Ona Balkus was appointed by Mayor Muriel Bowser in August 2018 as the DC Food Policy Director to promote food access and equity, sustainability, and the local food economy in the District. In this role, Ona leads the DC Food Policy Council (FPC), a group of Mayoral-appointed leaders in the District’s food system and representatives from 10 District agencies. The FPC’s top priority is increasing healthy food access in Wards 7 and 8, and Ona provides guidance to the District government on how to accomplish that goal. Ona has also spearheaded the FPC’s publication of several major reports that have elevated the importance of food policy for District residents, including the DC Food System Assessment (2018), the DC Food Economy Study (2019), the Make Food Work Strategy (2020), and a Food Access and Security Report (2020) focused on the District’s response to emergency food needs during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Ona provides guidance to the Mayor, senior leadership, and District agencies on food policies and programs, including advising on the Sustainable DC Plan, District contracts and grant programs, and the District’s response to emergency food needs. During the public health emergency, Ona has convened government and non-profit food providers to coordinate response efforts and share resources. She has helped design the District’s emergency feeding programs and worked with agency partners to adapt programs for school meals, senior meals, and public benefits.
Previously, Ona served as the Legislative Counsel for the DC Council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment, focused on food and nutrition policy, parks and recreation, clean water, and public works. In this role, Ona drafted several significant pieces of food-related legislation, including the Women, Infants, and Children Program Expansion Act of 2018 and the Healthy Students Amendment Act of 2018. Previously, Ona was a Senior Clinical Fellow at the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic, where she provided guidance to food policy councils across the country working to improve their communities’ food systems. Ona holds a J.D. and Masters of Public Health degrees from Harvard University and a B.A. from Tufts University, where she majored in Child Development. Ona grew up in the DC area and currently lives in Ward 6.