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April Network Meeting Recap: “Food, Social Enterprise & Policy Change”

On April 17, 2014, we hosted a Network meeting in collaboration with the Hub LA that explored the intersection between food policy and social entrepreneurship. See below for our meeting recap, and check out our food policy innovations and resources page for more information on current and pending food policy in the City of LA, including an overview of the local food policy landscape and local food enterprise resources.

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Kickstarter Conversation

Our “Kickstarter Conversation” featured an engaging conversation with Evan Kleiman, culinary multitasker and radio host of KCRW’s “Good Food” and Angelo Bellomo, Director of Environmental Health at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. The two discussed the current food safety regulatory landscape in Los Angeles and offered advice for emerging food entrepreneurs. Some key highlights:

  • Angelo and his team at the Environmental Health division are shifting towards a ‘get out of the way’ approach in order to better align themselves with creative food retail enterprises. As long as basic food safety requirements are met, the team seeks to work to elevate innovative food business opportunities in the County.
  • For example, his team is particularly excited about partnering with new projects coming online in Los Angeles, including L.A. Prep, a shared kitchen and food production accelerator set to open Lincoln Heights.
  • Evan and Angelo discussed how policies such as the Cottage Food Act in 2013 are a great example of how food entrepreneurs can change the landscape of food regulation. The innovation and determination of home-based food producers provoked a regulatory change statewide previously thought impossible in the public health community. Evan noted that the Cottage Food Act is just the beginning of what is possible given the energy around food in the City, and recommended expanding that particular policy to include more food products.
  • Evan and Angelo discussed the ways that food policy change can spur opportunities for social entrepreneurs. For example, if the City of LA moves to legalize street food vending* this could be a tremendous opportunity not only to formalize and support low-income microentrepreneurs, but also spur business opportunities in commissaries, shared kitchens and cart manufacturing.
  • Both speakers agreed that food enterprises need access to business resources and financing tailored to their specialized needs. Incubators, accelerators and hubs, as well as crowdfunding portals such as KivaZip and public-private financing options like the California Freshworks Fund are crucial elements to ensuring the sustainability of local food enterprises.

IMG_4983Social Enterprise Highlights and Q&A
Check out the local social enterprises that were invited to kick off the Q&A session:

* LA City Council Committee hearing on sidewalk street vending scheduled for May 13th at 1:00 PM in Room 1010.

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Policy + Entrepreneur Breakout Session Highlights

After the “Kickstarter Conversation” with our guest experts, we gathered into small group discussions by four issue areas: urban agriculture,  accessible & affordable food, food waste and good food procurement. Read the highlights from these powerful brainstorms of how entrepreneurs and food policy makers and advocates can better collaborate. The great ideas generated will inform a report on food as an economic development strategy for the City of Los Angeles currently in development. 

GROUP 1: Urban Agriculture

YouthSpeak (17)eTakeaways: Entrepreneurs see many opportunities in food-growing landscaping business models that utilize non-traditional spaces like rooftops, walls, alleys and yards. The landscape of zoning and permitting continues to be confusing for start-up urban agriculture businesses. Policy advocates and entrepreneurs alike want to see changes to policy around rooftop gardens, aquaponics and beekeeping that promote livelihoods and also promote access to healthy food for under-served communities. Land access, long-term tenure and ownership is crucial for success of farmers. Perhaps the City and County of Los Angeles can begin by making publicly-held underutilized lands available for food growers. AB 551 “Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones” also presents an opportunity to activate privately-held vacant land with food growing. There’s a need for a resource conglomeration around urban ag, which might include zoning info, common mistakes, available land, etc. Now that urban agriculture is maturing in Los Angeles, there’s a need to consider policy change in terms of the supply chain needs that an urban ag business will face (i.e. processing, distribution, etc.)

GROUP 2: Affordable & Accessible Food for All

Takeaways: Policy practitioners and food entrepreneurs agreed on the need for City Hall to have a robust food business liaison or food business team, which could provide an overview of public, private and community resources available for food businesses at the local, regional and federal levels. This team could champion successful pilot projects, coordinate good food marketing, convene community spaces at the neighborhood level for technical assistance and policy input, and offer connections to other social enterprises.

Key Ideas from Entrepreneurs: 

  • Need for an outreach team which routinely collects input from food businesses in communities of need at the neighborhood level to inform policy and program evolution.
  • Need for a community space or online hub where food businesses can connect with each other
  • Technical Assistance & its accessibility was a big concern
  • Better visibility for promising new food enterprises / pilot projects

Key Ideas from Policy Experts: 

  • Connect Policy and Marketing
  • Eliminate Barriers
  • Support creative financing and microlending for sustainable, pilot project food enterprises through policy and enterprise: ex. incentives, public banking, Freshworks Fund for small biz
  • streamlining governing processes / permitting
  • allocate space throughout city to promote good food / marketing / visibility for food vendors

GROUP 3: Good Food Procurement

YouthSpeak (63)eTakeaways: Small-to-medium size producers face challenges getting their food into the marketplace within the current distribution channels, including access to space and equipment, and resources to become commercial operators. How can accelerator models that have successfully funded innovation in other industries, such as tech, be adapted to help producers scale up and gain access to large buyers?

Key Ideas from Entrepreneurs and Policy Experts:

  • How do food entrepreneurs get their food into the market place?
  • Where do food entrepreneurs go when they are too big to be a cottage producer but too small to sell to Whole Foods, etc. (past pre-rev. but less than $1-5 M)?
  • Distribution channels can be an issue for small-to-medium size businesses who don’t have the scale to sell to large institutions.
  • Development of food accelerators to facilitate services for food businesses that will allow them to scale up (shipping dock, consulting services, buyers’ group, kitchen space rental, etc.)
  • Adapt the tech/venture capital model of financing innovation to food businesses. Orgs like Launchpad in Santa Monica are interested in investing in food businesses.

GROUP 4: Food Waste 

Takeaways: On the policy side, there is a need to build support by educating both residents and policymakers on the importance of food scrap recycling via community-led surveys and an educational multilingual-accessible video contest. Policy campaigns need to be spearheaded by a strong, dynamic and diverse coalition. Launching community compost banks where residents could drop off their food waste and receive a share of the finished product puts a market value on food waste while also educating the consumer. Any model must be flexible and adaptable to individual/community needs. In addition, food scraps recycling and recovery efforts could include financial and tax incentives.