AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin’s food policy manager is worried about the future of urban agriculture as the city and surrounding area continue to grow, and local food production continues to decrease.

The Office of Sustainability at the City of Austin and Travis county have partnered together to create the area’s first-ever food plan. A website for the effort describes a food plan as a plan that “sets clear goals and strategies to move toward a more equitable, sustainable, and resilient food system and provides a coordinating structure for all food-related initiatives.”

The food plan project is still in the “kick-off” phase. Edwin Marty, the city’s food policy manager, who is tasked with creating a food plan, said the city has officially formed a 25-member community advisory committee.

The group will next discuss the main priorities that the city will need to focus on as they create the plan and work toward a more reliable food system.

The city is also asking anyone in the community to provide input on what they would like to see prioritized in the food plan. You can fill out a public survey on the project’s website.

Austin has a food problem

Austin, a city with a vibrant restaurant scene, actually has a local food problem. A study released in 2022 opened a lot of eyes, Marty explained.

Among the findings, it was discovered 14.4% of people in Travis county experience food insecurity, only 0.06% of the food consumed locally is actually produced here, and the county is on average losing 16.8 acres of farmland every day.

The study was sparked by a concern with Austin’s food system following the Covid-19 pandemic and the 2021 winter freeze. Marty said both events showed there were some significant weaknesses in our existing food supply chain and there were a lot of weaknesses in the social safety net.

As new industries and more people move into the greater-Austin area, the population growth is contributing to the decrease in farmland. The reason is simple.

“Often Austin farmland is the easiest place and most affordable place to do development,” Marty explained. He said Austin needs to balance its growth with preserving farmland for local food production.

The city hopes to have the plan done by 2024 so the city can start making productive changes to create a more stable food system.

The use of urban farms in central Texas

Tucked away behind a thick tree canopy lies a 4.5-acre farmland in east Austin, right near U.S. 183, lies Urban Roots. It’s one of nine remaining urban farms in central Texas.

The 120,000 servings of food that are produced on the farm every year is shared with community members who have limited access to food.

The urban farm relies on volunteers to help tend the land. Frances Deviney, the executive director of Urban Roots, said the farm has a positive environmental impact and allows people to understand where their food comes from. She also explained the closer your food is, the better it is for you.

“The less food has to travel to get to you, the more nutritious the food is to you because the food loses its nutritional value over time,” Deviney said.

She understands the problem with the decreasing farmland. Urban Roots bought the land from the landowner more than a year ago, and have no plans of selling it any time soon.

Marty said the food plan could set standards for setting aside farmland for more urban farms in the future.