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Creating a more just and sustainable food system that benefits consumers and farmers has been a growing topic of interest in Western New York.

It also has the attention of the Food Policy Council of Buffalo and Erie County, which had its public unveiling at the Public Forum and Info Fair held at the Burchfield Penney Arts Center Wednesday. The council, which announced its 17 voting members, was created in May as a subcommittee of the Erie County Board of Health to offer expert guidance on ways to improve the local food system for policymakers, farmers and others.

“The Food Policy Council is an innovative tool that will be available to local policy makers to bring some potentially new changes to our local food system,” said Sean Mulligan, council co-coordinator. “Ideally, the goal is to create a stronger connection between the food producers – the farmers – and consumers.”

Those changes could include production and waste reduction and removal to improving distribution and supporting new retail measures that help small farmers become more competitive, he said. Trying to bring fresh, affordable produce to small food stores in Buffalo as a healthful alternative for consumers would be one example.

“There are a lot of barriers for someone growing food in Alden to have their food sold on the East Side of Buffalo. A potential idea could be a ‘food hub,’ which is a collective of farmers who come together to increase their ability to compete with larger scale markets by sharing the costs of distribution, wholesale and retail,” Mulligan said.

Diane Picard, a member of the council and director of the Massachusetts Avenue Project, which provides workforce development for young people in urban agriculture, said she saw great potential in the advisory group.

“I feel it will be an avenue for farmers, consumers and anyone interested in our local food system to really have a voice and participate in building the local food system, and look at opportunities for economic development,” Picard said.

New markets, she said, could include school lunches, corner stores and other initiatives that introduce new distribution possibilities and boost healthy choices for kids and families.

email: msommer@buffnews.com