Collaboration is the name of the game when it comes to improving the local food system.

Collaboration is the name of the game when it comes to improving the local food system.

From making sure that residents of Columbus and Franklin County have access to food that's both healthful and nutritional, to economic development related to food, working together is what the draft of the Local Food Action Plan touches on time and again.

In fact, said Noreen Warnock of Local Matters, a food advocacy organization she co-founded in April 2008, the collaboration among the nonprofit, Columbus Public Health and the Franklin County Economic Development and Planning Department is what makes the proposed action effort stand out from a variety of such efforts going on throughout the country.

As Cheryl L. Graffagnino, healthy food access program manager for the health department, put it during a presentation last week, "How do we think about putting all our oars into the water and pulling together?"

The draft of the Local Food Action Plan, the result of about 18 months of research, neighborhood surveys, community gatherings and reviews by a 24-member committee that included representatives of consumers, producers, processors and restaurants, is being circulated to the public through a series of meetings. Last week's presentation was at the monthly session of the North Side Health Advisory Committee.

"This is not final, and that's why we're here," Graffagnino said.

Part of the input that led to the draft of a plan -- which outlines 27 specific actions for not only improving food access but significantly reducing food waste -- came through seven intensive community meetings held throughout Columbus last year, Warnock said. These groups held two separate sessions lasting three hours each and focused on food production, access and education, as well as on what people would like to see change in their community, the Local Matters director of community outreach said.

All of the research, evaluation and surveying led the working committee to identify four goals, Graffagnino said. These are:

* Ensuring more residents have access to healthful, affordable food

* Creating and supporting jobs

* Reducing dependence on food from other regions

* Using less energy and reducing waste.

"Those are big, lofty ideas," Graffagnino said.

The 24-member committee identified 800 possible actions for implementing these goals, which number-crunchers at Franklin County Economic Development and Planning winnowed down to 146 potential strategies, Graffagnino said. Further refinement reduced that number to the 27 goals and actions identified in the draft plan.

These include supporting grocery stores and healthful-food retail locations in neighborhoods with limited access to nutritious food, sometimes called "food deserts"; establishing a farmers-market management collaborative; increasing the capacity for "civic agriculture" so more residents can grow their own food; repurposing "vacant commercial, industrial and residential sites for food system use"; and recommending "changes to policies, zoning and health codes that support and encourage food waste recovery and diversion."

The series of community meetings, at which attendees not only are given information but also asked for their input on the proposed action plan, will continue at 2 p.m. Sept. 14 during the Near East Health Advisory Committee meeting at Neighborhood House, 1000 Atcheson St.; at 6 p.m. Sept. 15 during the South Side Health Advisory Committee meeting at the Church of All People, 946 Parsons Ave.; at 4:30 p.m. Sept. 20 during the Franklin County Local Food Council meeting at MORPC, 111 Liberty St.; and at 5:45 p.m. Sept. 20 during the Central Health Advisory Committee Food Meeting at St. Stephens Community House, 1500 E. 17th Ave.

Public comments will be accepted through Sept. 30. Residents may weigh in at

The draft plan is available for review at