Categories
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.

Categories
New York Planning Policy Urban Agriculture

Urban Agriculture for One New York

[Published on Huffington Post]

On December 12, 2014, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) issued a request for qualifications that offered-up more than 180 vacant city parcels to affordable housing developers. It turned out, however, that 20 weren’t really vacant – they were community gardens, 18 of which were actively growing food.

As this news circulated through the urban agriculture community, gardeners and their allies organized a City Hall protest and began lobbying elected officials to stave off the bulldozers. HPD then took a closer look and discovered that at least 50 gardens, not 20, were under HPD jurisdiction and thus were slated for eventual development.

A year of bureaucratic hand wringing and political backpedaling has ensued, along with staff meetings, site visits, and conversations with gardeners, advocates, and elected officials. The resulting compromise, announced by Mayor de Blasio on December 30, 2015, is that the city will spare 34 of the gardens on HPD land by transferring them to the Parks Department, while 14 active gardens on 9 development sites deemed essential for affordable housing will be lost as construction begins. To its credit, the de Blasio administration has committed to finding alternative sites and assistance for those gardens forced to relocate.

Some might chalk this incident up to an isolated staff-level snafu at HPD. After all, the Mayor cares deeply about quality of life in neighborhoods short on green space and fresh produce, as do the members of his administration. Housing commissioner Vicki Been has published groundbreaking research quantifying the economic benefits of gardens to low-income communities. Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver is leading a Community Parks Initiative that will restore and maintain parks and playgrounds in high-need communities throughout New York, improving open space neglected by previous administrations.

But these conflicts over the city’s gardens arise over and over, pointing not to a slip-up by a particular agency but rather to a more fundamental governance problem: there is no citywide policy that makes urban agriculture a permanentfeature of the cityscape, and no physical plan identifying where future agricultural development should go. Nor is there an overall budget for the urban agriculture system, with dollars instead coming from different sources and little coordination of spending. Urban agriculture remains a patchwork of city programs, making it easy for any individual agency to treat as expendable.

Parks often takes the lead because its GreenThumb program supports more than 600 gardens. But the Housing Authority manages an even larger program, with 670 gardens on NYCHA properties, including an 8,000 square foot rooftop hydroponic farm in the South Bronx, a one-acre farm in Red Hook, and several new large-scale farms planned in East Harlem, Brownsville, Canarsie, the South Bronx, and Staten Island. Some 300 public schools also have gardens, from vegetable patches to high-tech greenhouses. HPD’s flagship affordable housing project, Via Verde, features a community garden and the city’s first and only rooftop apple orchard. And the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) invested nearly $600,000 ($150,000 more than GreenThumb’s entire 2015 operating budget) in a one-acre rooftop farm and another $770,000 in smaller farms and gardens, all to prevent stormwater from inundating the sewers. An alphabet soup of other agencies provides material, land, and technical assistance.

Some argue that this administrative mish-mash encourages innovation and entrepreneurship, but that reflects an overly romantic view of the “guerilla gardening” movement of the 1970s, when urban agriculture blossomed from the grassroots. In those days, in the wake of the city’s fiscal crisis and decades of private disinvestment, community activists, particularly in low-income communities of color, turned rubble-strewn lots into safe, green spaces providing healthy produce, and City Hall was happy to oblige with supplies and technical assistance. But over the past 40 years, urban agriculture has grown from guerilla to mainstream, requiring much more coordination, support, and permanence.

The most compelling reason for a citywide urban agriculture policy and physical plan is to make the system more transparent, equitable and sustainable. Currently, there are no clear criteria for which gardens to save, for how long, through what mechanisms, or at what cost. These decisions are often ad hoc, based on which gardeners are most active and organized, politically connected, and able to provide their own labor and resources. These may sound like reasonable criteria, but they have the effect of disadvantaging communities that would gain the most from gardens and farms but in which poverty, language barriers, immigration status, and other challenges make sustaining a garden more difficult.

Inequities also occur due to the lack of funding priorities for garden and farm projects, which advantages highly networked organizations and individuals with contacts and skills to secure grants, investments, and in-kind resources. While there may be valid reasons for the city to invest in innovative but costly projects like rooftop greenhouses, there is no public process for determining whether alternative farm and garden priorities, including low-tech farms, would be more equitable, cost-effective, or beneficial to the larger urban agriculture system.

A physical plan for agriculture would ensure that farms and gardens are designed into new residential and commercial developments, and that their locations maximize their benefits: near schools and senior centers to link these institutions to gardening programs; integrated into buildings and neighborhoods that would benefit from access to fresh produce and green space; in communities where farm-based youth development, recreation, and job training programs would make a difference; and in places where overburdened stormwater infrastructure would benefit from turning pavement into permeable soil. A citywide policy would also help to break down bureaucratic siloes by integrating urban agriculture into the missions of agencies that do not now view food production as relevant to their mandates. This would mean HPD designing gardens into their housing projects, DEP prioritizing farms and gardens in its green infrastructure financing, and Sanitation linking urban farms to its food-waste composting programs.

Perhaps the best opportunity to start the urban agriculture planning process is with the very program that led to this yearlong garden controversy: the mayor’s signature affordable housing plan. HPD, City Planning, and other agencies have begun community planning and rezoning in neighborhoods targeted for new affordable housing. These plans and rezoning proposals are a unique opportunity to proactively integrate urban agriculture, along with other strategies to increase access to healthy food, like space for neighborhood grocers, food cooperatives, farm stands and public markets, into the communities being transformed.

