Proposed “food policy board” in Missoula could take shape this year

Missoula residents support local food growers at the city’s farmers markets. Missoula County is considering launching a “food policy board” this year in partnership with the city to focus on “food and farming.” (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file photo)

With agriculture and a local food supply growing in importance, Missoula County is looking to reestablish a board to recommend policies around the issues, and it could win support from the city.

Missoula Mayor John Engen on Thursday said the board, if created by the Missoula County commissioners, would likely win the backing of the City Council, which would appoint one elected official and two citizen advisers to the board.

The county would do the same, making it something of a joint board.

“It would meet regularly and provide us with policy ideas – things out there in the world of food and farming,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick. “It wouldn’t cost us any money. There are a handful of different options the city and county can take to create a board.”

Sarah Bell, the commissioners’ administrative assistant, said a similar resolution was adopted in 2005, though it later morphed into the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition. The organization now works to conserve farmland and ensure that food is both affordable and locally grown.

While in its infancy, the proposed food policy board, or whatever name it takes, would remain in touch with both city and county government. Like other local boards, it would also have one member of the City Council and one member of the Board of Commissioners at the table.

“We’re trying to create something that will last the test of time with different elected officials and make it a county or city board with appointed positions so someone is keeping tabs on it,” said Bell. “It would be a county board but have city seats on it.”

It’s not yet known what role the board would play in recommending policy decisions surrounding land use, though the preservation of agricultural lands in the Missoula Valley has been central to discussions around growth and infill.

Engen said the City Council would likely support the idea and stand willing to appoint its share of the board’s members.

“I think council would be all over it and be excited about it,” Engen said. “Early on, they won’t have a lot of business to start with. If commissioners resurrect the resolution and adopt, and there are places for council, I can have a conversation with the (City Council president) about filling those positions.”