As of June 2019, Cumberland County is home to 335,509 people, and Fort Liberty is one of the largest military installations in the world. The post supports a population of roughly 140,500, including the military, their families, Department of Army civilians, and contractors. In 2015, 20 census tracts within Cumberland County met the definition of a food desert, including five census tracts located on Ft. Liberty. In Cumberland County, 13% of residents have limited access to healthy food and nearly one in five (19%) of residents are considered food insecure. Poverty is an underlying barrier to access healthy food, and 42.9% of single mothers in Cumberland County live in poverty. From 2008 to 2018, the percent of Cumberland County Schools students eligible for the free and reduced lunch program increased from 55% to 75%. It is imperative to first note that food insecurity data among military families is severely limited. Secondly, specific information regarding installation eligibility and access to federal food assistance programs is inaccessible. A national 2015 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report indicated that 45% of children in all Department of Defense (DoD) schools are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Further, $21 million in SNAP benefits were spent in commissaires from September 2014 to August 2015. In summary, this data indicates that both military families and residents of Cumberland County are having difficulty accessing food.
In June 2020, the Cumberland County Department of Public Health was awarded a $100,000 grant from the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge (HCCC) to address food insecurity and healthy food access. The goals of the HCCC grant were to first to conduct a food environment assessment of Cumberland County and Fort Liberty, second to start a local food policy council, and third help the council implement two food policy recommendations. The HCCC grant was awarded with the help and leadership of Colonel Sheryl Bedno of Fort Liberty Department of Public Health, Dr. Jared McGuirt of University of North Carolina-Greensboro, Dr. Jennifer Green, Director of the Cumberland County Department of Public Health, and Ashley Curtice, Deputy Director of the Cumberland County Department of Public Health. Upon ratification of a resolution in June of 2021 by the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners, the Fort Liberty & Cumberland County Food Policy Council was created and became the first joint county-military food policy council in the U.S. Further through HCCC grant, a food environment assessment was conducted in Cumberland County and Fort Liberty. More than 15 community partners were involved in the planning process for the food environment assessment and the formation of the food policy council. More than 40 community members aided in the data collection for the food environment assessment.
As the Council develops, dreams, and goes forth, it is important to remember that the Fort Liberty & Cumberland County Food Policy Council is community-driven and community-focused.