Categories
Climate Change New York Planning Policy

Increasing the Resilience of NYC’s Food System to Climate Change

New York, like many large cities, has a food system that depends on concentrated distribution channels and legacy infrastructures that are all prone to climate-related disruption. In advance of the People’s Climate March on September 21st, I wanted to reflect on the vulnerabilities of New York City’s food system to climate change-induced weather events, and how municipal policies can help us to mitigate and adapt to those vulnerabilities. Some statistics compiled in the wake of Hurricane Sandy for PlaNYC: A Stronger, More Resilient New York, illustrate the nature of the problem:

  • Nearly 95% of the 5.7 million tons of food that enters the city is transported by truck, mostly over the George Washington Bridge;
  • About 60% of the city’s produce and half of its meat and fish pass through the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center, North America’s largest wholesale food market, in the South Bronx. Nearly a third of the market is at risk of flooding because it is within the 100-year floodplain (and by the end of the century, New York City may experience a 100-year flood every 10 to 22 years).
  • At the retail end of the supply chain, 700 food markets are in a 100-year floodplain, and these are mostly smaller stores serving low-income and vulnerable neighborhoods that lack other retail options.
  • The four communities most at-risk of flooding — Coney Island, the Rockaways, Throgs Neck/Coop City, and East Harlem — will have 75% of their food retail floor area in a floodplain by the 2050s – and all four communities have populations with lower than average incomes.
  • Even the national distributors and large supermarket chains that have their own distribution centers and supply chains are not invulnerable, as their trucks travel the same roads that flood and rely on fuels that are supplied through the same vulnerable distribution systems as everyone else.

Conventional food systems are tightly bound together with other vulnerable urban systems like transportation, electricity, water, wastewater, financial systems, social systems and physical infrastructure. For example, in a system depending on electricity for refrigeration and some food preparation, power failures resulting from storms or heat-induced blackouts are also food system failures. When a city has one fifth of its population dependent on SNAP benefits, as New York does, telecommunications failures (which are also connected to failures to the electrical grid) that block access to SNAP funds are food system failures. When public transit fails, as it did during Hurricane Sandy, those people living in communities with flooded food retailers are unable to access food and services in adjacent neighborhoods.

And as these examples illustrate, while we are all at risk from the effects of climate change-induced weather events, we are unequally exposed to these risks and unequally vulnerable to them. Different socioeconomic status leads to disparate impacts and also disparate capacities to cope and adapt to those impacts. In New York, uneven development and various forms of structural oppression (e.g., racial, gender, age, and class discrimination) create particularly vulnerable populations who experience very different risks from climate change. Vulnerability to flooding and the secondary consequences of a storm – lost wages, hunger, physical and mental illnesses — affect those most socially, economically, politically, and otherwise marginalized more than those with social and financial resources.

Vulnerable populations are affected not only by the direct effects of extreme weather events, like hunger due to the loss of a local food retail establishment or food pantry, and also to the secondary effects of climate change, such as rising food prices that exacerbate food insecurity, but they are also vulnerable to adaptation and mitigation responses. This may include: planning decisions to make housing development in low-lying areas more resilient, but also more costly, leading to displacement; or to decisions to use green infrastructure as a means to absorb stormwater, creating new green spaces that inadvertently raise property values and gentrify the communities being greened. It may involve initiatives like the city’s FRESH initiative (Food Retail Expansion to Support Health) to increase food access in low income neighborhoods by supporting supermarket development, which may increase vulnerability over the long-run by perpetuating reliance on a small number of established supply chains rather than other forms of food retail like coops, small grocers, or farmers markets, which have the added advantage of supporting neighborhood development. This is not an argument for avoiding mitigation and adaptation, but rather to acknowledge and address the potential adverse effects of these actions on vulnerable communities.

Mal-adaptation, particularly choosing to strengthen existing systems rather than considering radical alternatives, can also make us as vulnerable to future risks as non-adaptation. For example, focusing on fortifying the Hunts Point Food Center, while necessary in the short term, locks us into a centralized food supply chain that may be even more vulnerable to weather-related disruptions in the future, forcing us to depend on additional physical infrastructure in the future to keep the floods away. This is not to say that we ought not have sea walls around Hunts Point, but that we need to pay attention to the potential to lock ourselves into vulnerable systems.

While the supply chain in NYC is vulnerable to climate change, the regional foodshed is also vulnerable. Increases in average temperatures and precipitation in the Northeast are likely to affect the types of crops and livestock cultivated regionally as well as the structure of agriculture. For example, dairy production is important to the Northeast’s agricultural economy, yet increases in temperature have been shown to reduce milk yields and slow weight gain in dairy cows. This may require dairy farmers to invest in ventilation and cooling equipment, which would put small farmers who are already marginally profitable under additional financial stress. For a crop like Hudson Valley apples, temperature extremes and increasingly frequent droughts are likely to reduce fruit quality, or require irrigation systems, driving up costs for farmers already struggling to make a living. Those farmers most vulnerable to climate change include owners of small family farms with little capital to invest in on-farm adaptation strategies, such as new infrastructure, stress-tolerant varieties, or increased chemical and water inputs. The most vulnerable farmers will be those without access to knowledge about the full range of adaptation strategies, or credit to pay for new infrastructure. Those without the social and business networks to access alternative supply chains and retailers will suffer financially when existing supply chains are disrupted. As some farmers successfully adapt, others may be disadvantaged, leading to farmland loss or consolidation in the regional farm economy. Short term solutions to problems such as climate-induced increases in weeds or insects, such as by increasing chemical inputs like fertilizers and pesticides, may exacerbate inequitable human health burdens, or degrade land and community health, driving down property values and exacerbating geographic inequities. In cities, increased extreme heat and droughts may also affect the cost structures and productivity of community gardens and urban farms in low-income communities.

