PORTLAND — The city is rolling in accolades for its foodie culture, but residents often feel left out of food policy discussions.

To help correct this problem, Mayor Michael Brennan is spearheading an effort to give residents and business owners a formal voice in food policy. By June, Brennan intends to present a proposal for the formation of a food policy committee that will address all food-related issues in the city.

Brennan said he wants to make sure the committee represents the community and is not just a “city of Portland initiative, so people in the community feel invested and it’s not just lost in City Hall.”

Brennan convened a meeting Wednesday morning with city staffers, City Councilor David Marshall, Erin McGuire from Rep. Chellie Pingree’s office, Craig Lapine, who heads the nonprofit Cultivating Community (which connects low-income Mainers with local, organic food), and two Portland residents.

The move to form the committee grew out of the Portland Community Food Forum held April 19 at Woodfords Congregational Church and attended by more than 80 people. At the forum, participants discussed food policy initiatives that the city should pursue. The idea of a food policy council generated a great deal of interest and support at the forum.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the group discussed how best to structure the committee. The Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee was mentioned as a potential model. That group advises the City Council on biking and walking issues, but it is not a formal council subcommittee.

Marshall said the structure of that committee has created some issues related to who can participate in its discussions. He indicated that the council would be moving to formalize the committee and have its members appointed by the council in the coming months.

Another issue discussed at the meeting was whether members of a food policy committee would be able to solicit donations to support specific projects. Marshall said it was his understanding that although the city and its representatives cannot solicit donations, they can accept them when offered. He said if the committee intends to pursue cash contributions, it would be better to make it a quasi-governmental body or a partnership with a nonprofit, rather than a formal subcommittee appointed by the council.

The council could endorse a quasi-governmental committee, but Marshall noted “it won’t have the same kind of pull as (a formally appointed) task force.”

Brennan indicated that he favored “doing something a little less formal” because it “would allow us to engage all the partners in the community.”

Brennan will host another meeting of the group at 10 a.m. June 8. At that meeting, he will seek consensus on a proposed committee structure and a draft statement of mission and values.

At this point, it’s not known how someone would become a member of the committee. If the committee is structured as an official council subcommittee, its meetings would be open to the public and the meeting minutes would be part of the public record.

“We want to get a big enough tent so everyone feels like they have a voice and a role, but also capture how much is going on,” Brennan said.

Noting the long list of suggested actions that came out of the Portland Community Food Forum, Brennan said, “We’re not going to be lacking for things to do.”

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

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