Written by Alex Harding, student in the Food Law & Policy Clinic, Spring 2019.
On February 7th, FLPC provided written testimony to the Maryland Environment & Transportation Committee in support of a bill that would expand the state’s “Complete Streets” grant program to cover projects which improve access to nutritious food to residents living in food deserts.
Throughout 2017, FLPC had the opportunity to work with stakeholders in Maryland who were involved in creating the Maryland Food Charter to develop a complementary policy scan of state policies related to the food system as well as opportunities for change. Following a series of interviews, community meetings, and legal and policy research, FLPC published its findings in “A Review of Food System Policies in Maryland.” This report outlined possible initiatives for the state of Maryland to enhance its food production, safety, and waste prevention policies in order to make the state’s food system stronger and better able to serve the people of Maryland.
Improving access to nutritious food was one of the main concerns raised by the many Maryland community members and experts with whom we engaged. As one of our suggestions to increase food access, we recommended using urban transportation resources to move residents in food deserts—areas of low healthy food availability—to local food markets. Maryland’s House Bill 82 uses the novel approach of incorporating food access into the state’s definition of a Complete Streets program—a grant program that allows local governments to receive funding for infrastructure projects which improve quality of life. This approach allows Maryland to get its food access resources to local governments, who are best suited to understand their local food access barriers and needs and to tailor their solutions efficiently to those specific needs
As a student in FLPC, this was the point where I was invited to write legislative testimony on behalf of FLPC supporting Maryland’s Bill. This project gave me the opportunity on to work on the one hand with the staff of Maryland legislators, and on the other with expert FLPC fellows and advocates who had worked with Maryland and knew its specific legal and political landscape. This has been a rare learning opportunity in policy-making that I would be hard pressed to find elsewhere—it turns out that Harvard Law School does not, in fact, offer as many law-making classes as it does law-abiding ones (judicial activism schemes aside).
Maryland’s House Bill 82, attached below, addresses food access issues in three key ways. First, the bill would give the term “food deserts” its first official state law definition as “[a] community that does not have easy access to healthy food, including fresh fruits and vegetables, typically in the form of a supermarket, grocery store, or farmer’s market.”
Second, the text of the bill expands the definition of Complete Streets to include food access so as to expand the types of local transportation projects the policy can fund. Third, the bill creates a ranking system for such projects which improve food access specifically for areas already designated as food deserts. The approach of moving infrastructure funding towards food access—especially through a Complete Streets program, is an innovative one. We look forward to seeing more creative solutions like this at the state level from Maryland and across the country.