But cities are not just the places that bear the brunt of climate change; they also have roles to play in combating climate change through innovative food policies.

  • Regional food procurement can support regional food economies, and in doing so enable farmers to have the financial wherewithal to invest in mitigation and adaptation. If NYC were to adopt food procurement guidelines that also emphasized sustainable farming practices, like no till farming or low-spray/organic production, our municipal purchasing power would support farms that serve as more efficient carbon sinks and reduce their energy consumption through reductions in chemical use.
  • Increased financial and technical support for Catskill farms (particularly dairy farms) through the Watershed Agriculture Council would help these food producers adapt to climate change, preventing the loss of farming in our watershed and the resulting adverse water quality effects and the need for costly and carbon emissions-intensive mechanical filtration.
  • Rooftop and ground level urban farms can serve as green infrastructure and create multidimensional benefits: stemming stormwater; insulating rooftops with soil and vegetation and reducing the heat island effect; increasing and diversifying food production; creating jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities and making communities more economically resilient and thus better able to respond to climate change risks. Increasing support for urban agriculture as a green infrastructure would be a sound way to address climate change while increasing the productive capacity of the cityscape.
  • Diversifying the food distribution system can make it less vulnerable to disruption while also reducing adverse impacts (like highly concentrated truck traffic) in neighborhoods like Hunts Point. Diversification should include new transportation infrastructure including rail and water transport, and an emphasis on various forms of food retail (including farmers markets and cooperatives) that build community-based social networks, competencies, and infrastructures.
  • Food can be made a central aspect of neighborhood planning, environmental assessment, the land use review process, and other governmental processes such as budgeting and agency management evaluation. This would ensure that as development plans move forward food infrastructure is adequately and sustainably included.
  • Urban waste composting is an important part of soil management and reduced dependence on synthetic nitrogen fertilizer in agriculture. A citywide organic composting program that returns processed compost to regional farms would reduce methane generation at landfills and help to build soil fertility, benefitting farmers, the environment, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Perhaps the best way to increase resilience to climate risks is by reducing inequities (providing better transit, affordable housing, adequate sewage infrastructure, nutrition and health programs). Systems of governance that empower vulnerable communities also improve the city’s ability to adapt to climate change.

(A version of this essay was presented on September 9, 2014, at the NYC Food Policy Center’s Food Policy for Breakfast: Climate Change, Food and Health: From Analysis to Action to Protect Our Futures.)

Categories
Legislation New York

Update on NYC FoodWorks legislation

For readers tracking implementation of the legislation enacted by the New York City Council in August, here is a summary of the local law numbers as well as the effective dates of each law:

LL 50 of 2011– Requires the City Chief Procurement Officer to develop a set of guidelines for city agencies to follow to procure more food products whose components are grown, produced or harvested in New York State. [enacted 8/17/11, effective date 11/17/11]
LL 51 of 2011 – Requires the director of citywide environmental purchasing to develop packaging guidelines for food purchased by the City to eliminate packaging or minimize the amount of packaging used, and to use packaging that is recyclable or reusable. [enacted 8/17/11, effective date 11/17/11]
LL 52 of 2011 – Requires the Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability to gather and report on key data about New York City’s food system, including sources of food, including community gardens, how it is distributed, and consumed. An annual food system metrics report is due September 1, 2012 and annually thereafter.
LL 48 of 2011 – Requires the department of citywide administrative services to maintain an online database of all property owned and leased by the city, including detailed data about the sites as well as whether land is potentially suitable for urban agriculture. [enacted 8/17/11, effective date 12/17/11]
LL 49 of 2011 — Adds greenhouses to the list of rooftop structures that can be excluded from height limitations, making it easier to install the structures on top of buildings [effective date 8/17/11]
Categories
Food Access Legislation New York Planning Policy SNAP Urban Agriculture

