E106: Behind the Scenes of LA's Good Food Zone Policy
Play • 14 min

In today's episode, we're digging into the Good Food Zone Policy that will be implemented in Los Angeles, California. The goal is to expand access to healthy food in neighborhoods considered food deserts and to create economic opportunity and jobs for residents living on low incomes. If you follow food policy work, you'll be interested in the Good Food Zone, food entrepreneurship and Community Development Framework. Guests in this podcast include three people deeply engaged in developing this place based policy strategy: Ronnell Hampton, of the Los Angeles Food Policy Council, Samantha Salmon, of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, and Community Organizer and Media Specialist, Matt Sanderson.

Interview Summary

Matt, let's start with you. Could you explain the Good Food Zone Policy to the listeners?

Matt: Overall, we want to: increase access and demand for healthy food in food desert communities, which is increasing options for healthy food, especially in areas like South Los Angeles; as well as build demand for healthy food through culturally relevant practices. This also promotes economic development through food entrepreneurship, which is helping healthy food business owners develop strong business acumen, and scale micro and small healthy food business operations.

The Los Angeles city council approved this policy earlier this year and we're working to get it implemented. This will be a three-year program that will provide targeted services to overcome challenges and barriers that micro and small businesses in LA, would experience when formalizing or growing their business. And this is in partnership with the city, private, nonprofit and community service providers. And business owner can get the specialized help they need. Receive help with filing permits, referral to funding programs, discounts on equipment and utilities, and assistance with business training, as well as resources for marketing and financial management. The program ambassador, would facilitate communication with these business owners. Do they need help with business training, or help navigating governmental departments or need help with management or leadership training, product development or even technology adoption? Those who buy into this program, in this pilot, are asked to provide evidence of their commitment to developing and growing a healthy food business through annual reporting, surveys, on-site visits, evaluation of business practices, and more. The Good Foods Zone, sits at this intersection of racial health and economic justice.


That's a very impressive suite of activities that I'd like to ask Samantha a question that came to mind as you were talking about that Matt. So is this program for businesses that are owned and staffed by people in the affected communities only, or could outside people who wish to run businesses in the community receive these services?

Samantha: That’s a brilliant question. I love it so much because the community that gathered to put this policy together, really were interested in the economic development peace within their community. So, the policy brief as it outlines right now, the business has to be in operation for at least three years, in order to qualify for this pilot. So, the business is already a part of that community. And within the pilot, the goal is to hire people from within that community. So it doesn't necessarily block someone from outside of that community from opening a business, but they would have had to been in operation for three years.

That makes sense because then the wealth that might occur from this would remain in the community and not just be outside. So thanks for that answer. So Ronnell, let me turn to you. How did all this come about and what challenges were faced in researching and developing and ultimately getting this policy approve?

Ronnell: The Los Angeles Food Policy Council uses the collective impact approach to developing policy, which makes sure that impacted people are leaders and collaborators in the policy changes that happen in the Los Angeles regional area. So through our working group spaces we're able to facilitate that collective impact. And the work around the Good Foods Zone, was developed by our Good Food Economy Working Group. And so they have been working on this policy and how to organize to get a champion who is Current Price Council District 9 who introduced the good foods on policy and with the organizing of the Good Food Economy Working Group, we were able to get the policy recommended from the Economic Workforce Development Subcommittee for approval to get approved at council. Which happened March 3rd, 2020. We celebrate a policy passing, but the hard work happens when you're trying to get the policy implemented and making sure that the intended demographic actually receives the resources of that policy and making sure that the programmatic framework for that policy actually has the intended outcome that we had from the beginning.

You make an outstanding point about the importance of follow through. And I imagine when the history of this will be written, there'll be a lot to be said about what happens after the policy was passed. So I'm happy that you brought that point up.

Samantha, I'd like to hear your thought on some other key issues. So the Good Foods Zone Policy, is a place-based strategy and recognizes that historic divestment in specific neighborhoods, now requires targeted investment in those same neighborhoods. Can you explain a little bit more about this and who is intended to benefit from the policy?

Samantha: This policy benefits healthy food entrepreneurs throughout the entire food chain, and the community members who are looking for jobs and healthy foods in their neighborhoods. Folks like Celia and Joe Ward, who started South LA cafe because after decades of living a food desert, they wanted fresh affordable and healthy food options for themselves and their neighbors. So instead of waiting for it to arrive, they decided to take a leap of faith and provided themselves. Then you have women like Olympia, who started supermarket, which is a low cost organic pop-up grocers servicing low-income communities in LA. It operates weekly providing a hundred percent organic produce to make great health and healing available to the communities that need it most. And supermarket believes everyone deserves to eat well. Olympia, the founder believes fresh food access is not simply a nice idea. It's a right and a necessity. She said leaving our neighborhoods to get healthy ingredients and healthy meals is a challenge millions of Angelenos have to face. And so when she started supermarket, she felt like this subtle form of discrimination which leads to millions of deaths each year in the country, will hopefully cease to exist. And I wholeheartedly agree. That's the whole purpose of this policy.

You're talking about some very admirable and inspiring stories of people that have started food businesses. Can you explain Samantha just a little bit about why this is necessary and the food place? I mean, we know about what food deserts are but not so much about how they came about and what are some of the divestment that have occurred.

