Individuals can begin to push for a sustainable citywide food system by integrating food concerns into existing community-based planning processes. In cities like New York, one route is through the local community board, which advises the city on budgetary priorities and policies and land use decisions that affect the neighborhood that the board represents. Community boards vary in the level of expertise of their members, and often focus on opposing development proposals instead of proactively articulating a future for their neighborhood. Nevertheless, by getting involved in your local board, you may be able to encourage it to put the food system on the city’s agenda. Here are three examples of how a board can make a difference.
1. Statement of Needs
One responsibility of community boards is to prepare and submit to the Mayor an annual statement of community district needs, and recommendations for programs, projects or activities to meet those needs. The statement of needs is an opportunity to ensure your community board identifies needs for things like greenmarket space, community and school gardens, space for food pantries, compost sites, and a host of additional programs and facilities that would enhance the food system in your neighborhood.
2. Budget Priorities
Would electrical hookups at your local Greenmarket enable vendors to keep their produce and meats fresher? Does the local community garden need a rainwater harvesting system and better drainage? Is a local city-owned parcel the perfect place for an urban farm? Community Boards are responsible for consulting with agencies on the capital needs of the district, holding public hearings on those needs, and submitting to the Mayor capital budget priorities. In addition, Community Boards participate in budget consultations with City agencies and make recommendations for priority expense budget items. These could include a wide range of services related to the food system, such as funding to support EBT and WIC access at Greenmarkets.
3. CEQR and ULURP Process
Most people interact with their community board when a developer or agency proposes a project that the neighborhood does not want. Boards typically review and comment on environmental impact statements (EISs) and are empowered through the Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) to vote on projects that require any kind of discretionary action by city government, such as a zoning variance. The environmental and land use review processes offer community boards the opportunity to require the project’s proponents to consider its impact on the food system and to discuss alternatives that have smaller impacts, including ways to build sustainable food production, distribution, and disposal into the development. While it is unlikely that the environmental review process will result in dramatic changes to projects, it is one mechanism a community board (and advocacy groups and individuals) can use to highlight problems with the food system and potential alternatives that promote sustainability.