FoodWorks Legislative Package Scheduled for Vote

On Thursday, July 28, 2011, the New York City Council is expected to enact a package of legislation (Int. Nos. 615-A, 452-A, 248-A, and 338-A) that will advance significant parts of the Council’s groundbreaking Foodworks policy plan and thus move us closer to attaining a sustainable, fair, and healthy food system in New York City. 
Food System Metrics Bill (Int. No. 615-A)
The recently released update to PlaNYC acknowledged that “healthy, sustainable food systems are critical to the well-being of our communities and central to our ability to accommodate a growing population.” Yet administrative agencies have never systematically examined the food system, leaving large gaps in our understanding of where our food comes from and how it moves through the city to our tables and into the waste stream.  Int. No. 615-A begins to close that information gap by requiring the city to develop baseline information about our food system so that we can make intelligent, coordinated planning and policy decisions. And by making core information about our food system available publicly, ordinary citizens, business people, urban farmers, and advocates will be better able to participate in decision-making about food policy.
Specifically, the bill provides the following information:
  • Data on farms participating in the watershed agricultural program, enabling us to understand the kinds of agricultural activity underway in the Catskills, the extent to which NYC funds are being deployed to help farms in our watershed reduce their environmental impacts, the kind of food produced on those farms, and ultimately, whether and to what extent NYC should change or expand its watershed agricultural programs.
  • Information on the provenance of milk and other food products purchased by the city, improving our understanding of the food miles of city-purchased food and opportunities to re-localize food purchases, and therefore support regional farmers and distributors.
  • Information on community gardens that would enable the city council and the public to identify community boards that are underserved, and help to better deploy resources to assist gardeners with production tools and materials, technical assistance, and retail channels for produce, like farmstands and CSA distribution systems.
  • Data on food manufacturers receiving economic development assistance will show the extent to which our EDC and IDA are supporting food manufacturing in NYC and identify opportunities to enhance city support for food manufacturers.
  • The number of truck and rail trips to or through Hunts Point Market will enable the city to improve transportation options in a neighborhood overwhelmed by diesel exhaust.
  • Information on grocery store space per capita will enable city officials, the public, and food access advocates to have a clearer sense of which neighborhoods lack adequate food retail and how food retail access has changed year to year by neighborhood.
  • Data on the FRESH initiative will illustrate progress of the initiative to incentivize grocery store development and to support jobs in the food retail industry, and identify gaps in food access that remain. 
  • Information on the establishments participating in the healthy bodega initiative will illustrate the extent to which that program has been successful in meeting the healthy food access needs of neighborhoods under-served by full-service supermarkets.
  • Data on job training programs to help individuals seeking work in the food industry will help make these training programs more effective.
  • Tracking the total number of meals served by city agencies will illustrate the extent to which city-provided meals are meeting the nutritional needs of residents in different communities.
  • Data on the nutritional quality of city-provided meals will document the extent to which we are meeting the goal of having 100% of our meals meet basic nutrition standards.
  • Information on revenue earned from school vending machines will help school food advocates track the extent to which foods from vending machines compete with school meals, and show the extent to which schools are dependent on vending machine revenue.
  • Data on SNAP recipients will enable the Council and city agencies to determine whether current outreach efforts are adequate.
  • Information on nutrition education programs will help identify the most innovative, successful models of nutrition education, enabling agency officials to improve their educational outreach and, ultimately, improve the nutritional status of agency clients.
  • Tracking the number of salad bars in public schools and hospitals will enable the Council and advocates to track the city’s progress in providing adequate access to fresh fruits and vegetables in these institutions.
  • Quantifying the amount spent to purchase water other than tap water will point out waste and help agencies to figure out how to eliminate bottled water purchases.
  • Information about the green cart initiative will help in evaluating whether the green cart program is meeting the food access needs of the communities in which they are located, how to improve the program, and to what extent cart operators are accepting EBT payments.
  • Tracking the number of vendors at greenmarkets will enable the city to determine whether it is doing a sufficient job providing space for the direct marketing of fresh fruits and vegetables through the Greenmarket program, and whether the number of farmers selling at greenmarkets is increasing or decreasing.
There are gaps in some of the required data (e.g., the farmers market data only includes Greenmarkets, not independent farmers markets), and the legislation imposes few obligations on the part of the city to gather new data (e.g., on the geographic source of food) that does not already exist or that vendors do not currently provide.  In the coming years, the Council will need to ensure that the reporting agencies follow the spirit of this new law and make good faith efforts to obtain and provide this valuable information.
Local Food Procurement Bill (Int. No. 452-A)
This legislation is an important step towards using the city’s purchasing power to support regional farmers, processors, distributors and producers, including businesses located in New York City.  The bill requires the chief procurement officer to develop local food procurement guidelines for agencies, monitor agency implementation of the guidelines, and prepare an annual report for the Council on each agency’s efforts to buy New York (State and City) food.
An important feature of the legislation is a requirement that the city include in each solicitation for food purchases and food-related service contracts a request (unfortunately not a mandate) that each vendor supplying food do the following:
  • Review a list of New York State food products to determine if any are provided under the contract;
  • Report all the food procured under the contract by type with the dollar value of each type; and
  • Report
    • any New York State food procured under the contract, with the dollar value of each type procured,
    • any food from outside of New York State procured when it is also available in New York, together with the value of such purchases, and
    • any other out-of-state food purchases.
The obligations on the procuring agencies are minimal, since they are not authorized to pay a premium for local food and are only obligated to ask their vendors for information about provenance.  Nevertheless, having an annual report will provide information for the first time on whether and to what extent the city is able to encourage the purchase of local food. If the procurement guidelines do not, in fact, result in more local purchases, the Council and advocates will be armed with data to support changing the requirements. 
Database of Potential Urban Agriculture Sites (Int. No. 248-A)
Space is one of the biggest obstacles to the expansion of urban agriculture, especially in dense, economically vibrant cities like New York. Int. No. 248-A would create a powerful new tool for community groups and individuals to identify potential sites for new gardens and farms.  The legislation would require the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) to keep and maintain a free, publicly accessible, searchable database of all city-owned and leased real property, including information regarding the location and current use of such property. This information is currently available in several databases, but not in one place, not online, and not for free.
It will cover the approximately 18,500 parcels that are owned or leased by the city, including schools, police stations, libraries, warehouses, highway maintenance yards, parking lots, piers, and vacant land. Users will be able to find out the location and dimensions of each site, along with many other details. DCAS also would have to indicate whether a particular property is suitable for urban agriculture, presumably requiring the agency to assess site conditions like access to sunlight, and helping to fulfill a commitment in PlaNYC to search for new sites for food production.
Unfortunately, a loophole in the bill specifies that data must be provided to “the extent such information is available” to DCAS, which removes any affirmative obligation on the part of DCAS to collect new information.   It will be up to the Council and advocates to ensure that the spirit of the law is followed, and if not, to tighten the requirements in the coming years.
Rooftop Greenhouse Bill (Int. No. 338)
New York is a leader in rooftop agriculture with commercial rooftop farms (e.g., Brooklyn Grange), greenhouses supplying retail food establishments (e.g., Eli Zabars) and restaurants growing food on their rooftop (e.g., Bell, Book and Candle).  This legislation will facilitate the installation of rooftop greenhouses by exempting them from height or bulk restrictions.  The bill amends the building code by adding greenhouses to a list of other rooftop structures (such as water tanks and air conditioning equipment) that do not count towards height and floor area ratio calculations.  Only greenhouses that are less than one-third of a roof’s area qualify for this exemption, however, so larger structures may still bump up against size limits.