Samantha: Yes. And if I can, I would recommend everyone listening to read two very great books, that go into the details on it, because it definitely deserves more time than we have available on this podcast. The Color of Money by Mehrsa Baradaran, and the Color of Law, I forgot the name of the author, but they basically go into detail on the historic red lining and the holding of investment that was not available for black entrepreneurs and black landlords being able to buy a home and build equity. That way is also part of the piece and being able to get a loan to start a business, you know, have equity, to get appropriate financing. So, it's really intricate and those two books really go into that.

Thanks for those resources. So let's get into some more specific. Ronnell what are you actually asking the city to do in this, and how will you measure success at the end of the day?

Ronnell: In regards to the historic divestment, we have to be able to acknowledge how that looks in the landscape that our communities are living in. In South LA for example, there are more liquor stores than there are grocery stores. We're asking them to acknowledge the historic divestment that created the food deserts that community are dealing with right now.

In regards to the Good Food Zone, we're asking our local government to take action by identifying a timeline, for the feasibility report, and pilot implementation, that reflects the urgency of the public health issues related to food insecurity. We're also asking them to identify budget line items to fund the proposed $3.6 million three year pilot program. We're asking them to prioritize the implementation of the Good Food Zone as a tactic for community and business resilience modeling during and post-COVID. Like we're saying, the Good Food Zone is to address historic impact of food divestment but COVID has exacerbated a lot of those realities. So it's important that we leverage policies like the Good Food Zone, as a way to address resiliency and recovery. And we're also hoping that they consider expanding the pilot to help more healthy food businesses during the pandemic.

Thank you Ronnell. It's really inspiring to hear about these efforts and the passion behind them. Let me ask one final question of you Matt. What does it take to spread awareness of this community and those from there?

Matt: Sure Kelly, thank you so much. I really have to pause first and give a ton of credit to Samantha Ronnell and our team on the working group or hitting the ground running earlier this year to identify potential businesses affected by the lack of investment in these communities in these target pilot zones, which are Council Districts in Los Angeles that we would like to get the Pilot Program off and running. And we began cold calling and cold emailing of business owners who we identified in these zones. And South LA Cafe, is one of the more prominent ones. And really had to just start off with surveys with these business owners and hear their story. And what became markedly clear from the start of our effort, which did begin after the pandemic started. But as the months went on from May to June, June to July, and making these calls and getting the interviews became abundantly clear that yes, these business owners already were having a tough time navigating say government systems, no city systems for just say permitting.

Then, the interviews turned into: “I haven't heard back on my PPP loan.” “Or, one question a couple of months ago could have been how many employees do you have?” And this is a small market we're calling in South LA ‘they’ might just be the business owner, they've been there for 20 plus years, might be family owned. A lot of them are, Mom-and-Pop. And they might just have a few other employees but as the calls kept going, and we were finding out that the business owner could only afford to be their own boss. They were there from open to close, and the questions were they were interested in the incentives that the Good Food Zone and a lot of them wanted to get involved with the awareness campaign. Some were on the fence. They wanted to engage in the interview and I still had some questions and a lot of them were just so busy, you know at the height of COVID-19 where they could only just focus on the day-to-day and it said, you know please keep in touch and that sort of thing.

Through these interviews, we created awareness graphics of the business owners who we did interview. And when you scroll our Instagram page, you will see them. We told their story based on their interviews. And leading from the social media campaign, into the fall, we pivoted to media outreach. And media campaign as well as ask City Council and the Economic Development Workforce to reconvene, to finally implement this Pilot Program. And we've been doing, you know social media activism, getting all the social media posts out there. And I've created our media lists and targeted media outreach. And the efforts are ongoing. We're reaching out to the LA Area Media but also nationally and the Trade Media.


Ronnell Hampton is the Policy Manager for the Los Angeles Food Policy Council (LAFPC). He serves as the staff liaison to the Food Waste Rescue & Prevention, Good Food Economy, and Urban Agriculture Workgroups. He facilitates these efforts by using a collective impact approach to manage community organizing by cultivating relationships with people, community organizations, and government agencies at the local, state, and federal levels. By leveraging strategic approaches to policy development and implementation that centers racial, social, economic, and environmental justice, Ronnell moves the Good Food For All Agenda forward.

Samantha Salmon is passionate about equitable food-oriented development in communities experiencing food apartheid. She supports the Local Initiatives Support Corporation’s (LISC) economic development, health and housing initiatives alongside communications and public relations as a Program Assistant. Prior to LISC, she managed commercial property, owned and managed a raw vegan organic restaurant, and wrote a book on cultivating a healthy lifestyle on a budget. She holds a Bachelor's Degree from New York University in Economics and Africana Studies, which is the study of the diaspora of African people.

Matt Sanderson is a communications specialist, media consultant and journalist. His passion for real food justice began when volunteering with Southern California fruit harvesting organization Food Forward in 2019 and the groundbreaking Food Leaders Lab of the Los Angeles Food Policy Council. From there, Matt joined the Good Food Economy Working Group of the L.A. Food Policy Council, spearheading social media marketing and media outreach for the Good Food Zones policy implementation. He also volunteers his time with L.A. Compost and grassroots non-profit Farm2People, which formed in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 disruption of the local food supply chain. 


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