Food Metrics report for NYC

As part of NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s FoodWorks initiative, the City Council passed local law 52 in July 2011, requiring reporting of various food-related metrics. This report was just released and, while it doesn’t present a comprehensive snapshot of the food system, it does contain interesting data for food planners, policymakers and advocates.
For example:
  • there are 58 farms located in New York City’s watershed (which supplies mostly unfiltered surface drinking water to New York’s residents and visitors) that receive funding from the Department of Environmental Protection to implement best management practices that reduce agricultural pollution and protect water quality. This funding enables these farms to remain in the watershed without polluting New York City’s drinking water and provides resources so those farms can practice more environmentally sound agriculture.
  • The city’s Department of Education, which is the second largest institutional food purveyor in the United States next to the US military, purchased $147.8 million worth of food in 2012. Of that, $23.9 million was spent on local produce, milk and yogurt ($20.8 million for milk and yogurt, and $3.1 million for produce).
  • A total of 2773 daily truck trips are made to the city’s Hunts Point food distribution center, located in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city.
  • 11 Grocers took advantage of the city’s FRESH initiative, which supports the development of grocery stores in underserved neighborhoods.
  • The report provides a complete list of community gardens operated by the New York City Parks Department GreenThumb program as well as other community gardens not managed by GreenThumb.
  • The report includes a list of the city’s Greenmarkets with figures on the number of vendors at each market.

Overall, the information in the Local Law 52 report is fairly disparate, though appears to comply with the law, and isn’t contextualized or analyzed in any meaningful way. Some of the tables would be more informative as graphs, and background on what the information means and how it might be integrated into policy would be helpful.  For example, is spending $3.1 million on local produce a lot or a little?  What is being done to increase local procurement, and does the Education Department expect to buy more locally next year?

It’s up to advocates, academics, and agency officials to begin to use this information in the development of new policies and programs, and to request the additional metrics and programmatic and policy information that would turn these data from fun facts into meaningful, insightful information.

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