Conclusion
In conclusion, it is clear that Int. Nos. 615-A, 452-A, 248-A will go a long way towards making food systems planning standard operating procedure in New York City.  Doing so will improve program effectiveness, fulfill several goals of PlaNYC, and provide a new level of transparency that will enable the Council to oversee agency performance and allow the public to participate in the development of food policy. 

PlaNYC noted that the “complicated and inter-related subsystems [that make up the food system] aren’t easily understood or influenced….” In part, this is because agencies have never before been required to aggregate, organize, and analyze data about the food system.  Enacting these three bills will change that, ensuring that agencies begin to gather information – and therefore play a role in influencing – New York City’s food system.

Categories
Legislation New York Policy Urban Agriculture Zoning

NYC legislation to exclude rooftop greenhouses from height and bulk restrictions

Legislation in the New York City Council (Int. No. 338) scheduled for a vote on Thursday, July 28, 2011, will facilitate the installation of rooftop greenhouses by exempting them from height or bulk restrictions.  The bill amends the building code by adding greenhouses to a list of other rooftop structures (such as water tanks and air conditioning equipment) that do not count towards height and floor area ratio calculations.  Only greenhouses that are less than one-third of the area of the roof qualify for this exemption, however, so larger structures may still bump up against size limits.

Categories
Legislation New York Planning Urban Agriculture

NYC Legislation Requires Public Database of Potential Urban Agriculture Sites


Space is one of the biggest obstacles to the expansion of urban agriculture, especially in dense, economically vibrant cities like NY. A new bill in the New York City Council, Int. No. 248-A, expected to pass the full Council on Thursday, July 28, 2011, would create a powerful new tool for community groups and individuals to identify potential sites for new gardens and farms. 
The new legislation would require the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) to keep and maintain a free, publicly accessible, searchable database of all city-owned and leased real property, including information regarding the location and current use of such property. It will cover the approximately 18,500 parcels that are owned or leased by the city, including schools, police stations, libraries, warehouses, highway maintenance yards, parking lots, piers, Housing Authority buildings, and vacant land. Users will be able to find out the location and dimensions of each site, along with many other details.
This information is currently available in several databases, but not in one place, online, and not for free. For example, the city’s “Gazetteer,” which lists city-owned and leased properties, does not include the characteristics of the properties to determine whether any particular parcel is suitable for other uses. The Department of City Planning maintains a proprietary database that describes all properties in the five boroughs, but it is only available for purchase.
The new online database would enable ordinary citizens to access the detailed property information that is currently collected by the city, making grassroots urban agriculture planning possible. DCAS also would have to indicate whether a particular property is suitable for urban agriculture, requiring the agency to assess site conditions like access to sunlight, and helping to fulfill a commitment in PlaNYC to find new sites for food production.
Categories
Food Access New York Planning Policy Urban Agriculture

Menu of Food Initiatives in PlaNYC

New York City’s PlaNYC 2030, released in 2007, was roundly criticized by advocates of sustainable food systems because it was silent on food production, processing, distribution, or disposal.  Today, Mayor Bloomberg released an 

