Sunday, February 21, 2010

Food NYC: A BluePrint for a Sustainable Food System

Late last week, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and his policy team published their report from the NYC Food and Climate Summit held in December, "Food NYC: A Blueprint for a Sustainable Food System".

A comprehensive and thoughtful roadmap to the future, "Food NYC" outlines in considerable detail ten bold recommendations for the city that touch dozens of government agencies at the city, state and federal levels and has potential to positively impact the lives of thousands of farmers and food industry workers and millions of eaters in New York's foodshed.

Check out Stringer's blog post here which includes a PDF of the full report.

Straight from the report, below is a snapshot of the extremely pro-locavore, socially, economically and environmentally smart recommendations. If implemented, these recommendations will stimulate a rebirth of New York City as an important agriculture and food processing center and help to significantly reduce Gotham's carbon "foodprint" in the decades ahead.

  • Urban Agriculture – Establish food-producing spaces in New York City for personal, community, or commercial use by the year 2030, through various legislative and land-use actions. The City should facilitate the development of rooftop gardens, in addition to creating an NYC Urban Agriculture Program, which would provide access, resources, and information to promote community gardening.
  • Regional Food Production - Promote and support regional agriculture by connecting upstate and Long Island farms with downstate consumers, and by mapping the food produced and sourced from the region within approximately 200 miles of New York City.
  • Food Processing and Distribution - Increase the sale and consumption of regional foods by expanding distribution and processing capacity. In particular, the Administration, in conjunction with the City’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC), should redevelop the Hunts Point Produce Market, to both modernize this food delivery hub and ensure that the 8,500 jobs the facility maintains remain in NYC.
  • New Markets -- Increase the number and type of retail food outlets that deviate from the traditional grocery store model by dedicating city-owned spaces for use as “alternative” food markets. By increasing the number and long term viability of farmers markets, the City can give residents both the option and the access to healthy food.
  • Procurement of Regionally Produced Foods -- Incorporate preferences for locally-sourced food into the city’s procurement regulations. Specifically, the City Council should pass legislation that would require 20% of all food purchased by city agencies to come from local producers.
  • Education -- Educate New York City’s children to become a new generation of healthy and environmentally aware eaters. Moreover, students should have access to some type of agricultural production, be it a community garden or urban farm.
  • Food Waste – Launch twin composting initiatives: (a) support for large-scale composting through creation of a municipal facility; and (b) support for small-scale composting through education, decentralized composting bins, and more pick-up locations.
  • Plastic Water Bottles – Ban the sale of bottled water in all city facilities and on municipal property, and increase the use of water fountains and canteens. Plastic water bottles waste an enormous amount of energy to produce and only a small portion are recycled.
  • Food Economy – Actively develop the local economy’s food sector to create more jobs while elevating labor standards, environmental protections and public health. Moreover, the creation of kitchen incubators in every borough will create entrepreneurial opportunities for many New Yorkers with a talent for food production.
  • Office of Food and Markets – Create an Office of Food and Markets to coordinate and lead systemic reform of the city’s food and agricultural policies and programs. In addition, the Mayor should look at amending PlaNYC to include a comprehensive overhaul of the City’s food system, like the one outlined in this report.


The challenge for execution, of course, is that from the government's vantage point food doesn't fit neatly into any one agency or department or jurisdiction. Yet food plays an important role in agencies responsible for education, transportation, waste -- not to mention labor and economic development -- and is part of not only the public sector (city, state, federal) but also the private sector. For this reason, the tenth, and to me the most important recommendation, is the establishment of the NEW YORK CITY OFFICE OF FOOD AND MARKETS.

A central organization tasked to focus on food, such as an OFFICE OF FOOD AND MARKETS, can pull together all of the recommendations and pave the way to a vibrant and sustainable food system. Now more than ever, given the high rate of diet-related illness, loss of farmland, need for job creation, there is a need for New York City to focus on food and provide the thought leadership that will enable cross-agency coordination, city-state-federal government cooperation and foster public and private partnerships for a systematic solution.

I don't know about you but the idea of an Office of Food and Markets in New York City gives me goose bumps.

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