Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Big Apple's Community Farmers Markets Must Sell 50 Tons of Apples to Cover City's Costs

This morning's New York Times featured Scott Stringer's new initiative to make running a farmers market more affordable for low income organizers.  I just finished reading Stringer's thoughtful report "Red Tape, Green Vegetables" which reveals (in painful but important detail) the economic burden and bureaucratic hurdles in the city's regulations for farmers markets. I was particularly struck by the high out of pocket costs that a market manager must incur just to open a market -- by my calculations the 58 markets in the report have to sell the equivalent of a whopping 100,000 pounds of apples (that's 50 tons) just to pay the city permit and other fees.  Never mind the parking tickets and other hassles farmers and organizers face each growing season (hint hint Department of Transportation -- please get the signs to these locations).

Here's the press release and link to the new report. Good detective work and actionable recommendations by Scott Stringer and his staff in their tireless effort to address food deserts and obesity and diabetes in New York City with easy to implement solutions. Once again, a good read and persuasive case (check out last year's report "FoodNYC: A blueprint for a sustainable food system"). Clearly, current regs and high costs are standing in the way of bringing healthy, delicious and local food to low-income neighborhoods.
 Photo courtesy of Manhattan Borough President Stringer's Website - 4/12/11 press conference

New Report Calls On City to “Roll out the Red Carpet and Cut the Red Tape”
Outlines Plan of Action to Get More Healthy Food to People Who Need It Most – In Under-Served Neighborhoods

Calling on the City to reform its “confusing and inconsistent” regulations for community-based farmers markets, Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer on Tuesday said the City should cut the red tape that too often discourages farmers, market operators and community leaders from selling fresh, nutritious fruit and vegetables to people in the New York’s most under-served neighborhoods.

“At a time when the City faces a food and health crisis—with more than three million people obese or overweight and 700,000 suffering from diabetes—we simply can’t afford to put obstacles in the way of markets that bring healthy food to New Yorkers who need it the most, in communities that are not well-served by large grocery stores,” the Borough President said, noting that 58 such markets now operate in the five boroughs.

“But that’s what New York is doing,” he continued.  “We have a confusing permitting process for these operators.  We ask them to pay fees that can be prohibitive.  And we hit them with parking tickets because there is no reliable process for reserving spaces for farmers who must drive into the City to sell their goods.

“Bottom line: We should be rolling out the red carpet and encouraging these markets, not tying them up in red tape and obstructing them,” Stringer said.  “We need a new regulatory framework that is aligned with the greater goal of improving public health in our most under-served neighborhoods.”

Community farmers markets are run by neighborhood groups to inspire better health, pride and local unity.  They represent a critical pipeline for bringing fresh food into some of the City’s most under-served areas.  Community farmers markets are typically small, independent efforts and should not be confused with larger operations like the Union Square Market, which are run by Greenmarket, a division of GrowNYC, a non-profit that currently operates almost 50 markets Citywide through a contract with the City.

Borough President Stringer, flanked by other elected officials, farmer’s market operators and community members, spoke at a press conference in Manhattan’s East Village.  He marked the event by announcing the release of “Red Tape, Green Vegetables: A Plan to Improve New York City’s Regulations for Community-Based Farmers Markets,” a new report by his office. 

The report notes that, within the five boroughs, there are 28 different operators of community-based farmers markets, running a total of 58 markets.  Seventy-three percent of these markets operate in low-income ar­eas as defined by the Federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program.  Between 2009 and 2010, low-income residents redeemed almost half a million dollars in government nutri­tion coupons at these markets.

Here are some of the obstacles they face, according to the report: 

    •    A maze of differing location-based permit requirements—including one permit that a market operator must apply for by December 31 of the preceding year, potentially seven months before the start of market season.
    •    Fees that, combined with insurance, swell the cost of operating a six-month market to $1,200—an upfront cost which can be prohibitive for a small community organization.
    •    The lack of a clear and reliable process for reserving parking spaces for farmers, a problem that results in costly parking tickets for vehicles that are authorized to park on market days.

Stringer outlined a plan of action that includes the removal of permitting fees for markets in low-income communities; simplified application procedures; a standardized process for reserving parking for out-of-town farmers; an information and outreach campaign to increase use of government nutrition coupons at farmers markets; and increased access to commercial kitchen space and urban land for farming, so these valuable markets can grow in number and become self-sustaining.

“These are simple solutions that will make it easier for the operators of farmers markets to thrive in New York,” the Borough President concluded.  “It’s time for government to get out of the way and let these markets put healthy food on the tables of those who need it most.”

“I commend the Manhattan borough President office for not focusing on the problems but coming up with solutions and recommendations that seem fair and equitable,” said Karen Washington, Co-Founder, La Familia Verde. “The bottom line is that both urban and rural farmers are trying to work together to help New York residents eat healthy. As challenges come up I feel it’s important that politicians, farmers, and consumers are all at the table, making decisions that benefit the health and well being of all New Yorkers. This analysis shows some of the red tape issues that hinder quality food getting into neighborhoods that need it the most. I hope this gives us a better understanding of the issues so that we can move forward and not be caught up in rhetoric. All New Yorkers should have the right to healthy, fresh affordable food. Food is a right, not a Privilege!”

"New York City and community-based market organizations, like Harvest Home Farmers’ Market, have to work with one another to improve the system for increasing consumers’ access to fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Maritza Owens, Chief Executive Officer, Harvest Home Farmers’ Market Inc.  “Harvest Home Farmers’ Market welcomes the opportunity to partner with the Manhattan Borough President's Office and New York City to do that because we ultimately have the same goal.”

"As an organization dedicated to working with communities to make fresh, locally grown food accessible throughout NYC, we recognize that these community-run farmers markets are critically important tools for increasing public health and community wellbeing," said Jacquie Berger, the Executive Director of Just Food,  the umbrella organization for a network of 17 urban agriculture-based City Farmers Markets. "We hope this report will help transform how the City supports both community-run farmers markets and the market managers who are taking on this demanding job in order to provide a vital resource to their communities."

"The permitting process for community-based farmers’ markets is confusing and prohibitive. If it were easier and less costly, I think you would see more markets in low-income areas, more happy farmers, and healthier people. There has to be a better way than this,” said Travis Tench, Manager, Bushwick Farmers’ Market

“I am happy to see local community-based farmers' markets spotlighted. This is the perfect time to draw attention to the challenges of running a market. Hopefully, with this important report by the Manhattan Borough President's Office everyone will do their part to help,” said Sonya Simmons, Manager, Grassroots Farmers’ Market

Contact: Audrey Gelman (212) 669-8143, (347) 534-6069

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