New York City’s PlaNYC 2030, released in 2007, was roundly criticized by advocates of sustainable food systems because it was silent on food production, processing, distribution, or disposal.  On April 21, 2011, Mayor Bloomberg released updated PlaNYC, which introduces the topic of food as a cross-cutting issue.  There are references to food throughout the document, particularly in discussions of what constitutes sustainable neighborhoods and in reference to specific initiatives like community- and school gardens and composting programs. 
For a complex issue like food, it is a bit surprising that only two of the plan’s 198 pages are actually devoted to food. By comparison, Minneapolis just completed a major urban agriculture plan that augments its comprehensive plan, and Chicago’s regional plan has an entire chapter devoted to food systems. The City Council’s own FoodWorks is a comprehensive 90-page policy plan.   
To those of us engaged in food policy, most of the initiatives in PlaNYC will sound familiar. And, unlike a proper food system plan, PlaNYC does not articulate a comprehensive vision of a sustainable food system. It does not explain how the discrete pieces fit together and how food relates to other agency plans, like the City’s Solid Waste Management Plan or DEP’s recently released Sustainable Stormwater Management Plan. And with the exception of the farms in our watershed, the food elements are entirely focused on the five boroughs, ignoring our role within the foodshed.
As a quick reference to the initiatives in PlaNYC that relate to the food system — and a checklist to review the city’s progress — I’ve compiled the following chart.
Issue
Agency
Commitment
Page
Deadline
Planning
Launch an online platform, “Change By Us,” to “empower New Yorker to self-organize around issues that matter to them” including gardens.
27
none
Planning
We are working to better understand how we can improve the distribution of food into and around the city. As a first step, we will work with the City Council to analyze our foodshed and evaluate the environmental effects of our food systems.
165
none
Foodshed
We will continue to support economic activity—like sustainable agriculture with partners including the Watershed Agricultural Council—that can be undertaken in a way that protects the city’s watershed.
79
none
Foodshed
We will also continue our partnership with the Watershed Agricultural Council to promote sustainable farming techniques that limit the amount of fertilizer and other waste products that run into our reservoirs.
81
none
Foodshed
DEP
Work with the State to secure the prohibition of hydrofracking within the city’s watersheds.
188
2013
Urban Agriculture
We will target high-impact projects in the neighborhoods with the greatest open space needs. These projects will include community gardens and urban agriculture opportunities, which enrich many of the city’s neighborhoods least served by parks.
35
none
Urban Agriculture
We are committed to promoting community gardens and other forms of urban agriculture. We recognize the important role they serve in building communities, supporting local cultural heritage, and bringing individuals together around the vital issue of access to healthy food.
37
none
Urban Agriculture
NYCHA
NYCHA will also expand its urban agriculture program, creating at least one urban farm.
37
none
Urban Agriculture
NYC BCP
We will design protective measures such as liners for state-of-the-art community gardens on remediated brownfield properties. We will work with GreenThumb and the New York Restoration Project to pilot a community garden on a remediated brownfield site.
57
none
Urban Agriculture
DPR
study to id potential urban agriculture or community garden sites on city-owned properties unsuitable for other development
182
2013
Urban Agriculture
NYCHA
plant 129 new community gardens on NYCHA sites
182
2013
Urban Agriculture
DPR
increase number of community volunteers registered with GreenThumb by 25%
182
2013
Urban Agriculture
DPR
expand support for community gardens into new underserved neighborhoods
182
2013
Urban Agriculture
Mayor’s Fund/ DOE
register 25 new school gardens with Grow to Learn NYC per year, and retain 75% of registered school gardens year to year
182
2013
Urban Agriculture
DCP/ DOB/ DPR
reduce impediments to agriculture in relevant laws and regulations
183
2013
Food Processing
We will graduate 25 new businesses from [E-Space] and an additional 40 at La Marqueta, so that food entrepreneurs can bring healthy food and economic development to neighborhoods throughout the city.
29
none
Distribution
Before we can increase the efficiency of our food- related freight movement and reduce its impacts on congestion, and improve residents’ access to food, we need to better understand what New Yorkers eat, where it comes from, how it gets to the city, and where it ultimately gets delivered.
97
none
Distribution
We will … work to shift inbound freight from trucks to rail and increase rail capacity into the city. The Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market, located at the FDC, presents an opportunity to expand the use of freight trains to supplement trucks for incoming shipments. As part of a potential redesign currently under negotiation, we will work to maximize inbound rail market share.
97
none
Food Access
We will also ensure that our housing and neighborhoods become more sustainable. Sustainability means more energy-efficient buildings, walkability, the availability of transportation choices, employment opportunities, and access to retail, including healthy food.
23
none
Food Access
We have begun and will complete a study in East New York, Brooklyn, where, working in close cooperation with the Community Board and other local stakeholders, including the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, we will generate recommendations for land use and zoning changes, and assess other opportunities for making the neighborhood greener. The study will also incorporate efforts to pro- mote public health through improved access to fresh food by seeking to utilize the City’s FRESH (Food Retail Expansion to Support Health) pro- gram and build on the efforts of local groups such as East New York Farms.
27
none
Food Access
Opportunities exist to use existing food distribution infrastructure, like bodegas and food carts, and the City’s regulatory powers to increase access to healthy foods. In partnership with the City Council, we are developing and implementing programs to provide low-cost temporary solutions, while encouraging the development of more permanent markets.
28
none
Food Access
Through the Healthy Bodegas initiative, more than 1,000 bodegas have promoted the sale of fresh produce and low-fat dairy products, increasing sales of these products to local residents. The Green Carts program has issued almost 500 new permits to street vendors selling fresh fruit and vegetables in underserved neighborhoods, quickly and effectively expanding retail options. By augmenting the federal food stamp program (SNAP) with “Health Bucks,” we are providing SNAP recipients with $2 in coupons for every $5 in SNAP spent at farmers markets. More than 110,000 Health Bucks were distributed in 2009, generating an additional $220,000 in sales of fresh, locally grown fruit and vegetables.
28
none
Food Access
DCP
Identify additional amendments to zoning to facilitate grocery stores in communities with food access needs.
182
2013
Food Access
EDC
Facilitate 300 more food retail and production opportunities on City-owned spaces in underserved areas
182
2013
Food Access
DPR
Establish five additional farmers markets at community garden sites
182
2013
Residuals Management
We will launch the Greener, Greater Communities approach to help community- and neighborhood-based organizations develop and implement local initiatives. This includes projects to manage stormwater, improve energy efficiency, establish community composting resources, create new public space, and enhance the stewardship of parks.
27
none
Residuals Management
We will work with the city’s 24,000 restaurants and food-related businesses to identify and adopt practices that reduce waste.
138
none
Residuals Management
We will develop new recognition and award programs or build on existing models such as LEED and the Green Res- taurant Association to incentivize businesses and institutions to expand recycling and use recycled and recyclable materials.
139
none
Residuals Management
We will expand outreach and education efforts, benchmark and quantify current community- based composting efforts, and work with community and government partners to increase the number of available drop-off locations for food waste. In addition, we will launch a grant program for small-scale composting to encourage diversion of food waste.
140
none
Residuals Management
To capture the roughly 4% of residential waste made up of leaf and yard trimmings, we will rein- state leaf and yard waste collection for composting in the city. This will create a high-quality soil product for use by City agencies and non-profits in parks and natural resource programs.
140
none
Residuals Management
We will also expand composting of leaf and grass clippings generated by our City parks. Specifically, we will install one small-scale composting unit in each borough. We will also expand the use of mowing equipment that mulches leaves and other organic matter so that nutrients seep into the soil.
141
none
Residuals Management
The City piloted curbside collection for organics in the early 1990’s and found that while it did increase diversion rates in lower-density neighborhoods, it was not a cost-effective collection method. Since 20 years have passed, we will reexamine this issue and complete a new study to determine the feasibility of curbside organics recycling.
141
2012
Residuals Management
We will pursue the establishment of an on-site organics recovery facility at the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center.
141
none
Residuals Management
We will promote commercial organics recovery as part of our proposed business recognition and award program to encourage sustainable solid waste management practices.
142
none
Residuals Management
We will continue to evaluate pilots of new [dewatering] technologies and encourage businesses and institutions to adopt them as a means to increase diversion rates.
142
none
Residuals Management
We will pursue sustainable and economical opportunities to process and market sludge for beneficial reuse through pilot projects and partnerships with utilities and private investors
142
none
Residuals Management
DSNY/ OLTPS
Expand opportunities for communities to compost food waste
195
2013
Residuals Management
DSNY/ DPR
Expand leaf and yard waste composting
195
2013
Residuals Management
DCAS/ DEP
Encourage use of new technologies to increase recovery of commercial food waste
195
2013
Residuals Management
EDC/ DSNY/ OLTPS
Pursue on-site food recovery facility at the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center
195
2013
Residuals Management
DEP/ BIC/ DSNY
Encourage in-city opportunities to recover yellow grease and convert it to biofuel.
195
2013
Agency acronyms:
DEP: Department of Environmental Protection
NYCHA: NYC Housing Authority
NYC BCP: NYC Brownfield Cleanup Program
DPR: Department of Parks and Recreation
DOE: Department of Education
DCP: Department of City Planning
DOB: Department of Buildings
EDC: Economic Development Corporation
DSNY: Department of Sanitation NY
OLTPS: Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability
DCAS: Department of Citywide Administrative Services
BIC: Business Integrity Commission
Categories
New York Planning Policy Uncategorized

