Friday, February 13

NYC Regional Foodshed Plan

A great action plan for improving NYC's food system follows. Let's hope all the vested interests (which are many) can really make this happen. If they can, NYC will become a much more food-progressive city. Of course, some federal support for such initiatives wouldn't hurt!


Asks why city supermarket apples come thousands of miles from New Zealand and Washington State rather than hundreds of miles from New Paltz and Washington County, New York

Calls for immediate steps to expand school breakfast program,
provide food stamps and other aid to all eligible families

February 7, 2009 (New York, NY) -- Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer and a coalition of food activists today recommended that the City of New York adopt a wide-ranging plan for making healthy food available to its residents. The recommendations, part of a report entitled Food in the Public Interest, included:

· The designation of a New York City “foodshed” consisting of farms in a given radius of the city where growers of healthy food would have special access to city markets and from which government purchasers of food would be required to buy a certain percent of their vegetables, dairy products and other items; on a preliminary basis, such a foodshed could be set at a 100-200 mile distance;

· Designating “food enterprise zones” in areas that the Department of City Planning has identified as “food deserts” for their lack of healthy food retailers; enacting special tax incentives and bonuses to encourage farmer’s markets and the building of supermarkets, with a goal of helping reduce the estimated $1 billion New Yorkers spend in supermarkets outside the five boroughs;

· Increasing the availability of food by expanding the DOE’s breakfast-in-school program; mandating that all city agencies develop procedures for donating surplus food to local food pantries; and reducing the administrative barriers for families of the unemployed in order to speed up their eligibility for food stamps and other assistance; and

· Zoning and tax incentives for the creation and maintenance of community, back yard and rooftop gardens.

Borough President Stringer said, “Our food system in New York City needs a radical overhaul. Our stores are full of apples that come thousands of miles from New Zealand and Washington State, rather than hundreds of miles from New Paltz in Ulster County or Whitehall in Washington County, New York. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers live in ‘food deserts’ where there isn’t enough fresh food; meanwhile, food prices are going through the roof, and yet thousands of eligible families cannot get food stamps.”

Richard Plunz, Director of the Urban Design Lab at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, said, “In these times of economic uncertainty, with more and more people forced to rely on cheap, unhealthy food options, it is becoming clear that New Yorkers will not be able to rely on the existing globalized

food system indefinitely. Identifying where New York City’s food is coming from and developing strategies to enhance regional food production capacity and self-sufficiency within our foodshed will be an important step in improving access to affordable and healthful food in all NYC neighborhoods.”

Frederick Kirschenmann, President of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, said, “Given the current food crisis and anticipated additional challenges in our near term future – especially increased energy costs, and more unstable climates – it is becoming clear to many of us, including the United Nations, that our heavy reliance on trade, technology and aid, will not insure the food security we have enjoyed in the past decades. As the President of the United Nations General Assembly noted at the Food Summit a few weeks ago, greater attention now needs to be paid to food justice, food democracy and food sovereignty. A more regional food system in which the first priority is to produce as much of the food as possible by people in the region for people in the region (a food shed) will increasingly become part of our food culture and food infrastructure. Taking the first steps to explore such a food shed for the New York City region is a responsible step to take as we plan for this new future.”

New York City “Foodshed”

In order to bolster the regional economy and to help protect New York’s food supply from volatile fuel and other transportation costs, New York City should designate an area within a 100 to 200 mile radius as the New York City “foodshed.” In this area, growers of healthy food would be provided special access to New York City food markets and other retail and wholesale outlets, including farmers’ markets.

Certified growers and distribution networks in the designated area would also be entitled to compete for a government set-aside through which schools, hospitals and other municipal institutions would be mandated to purchase a certain percent of their produce (or specific food items) from within the foodshed.

Twenty percent of the annual budget for the city’s $435 million school food programs alone would mean an investment of more than $80 million in producers within the New York City foodshed.

Food Enterprise Zones

According to an October 2008 report from the Department of City Planning, New York City has the potential to capture approximately $1 billion of grocery spending lost to the suburbs. City government often seeks to improve blighted neighborhoods through zoning initiatives and tax policy. It should consider adopting similar policy tactics by offering tax breaks, low interest loans, and credits towards creating healthy food options in the city’s food deserts – areas with high rates of diet-related health problems and limited access to healthy food.
According to DCP, these neighborhoods include Harlem, Washington Heights, the South Bronx, Williamsbridge/Wakefield, portions of Pelham Parkway, Jamaica, Far Rockaway, Bushwick, Bedford-Stuyvesant, East New York, Sunset Park, St. George, and Stapleton.

Such policies could include:

· Identifying potential site locations, creating special zoning incentives to certify new stores, and establishing a funding apparatus such as the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative, which provides capital for supermarkets and grocery stores in neighborhoods that cannot attract conventional financing; and

· Dedicating public finance or micro loans to community food partnerships; targeting special IDA and Industrial Commercial Abatement Program (ICAP) funding to supermarkets that provide living wage jobs, health insurance, and food quality standards; and reducing or eliminating some or all business taxes for a limited period for food retailers in these neighborhoods.

Increasing Food Availability

The “In Class Breakfast” program in New York City schools provides free breakfast in class for students regardless of income. After beginning with a pilot program of 20 schools in 2007 it is in the process of expanding to 300 this year. Because students are healthier, more alert and learn better if they start the day with a nutritious breakfast the program should be expanded to all schools.

According to the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, the number of households in NYC on food stamps rose from approximately 980,000 in December of 2007 to nearly 1.15 million in December of 2008, an increase of about 170,000 families. The city should take steps to ensure that all eligible families apply for and receive these benefits, such as eliminating fingerprinting requirements.

Community Gardens

Because community gardens or urban agriculture are not officially recognized by city planning policies, their exact numbers are difficult to find and gardens can easily be replaced by other uses. The first step would be to map existing community garden sites and designate them as official uses of space. Underutilized land in particular could be identified for community gardens. The report recommends:

· Developing zoning designations to allow agriculture through the city zoning map, and general planning and creating incentives for edible landscaping, green roofs, and backyard gardening that foster food production, particularly in new large-scale residential and mixed use development projects; and

· Encouraging new development projects to include gardens, community-supported agriculture and farmers markets as part of the neighborhood development plans.

The report is an outgrowth of the groundbreaking conference on “The Politics of Food” sponsored by the Borough President, Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, the Earth Institute Urban Design Lab and the Office of Environmental Stewardship, held on November 19, 2008 at Columbia.


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