Sowing a viable local food culture

The Local Food Network has a Facebook group at

The Local Food Network candidate forum was an informative and interesting evening.

LFN invited all the candidates for Reno mayor and City Council to its forum. At the request of a neighbor, I moderated. Seven candidates attended and their thoughtful responses to the two formal questions and a host of spontaneous questions were enlightening and encouraging.

The City Council candidates were particularly engaging, perhaps because they were so thrilled to have an opportunity to engage with voters in a formal setting, having been severely overshadowed by the 18-candidate mayor’s race. They thanked the Network for including council candidates in the discussion, saying it was the first time they had been invited to speak as a group, despite their contested primaries. They noted a council member’s vote counts just as much as the mayor’s vote, despite the lack of attention to their races.

Candidates for Ward 2, Elisa Cafferata and Naomi Duerr, were very knowledgeable, demonstrating extensive personal experience with local food issues. Mike Steedman, a candidate in the Ward 4 race, was equally informed, with lots of good ideas about how the City Council could make a difference and help the Network achieve its goal of “20 percent of our food locally consumed from local sources by 2020.”

What was particularly striking about these three candidates was how they listened closely to each other, not looking to pounce on a “gotcha” moment to gain a campaign advantage but rather to hear each other’s ideas and build upon them. They were earnest and sincere about promoting home and community gardens in Reno, finding a way to compel Waste Management to compost, and better using city property to promote urban agriculture.

In short, these three demonstrated the collaborative and collegial approach Reno needs on its City Council—independent, strong, and vocal personalities who are unlikely to be controlled by special interests but are more than willing to consider proposals other than their own.

Although only four of the 18 mayoral candidates addressed the group, the forum provided a wonderful opportunity to hear them speak on topics such as food security, urban sprawl, and sustainability. No “lightning rounds” here where people raise their hand in a “yes or no” format. No nonsense about who has the most Twitter followers or Facebook friends.

Instead, Delores Aiazzi, Erik Holland, Idora Silver and Chuck Reno talked frankly, at length, asking experts in the audience to share their ideas about creating a more local food-friendly community.

They listened patiently while LFN board member Jana Vanderhaar spoke about her frustration with UNR and the City Council over the proposed sale of quality UNR farmland, turning prime agricultural space into yet another urban landscape of ugly warehouses. She told the candidates her group of passionate advocates did not feel “heard” by the former City Council, despite their vocal advocacy.

Candidates learned about the work of the Food Policy Council, which works with local government to include healthy, sustainable food system planning goals in the Master Plan. Ordinances need to be changed to enhance local, healthy food production and distribution and the city may have a role to play in facilitating community food security and economic access to safe, healthy food.

While the Reno Gazette-Journal worries about fake Russian Twitter followers, and candidates gaming their “viability” system to determine who is worthy of a televised debate, community interest groups would do well to continue to sponsor their own events, to educate and personally interact with candidates. After all, in an 18-candidate primary race, where only 15 to 20 percent of voters are expected to turn out, anything can happen, making every candidate viable if their supporters show up.

If you want a Reno City Council with a progressive approach to local food production, educate yourself and vote.