PlaNYC 2030 Update (the food edition)

New York City’s PlaNYC 2030, released in 2007, was roundly criticized by advocates of sustainable food systems because it was silent on food production, processing, distribution, or disposal.  Today, Mayor Bloomberg released an updated PlaNYC, which introduces the topic of food as a cross-cutting issue.  In the current plan, there are references to food throughout the document, particularly in discussions of what constitutes sustainable neighborhoods and in reference to specific initiatives like community- and school gardens and composting programs.  For a complex issue like food, it was a bit surprising that only two of the plan’s 198 pages are actually devoted to food. (Minneapolis just completed a major food plan, and Chicago’s regional plan has an entire chapter devoted to food systems, and the City Council’s own FoodWorks is a comprehensive 90-page policy plan.)

Nevertheless, the Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability should be commended for incorporating food into the current version of PlaNYC.  Now that food is officially acknowledged as essential to a “greener, greater NY,” food system planners will be better positioned to advocate for the specific policies and programs that will make the food system sustainable.

The text of PlaNYC’s food section is reproduced below, in italics, with my comments in bold.
 
Healthy, sustainable food systems are critical to the well-being of our communities and central to our ability to accommodate a growing population. Yet food presents a unique planning challenge; unlike sewers or streets, much of New York City’s food systems infrastructure is privately owned and shaped by the tastes and decisions of millions of individual consumers. These complicated and inter-related subsystems aren’t easily understood or influenced, even by concerted municipal interventions. 

I’m not sure why the food system is singled out as a unique planning challenge “because much of [its] infrastructure is privately owned and shaped by… individual consumers.” One could make the same argument about the private real estate market, which shapes the city’s housing opportunities and determines how sustainable our neighborhoods are, or the energy, telecommunications, and private transportation infrastructure, the uses and impacts of which are shaped by individual decisions and which, in turn, shape the city’s sustainability.  

NYC does have control of its terminal produce market, the land many gardens and farmers markets use, the infrastructure that prepares and serves food to our children, and the residential waste disposal system.  

The only reason the food system is not easily understood is that the city has, until this point, devoted few resources to it. We certainly have the capacity to understand the system by tapping the expertise of agencies like Planning, Health, Environmental Protection, Economic Development, Sanitation, and the Council and Borough Presidents.

Furthermore, many of food’s most significant climate and environmental impacts are associated with food production, most of which takes place outside the city, and shaped by federal policy. Nonetheless, our food systems intersect with several areas addressed by PlaNYC. Improving the distribution and disposal of food within New York City and increasing access to healthy food will not only benefit the environment, it can also have positive public health and economic impacts.

New York City can influence the climate and environmental impacts associated with food production outside of our five boroughs through the power of the public purse.  With hundreds of millions of meals purchased by the city for its wide ranging agencies, and some 860,000 meals per day procured by the Department of Education, NYC has a significant opportunity to buy sustainably-produced food.  And, in the Catskill watershed (as PlaNYC mentions below) NYC’s Department of Environmental Protection has worked to ensure that farming remains viable and that the farms in the watershed are operated sustainably. PlaNYC addresses many other systems that extend beyond the city line, like water, energy, and transportation.  Food is not unique.

We are developing a multi-faceted strategy to increase access to affordable and healthy foods and reduce the environmental and climate impacts of food production, distribution, consumption, and disposal.
 

