith-based, university, and private sector stakeholder groups. The Institute for Public Health Innovation (IPHI)’s Prince George’s County Food Equity Council (FEC) staff team served as consultants to the Task Force.

Task Force members began meeting every month in October 2020. The first few meetings were used to develop a shared understanding of some of the critical challenges and opportunities related to the local food system. Initial meetings were used to discuss the landscape of food insecurity, current food security efforts in Prince George’s County, and food security efforts made by neighboring jurisdictions. Speakers included county agencies, including representatives from the Office of the County Executive, the Department of Family Services, and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), which has previously produced three key food-related reports and recommendations. These include Urban Agriculture: A Tool for Creating Economic Development and Healthy Communities In Prince George’s County, MD; Healthy Food for All Prince Georgians: An Assessment of Access to Healthy Food in Prince George’s County and Reduce, Recover, Recycle — Food Waste in Prince George’s County, MD.

In the spring of 2021, Task Force members joined small subgroups to work on developing the recommendations. The Task Force members joined working groups based on their expertise and experience. Subgroups included: Individual and Resident Safety Net; Food Assistance Provider Capacity and Coordination; Government Agency Systems Response; and Strategic and Long-Term Food Systems Planning. Following subgroup meeting discussions, Task Force members drafted recommendations for each of the four subgroups. Recommendations were then reviewed and discussed with experts and further refined by stakeholders through key informant interviews.

While developing the recommendations, the Task Force collectively decided on a number of guiding principles that should guide the considerations and implementation of the recommendations: These include: Accountability to ensure that all involved parties have mutual and shared responsibility for actions, activities, outcomes, successes, and failures. Collaboration to ensure no course of action is decided without the full and direct participation of members of the groups affected by that action. Cultural competence and cultural humility to ensure that the needs of multi-ethnic residents are addressed. Equity calls that every action should be just and fair.  Evidence-informed Decision-Making underscores the importance of utilizing the best available evidence to inform actions from research, practice, and experience. Stewardship to ensure that every action reflects good stewardship of the Prince George’s County community resources. Sustainability calls for actions that build system resilience and sustainability. 

In October 2021, the Task Force completed the final recommendations. In January 2022, the final report was published and presented to the County Council. The final report includes 11 total recommendations, four of which are focused on building a better foundation for the present food system, and seven general recommendations on food security policies and program recommendations. Each recommendation addresses the need for a healthy, equitable, and sustainable food system that ensures every Prince George’s County resident has access to nutritious, affordable, sustainably grown, safe, and culturally appropriate food. The recommendations include:

  • Create and fund a Prince George’s County Food Security Office. 
  • Gather, analyze, and use data to inform and drive County agency food security decisions. 
  • Increase resident participation in federal nutrition assistance programs. 
  • Develop a master communication strategy for food security, resilience, and emergency preparedness. 
  • Plan for future food security disruptions by developing an emergency food security plan that integrates food system experts into existing emergency management operations. 
  • Increase access to bulk food purchasing, infrastructure, and resources for food assistance providers. 
  • Co-locate food security and social safety net services to create closed-loop referral systems.
  • Improve transportation options for residents to access healthy food retailers and providers. 
  • Leverage state and regional partners for cross-jurisdictional food systems planning, coordinated communication, and infrastructure development. 
  • Provide land access, infrastructure, and resources to help agriculture flourish.
  • Continue to provide and expand market incentives to support healthy food retailers of multiple sizes in target communities. 

Through coordinated resources, programming, and public and partner investments, the recommendations that the Food Security Task Force proposed can be implemented. The FEC will continue to work closely with county partners in the coming years to help implement the recommendations. Already, the county has made tremendous progress. Since these recommendations were published, the county’s Department of Social Services has launched a new Office of Food Security and appointed a supporting staff member. This office will leverage existing food system infrastructure inside and outside of government to expand residents' access to healthy food. The County Executive has also set aside funding for a Food Distribution Coordinator in her proposed Fiscal Year 2023 budget.

The Food Security Task Force recommendations are an important step for the county and its residents. By developing these recommendations, Task Force members have developed a blueprint of key steps the county can take to collectively build a more resilient and food secure county that can respond to future public health, environmental, or economic emergencies. 
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