Farmland Legislation New York Policy Urban Agriculture

NYC Council’s Food Budget Priorities

On April 26, 2017, Mayor de Blasio submitted a proposed executive budget for Fiscal Year 2017 to the City Council. Following public hearings, the Council and the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget will negotiate a final budget, which the Council then votes on by June 5th.

The City Council recently published a response to the FY 2017 Preliminary Budget that contained the following five recommendations for budget reallocations that address the food system. Members of the public have an opportunity to weigh in on them in prior to the June 5th vote.

  1. Eliminate All School Lunch Fees

The Council proposes adding $8.75 million so that the Department of Education (DOE) can eliminate lunch fees in all schools for all students. The goal is to increase participation in school lunch and remove the stigma associated with the distinction between students who must pay and those who qualify for free lunch. In the 2015-2016 school year, DOE provided free lunch to all students in stand-alone middle schools as a test of the policy. The Council noted that this pilot of universal free lunch did not result in a loss of federal Title I funding, and that student participation increased by at least six percent.

  1. Create Food and Personal Hygiene Pantries at Community Schools

The Council recommends opening pantries to provide food and personal hygiene supplies (e.g., toothpaste and tooth brushes) to needy students in 10-15 schools located in low-income neighborhoods. The cost of construction and stocking the pantries is estimated at $35,000 per school.

  1. Invest in Regional Farmland Preservation

The Council proposed adding $5 million annually to protect regional farms in the Hudson Valley from being lost to real estate development. The goal of this proposal is to ensure the stability of the regional food supply and to to support the regional food economy.

  1. “Baseline” the Emergency Food Assistance Program Budget

The Council urged that a number of items funded by City Council additions to the budget in FY 2016 be converted to “baseline” funds that are included in the Mayor’s budget at the start of the budget process. One food-related item that the Council proposed including in the baseline budget is the Emergency Food Assistance Program, a $22,000,000 line item that supports soup kitchens and food pantries across the city.

  1. Increase Baseline Funding for GreenThumb

GreenThumb, a Parks Department program that supports the city’s community gardens, took over responsibility this year for 34 new gardens that were transferred from the Housing Preservation and Development Department. The Council urged the Mayor to include additional baseline funding of $750,000 in Fiscal 2017 to enable the Parks Department to double the existing GreenThumb staff by hiring six Outreach Coordinators and six field technical staff. These new staff would provide management support, educational programs, and troubleshooting for the GreenThumb gardens.

Farmland New York Planning Policy Uncategorized Urban Agriculture

New Generation of Farmers Emerges in Oregon

Prairie Crossing, Grayslake, IL

One of the challenges for mid-size farms, the so-called agriculture of the middle, is how to transition farmland to a new generation of farmers. It is heartening to see young people excited by food production, but we need to develop policies and programs to help them learn sustainable and profitable farming techniques, gain access to manageable parcels of farmland, and have a pathway to acquire larger farms if they wish to grow their operations.  See today’s NY Times article for inspiration:

New Generation of Farmers Emerges in Oregon
An interesting model for nurturing new farmers is Prairie Crossing, a farmland subdivision on a commuter line from Chicago that boasts 40 acres of organic farmland amidst single family homes, with “training parcels” for prospective new farmers. Another model is NYC’s New Farmer Development Project, which helps recent immigrants who have farming experience gain access to farmland in the New York metropolitan area as well as retail space at one of the city’s Greenmarkets.
Farmland Planning Uncategorized

Metro Vancouver Releases Growth Plan — with Agriculture and Food Element

Vancouver’s regional planning district released a draft growth strategy for metropolitan Vancouver that addresses protection of the region’s farmland to support local food production. The plan includes strategies to protect and expand the availability and viability of agricultural land. At the municipal level, the plan calls for policies to discourage subdivision of farmland to prevent farm fragmentation; planning at the metropolitan edge to allow farms to remain buffered from development; support for processing, agri-tourism, and other economic development strategies for agriculture; encouragement of the use of agricultural land primarily for food production; and educational programs about agriculture and its importance to the economy and local food systems.

Comments on the plan are being accepted until October 15, 2010. For more information see

Farmland Legislation New York State

Distributed Urban Agroforestry

Some 65% of New York’s Hudson River Valley and Catskill Mountain region are forested, with 85% of this forestland owned by private individuals, according to Cornell Cooperative Extension. These privately owned woodlands, if sustainably managed, provide critical ecosystem services, yet few property owners are aware of how to manage their land sustainably. Faced with financial obligations and property taxes, many harvest timber unsustainably or sell their property piece by piece for home construction. Typical forest management plans prepared by private foresters or the DEC focus on cutting and selling timber, even though surveys show that most forest landowners have much more diverse reasons for buying and keeping their wooded property.