On food production, we will survey municipal lands to identify underutilized properties that may be suitable for urban agriculture or community gardens. We will continue facilitating agriculture projects at publicly-owned sites by planting 129 new community gardens on New York City Housing Authority land and promoting school gardens through Grow to Learn NYC, our citywide school gardens initiative. We will also review existing regulations and laws to identify and remove unnecessary barriers to creating community gardens and urban farms. In some cases, remediated brownfield sites also present an opportunity for community gardens, and we will design state-of-the-art protective measures that allow community gardens to grow on remediated sites. Through our Watershed Protec- tion Program we will continue to work with farmers in our watershed to minimize the use of fertilizer and adopt sustainable agriculture practices. 

These are all important, worthwhile programs. 

We are working to better understand how we can improve the distribution of food into and around the city. As a first step, we will work with the City Council to analyze our foodshed and evaluate the environmental effects of our food systems. Redeveloping the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market, the largest wholesale produce distribution center in the world, will significantly impact food distribution, so we will work to facilitate the redesign of the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market to improve its functionality. 

A standalone, wholesale farmers market, which was strongly supported by the former Spitzer administration but then taken off the table, should be reconsidered.  Other potential distribution improvements are discussed in the City Council’s FoodWorks report. 

Our strategies to create more sustainable communities will promote access to, and consumption of, fresh and healthy food. We will facilitate the creation of 300 healthy food retail options in underserved areas of the city and identify additional zoning amendments to expand the FRESH program to incentivize the development of grocery stores in neighborhoods with food access needs. We will continue using City-owned land to foster entrepreneurship in food retail and processing. 

The FRESH initiative is a great policy innovation, but should be expanded to foster the development of cooperatives, small groceries, farmers markets, and other food retail models besides conventional supermarkets.

Better management of food waste can save money and reduce the environmental cost of food disposal. Food scraps make up 18% of New York City’s residential solid waste stream, and we estimate that food waste composes 11% of commercial solid waste not including construction and demolition fill. We will create additional opportunities to recover organic materials including food scraps, yellow grease, and yard waste at community and commercial levels. We will also pursue energy-generating projects such as food waste diversion at the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center. 

Recently enacted City Council legislation requires the Department of Sanitation to examine the feasibility of citywide food waste composting, which would not only keep organic matter out of our disposal facilities, but could create a substantial quantity of compost for urban and peri-urban farms.  Strange that it wasn’t mentioned in PlaNYC. 

In addition to its work supporting the initiatives in PlaNYC, our Office of the Food Policy Coordinator facilitates other citywide programs to improve our food environment, address diet-related diseases, and combat food insecurity. New York City has led public health initiatives like calorie labeling on menus and banning trans fats in restaurants. We have also set pioneering nutritional standards for food served in City agencies and schools. 

New York City’s nutritional standards, which are incorporated in a set of City Agency Food Standards, are quite advanced.  But we may be missing the opportunity to use our standards, which are currently being revised, to foster sustainable food production by specifying that we will make every best effort to procure food from sustainable sources. 

We cannot create a greener, greater New York without systems that make healthy food available to residents and dispose of food waste in ways that reduce its environmental impact. The food-related initiatives within the Plan will improve the long-term health of individual New Yorkers while strengthening our economy and environment. 

Great to see this articulated in PlaNYC.

Categories
New York Nutrition Policy

NYC Food Standards Should Address Sustainability

Executive Order #122 of 2008 established New York City’s food policy coordinator and required the development of New York City Agency Food Standards by the coordinator and the Commissioner of the Health Department. All City agencies are required to follow the food standards for all meals purchased, prepared, or served, and agencies must also ensure that their contractors follow the standards for all meals served in City funded programs. The Executive Order requires that the standards be reviewed and revised at least once every three years from the date of their implementation. Such a revision is currently underway. 

In the past, the food policy coordinator has construed the standards as narrowly focused on nutritional goals to improve health outcomes and reduce the prevalence of obesity and diet-related disease. And, indeed, the agency food standards developed three years ago are effective at reducing fat and sodium content, requiring agencies to buy only 100% fruit juice, prohibiting fruit canned in syrup, recommending whole wheat bread and pasta, and establishing healthier cooking methods by prohibiting techniques like deep frying. They are ambitious measures that have undoubtedly improved the health of the thousands of New Yorkers who rely on City food in a wide range of programs.

Unfortunately, however, the standards do not address how the food that New York City serves is actually produced. As the city goes through the revision process, the food policy coordinator and the city officials she is working with should consider addressing in the standards some or all of the broader goals of sustainability articulated in policy documents like FoodWorks, Food in the Public Interest, and other city plans and programs. Executive Order #122 does not preclude making the standards more comprehensive. And a preference for sustainably-produce food could benefit the rural communities surrounding New York City and the ecosystems that our city depends on for drinking water, open space, and clean air.

Broadening the standards to address sustainability might mean adding language that requires New York to buy food produced in the healthiest way possible, with little or no pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, and in the case of meat, minimal use of antibiotics and growth-inducing hormones. For fresh fruits and vegetables procured by city agencies, it might mean preferentially procuring food grown in our watershed or in the Hudson Valley, as Int. No. 452, currently under consideration by the City Council, would encourage. Other environmental and social factors could be considered as well.

Expanding the scope of New York’s Agency Food Standards would not divert attention from the need to get people to eat more vegetables and less sugary beverages. Rather, it would incorporate the other critical dimensions that make a food system both nutritious and sustainable.