Four years later, community forms Food Access Coalition

After four years of delays, the Indianapolis Community Food Access Coalition (CFAC) finally exists. The Indianapolis City-County Council tasked the Division of Community Nutrition and Food Policy with creating CFAC four years ago. What they didn’t manage to do in that time, the community did in little more than an hour during a May 16 meeting where it was immediately clear the people had waited long enough.

The May 16 meeting was supposed to be the final of two community input sessions, organized by Engaging Solutions, LLC, to address food inequality in the city. At the first one on May 9, however, over a dozen community members showed up to the Finish Line Boys and Girls Club on North Post Rd. only to find that no one from Engaging Solutions or the Indianapolis Food Advisory Commission (IndyFAC) was present. They canceled the meeting without notifying any of the registered participants, the first 15 of which they promised would receive a $50 gift card.

This didn’t deter the people and organizations most impacted by and dedicated to eliminating food apartheid in Indianapolis from showing up to the second meeting at the Watkins Park Community Center on May 16. That meeting was intended to address how the Indianapolis Community Food Access Advisory Commission could better communicate with the public in the future. While representatives of Engaging Solutions, LLC were present, no one from IndyFAC came.

While frustrated, many of those who showed up at the first meeting weren’t surprised. After all, the email from Belinda Drake of Engaging Solutions, LLC inviting “Food Access Champions” to the “focus groups” claimed the sessions were “hosted by the Indianapolis Food Access Coalition.” There was one major problem: the Coalition didn’t exist, despite the City-County Council establishing it four years ago.

By the time the 5:30 pm meeting ended a bit under two hours later, however, the Indianapolis Food Access Coalition (CFAC) was officially established. After waiting four years for the Division of Community Nutrition and Food Policy or IndyFAC to create it, the people formed the Coalition themselves.

During the initial part of the meeting, two points of contention continued being raised by community members: The four-year delay in the formation of the coalition and the fact that the Division of Community Nutrition and Food Policy has been operating without this Coalition. It should be noted that the Division of Community Nutrition and Food Policy was established by the Indianapolis City-Council when it passed Ordinance 337, and the Coalition is supposed to be the Division’s main body.

The same Ordinance created CFAC as

“an independent, community-driven body comprised of diverse residents, constituents, business owners, farmers, educators, community organizations and other stakeholders who share a common goal of improving the Indianapolis food system.“

The Ordinance is clear that CFAC should be “independent of the City of Indianapolis” with “its own by-laws, charter, and other organizing documents.” Moreover, CFAC “shall raise, receive, and spend funds independently of, and without direct control by, the city and the office of public health and safety.“

Coalition formed, Nuckols elected President

Almost as soon as it began, the meeting deviated from the course Engaging Solutions, LLC planned. Sierra Nuckols, founder of the Community Food Box Project, told the Indianapolis Liberator why: “The people have been upset for a long time,” and that this deviation only occurred now because in the past, the community “didn’t feel empowered,” she said. 

A sentiment expressed by those in attendance was that, instead of holding forums on how to best communicate—something they were adamant that the Commission should not, after four years, need further research on—the Commission should create CFAC so it can start serving the community immediately. As Nuckols stated, “everybody in the room was already informed about the history and [had] a mutual understanding that the way that [prominent IndyFAC member] Julie Burns is trying to create this coalition is not sustainable and is not going to work ultimately. It made us take matters into our own hands.”

An organic process unfolded that night that ended with the stakeholders present forming CFAC themselves, electing an initial President, Vice-President, Treasurer, and Secretary, and scheduling their first official meeting for May 22.

This process started with a discussion of what food-related issues people in Indianapolis are currently facing and of what IndyFAC is or is not doing to address them. Nuckols emerged as a natural leader in the discussion given she has consistently participated in IndyFAC’s various meetings over the years and tried to collaborate with Burns, her main point of contact. Demonstrating her deep knowledge and passion throughout the night, Nuckols was nominated for and unanimously elected as the Coalition’s inaugural President.

“I didn’t expect that, honestly,” Nuckols said when asked how it felt to be elected. “I’ve heard from other people that in the first couple of forums I was able to ignite a fire by some of the questions I was able to ask Julie Burns.” By doing so, she garnered and distributed information with various stakeholders about the overarching issues and “was able to help educate more about the background of it and folks felt ready to see a change.”

Next steps for the coalition

Those present were excited about the possibilities presented by the newly formed CFAC, but they also made it clear that this was simply the first step in a process. To help determine the next details, such as establishing the Coalition’s bylaws, formulating a mission statement, and creating their membership–as well as recommending four people to the Mayor to serve on IndyFAC–they’re holding their next meeting at the Indianapolis Liberation Center, located at 1800 N. Meridian St. Suite 305, on May 23 from 6:00 – 8:00 pm. That meeting is open to all community members and stakeholders as set out in the Ordinance. The Coalition’s newly elected President expressed excitement about the upcoming meeting, sharing that, “the formation of our new coalition will finally allow a platform for BIPOC growers, community members, and those who are actually affected by hunger.”

Featured image: Sierra Nuckols (second from right), creator of the Community Food Box Project (CFBP) and the newly elected President of the CFAC, is pictured standing next to one of the food boxes installed and maintained by CFBP. Credit: Community Food Box Project