One strategy for preventing the open space in our region from being parcelized and developed, particularly the ecologically sensitive forested land in NYC’s watershed, is to offer landowners financially viable options for keeping their property intact. These options include enhancing recreational opportunities (e.g., stocking ponds for fishing, cutting trails for hiking or skiing, and managing the woods to support wildlife), and sustainable timber harvesting. Another viable though less common option is agroforestry, the practice of growing ginseng, mushrooms, or medicinal crops in the woods, raising livestock among the trees, or tapping maple trees for syrup.

Legislation introduced by NYS Senator Charles Schumer and Congressman John McHugh would encourage private landowners to open up their properties for maple syrup tapping by providing grants to encourage them to provide access to maple producers. Called the “Maple Tapping Access Program Act of 2009,” the legislation aims to unleash the productive capacity of private woodlands, stimulating distributed agroforestry across regions that have abundant sugar maples. The potential is huge. Throughout New York State, for example, there are an estimated 300 million maple trees that can be tapped for their syrup, some 29 million in New York’s Hudson Valley alone.

The revenue from small-scale, disbursed maple syrup tapping may not be substantial for any single property owner, but it could help to pay the taxes on land that would otherwise be a financial burden, enabling the owner to keep his or her land intact. And for regions with abundant maple trees, the encouragement of distributed maple syrup production would be an economic boon. If successful, the model of distributed agroforestry – using many privately owned wooded properties to produce food and other agricultural products – can be a solution to the parcel by parcel destruction of our privately owned forest land.


Don’t Greenwash Farmland Destruction

The US Green Building Council’s draft LEED* for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) rating system would allow subdivisions built on prime farmland to qualify for the organization’s green seal of approval. At a time when farmland is converted to subdivisions and shopping malls at a rate of two acres a minute, this is a major step in the wrong direction. Indeed, communities throughout the nation are looking for ways to revitalize their foodsheds and grow more food locally. We should be doing everything possible to preserve prime farmland, not greenwashing projects that pave over it.

Prime farmland is the land best suited for growing agricultural crops with minimal inputs of fuel, fertilizer, and pesticides and without causing soil erosion. Crops can be grown on lower quality land, but with more petrochemical inputs for the same bushels of output. Keeping prime farmland in farming, particularly in urbanizing counties, is a key strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, cutting pesticide use, and limiting our dependence on distant food sources. Once this land is divided into parcels, paved, built over, and sliced up by roads and other infrastructure, it is lost forever.

The proposed LEED-ND standard, currently open for public comment until June 14, would allow developers to get LEED status even if the project is built on prime farmland, provided that they purchase easements protecting land with comparable soils. The calculations for mitigation are a bit complex, but in urbanized areas, sprawling projects with residential density less than or equal to 8.5 dwelling units per acre of buildable land have to protect twice as much farmland as they destroy. But the required mitigation drops as the density of the project increases. Projects with residential density between 11.5 and 13 dwelling units per acre must set aside at least 50% of the acreage destroyed. Those projects at a density of more than 13 dwellings per acre have no mitigation requirement at all. In projects located in rural areas, the mitigation requirements are even less stringent.

If adopted as-is, the LEED-ND certification will falsely brand as “sustainable” many projects that squander precious, non-renewable, fertile soils. Given the challenges of climate change, water shortages, and declining soil productivity, coupled with an increasing population, it is essential to preserve prime farmland for future food production near our towns and cities. If advocates are successful in their efforts to shift agricultural subsidies from large commodity growers to small- and mid-size sustainable farms, this farmland will be increasingly profitable to farm, and will form the backbone of a revived, diversified agricultural sector.

No doubt, the USGBC is concerned that a prerequisite precluding development on prime farmland would reduce the pool of applicants for the LEED-ND certification, including projects that have other beneficial green attributes. Some may believe that allowing LEED projects on prime farmland would encourage developers to build subdivisions with small built-in farms, like the well-known Prairie Crossing, and that these farmland subdivisions would mitigate the overall loss of farm acreage. Others may feel that prime farmland is simply not important enough to worry about, or is impossible to keep in farming given the current dominance of large-scale, global agribusiness.

But there is nothing sustainable about a project that diminishes our finite stock of fertile soil. Providing guidelines that encourage developers to build more compactly does not make it right to build a compact development on prime farmland any more than it justifies filling in wetlands, cutting intact forest landscapes, or paving over critical habitat for a project. And protecting an equivalent amount of land somewhere else, or installing solar collectors, greywater recycling systems, or other environmental technologies does not offset the permanent loss of this land.

Moreover, there is plenty of land to build great new neighborhoods in existing communities or on sites with marginal soils not suited to growing food, feed, or fiber located adjacent to towns and cities. Those are types of projects that deserve LEED-ND recognition. Prime farmland, a finite resource, should be the last place anyone builds, and those developers who choose to destroy prime farmland should not be given the honor of being called leaders in energy and environmental design.

*Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design

To submit comments on the LEED for Neighborhood Development Rating System, see the US Green Building Council’s website. This issue is addressed in the section called “Smart Location and Linkage (SSL) Prerequisite 4: Agricultural Land Conservation.”