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.

Legislation Planning Policy Urban Agriculture Zoning

Making Vancouver a Global Leader in Urban Food Systems: New Greenest City 2020 Action Plan

The Vancouver City Council is scheduled to vote tomorrow (Thursday, July 14, 2011) on the adoption of a comprehensive sustainability plan called the Greenest City 2020 Action Plan (GCAP). The plan runs the gamut of municipal sustainability issues, from energy to water, but one of its ten key goals is to make Vancouver “a global leader in urban food systems.” To achieve this goal, the plan outlines a series of short and long-term strategies, ranging from planting fruit trees on city property to developing infrastructure to aggregate, process and distribute regionally produced food.
The specific strategies in the document will be familiar to food system planners, and some may seem modest.  Yet three characteristics distinguish the GCAP from other municipal sustainability plans: (1) it will be ratified by the Vancouver City Council and become official city policy; (2) it calls for cross-agency cooperation, which is so often missing in city initiatives; and (3) it addresses both the regional foodshed as well as neighborhood needs.
A Proper Plan
The GCAP is being ratified as a formal plan by the City Council at the end of a multi-year planning process, so it will be a statement of official city policy and a roadmap for city agencies to follow.  The food section sets forth the broad aspiration to make Vancover a global leader in urban food systems, but also establishes a specific target of increasing city and neighborhood food assets by at least 50% from 2010 levels. And the plan designates a lead agency responsible for implementation (Social Policy) with support from two other key agencies, engineering and parks.
The GCAP has been several years in the making, allowing for public scrutiny and the formal adoption over time of goals, targets, and specific strategies. The plan was preceded by the work of an advisory food policy council and a food charter. In February 2010, the Council adopted the long term goals contained in GCAP and requested the action plan.  In January, 2011, the Council adopted 14 targets to achieve these goals as official Council policy (and requested staff to develop an additional target that would encourage businesses to adopt green practices).
Public participation is essential to the development of plans, both because people contribute valuable insights and because a participatory process allows for an airing of differences, building credibility in the process and generating support for the final product.  The GCAP solicited input in a variety of ways using conventional hearings and social media.  But the plan also included external advisory committees made up of key stakeholder organizations.  Often planners speak with experts as they are developing a plan or policy, but the advisory committee members appointed by staff to provide feedback on the GCAP were duly appointed and their names were public, adding transparency to the advising process.
One of the values of having the Council approve the GCAP is that once the Council adopts the plan, the goals, targets, and strategies will be identified as Council priorities. At that point it will be politically trickier for the Council to reject or de-fund programs and policies designed to attain the goals contained within GCAP.  It will also be easier for advocates to argue for program funding, new policies, and agency regulations that are consistent with and that carry out the intent of the plan. 
A Networked Plan
One of the reasons why food gets short shrift in most is that cities generally lack food departments (an idea that planning scholar Jerry Kaufman suggested a decade ago).  And while certain municipal agencies are charged with addressing specific aspects of the food system, those responsibilities are dispersed across multiple agencies that may not even talk to each other, let alone collaborate and cooperate. This can lead to a dearth of innovative cross-agency initiatives, agencies completely letting the ball drop, and inconsistent or incompatible policies or programs.
The GCAP discusses the need for coordination and accountability across administrative agencies to achieve the plan’s goals and outlines mechanisms to facilitate multi-agency participation.  The plan calls for the development of a coordinated food strategy that increases coordination between city departments, food policy council, community partners, and existing policy programs. It explicitly calls for linking together the work of various departments within an overarching municipal food action plan.
From Foodshed to Neighborhood
Unlike plans that focus exclusively on activities within municipal boundaries, the Vancouver plan is outwardly focused, acknowledging that benefits accrue to the City of Vancouver from a thriving regional foodshed that produces food using sustainable, fair methods. It calls on the city to advocate for maintaining food production capacity within the agricultural land reserve and other agricultural lands surrounding the city. It also calls on the city to promote a “food systems” approach to other levels of government, and for Vancouver to work with other large cities to develop key food system indicators to compare efforts.
To support the regional foodshed, the plan calls for the development of a procurement policy within the next three years that supports the purchase and use of local food in city-run facilities. Over the medium term, the plan calls for the creation of a central food hub to provide space for the aggregation, storage and distribution of food from local farms and the processing and development of local food products. And in an effort not to fall into the “local trap,” the plan defines local food as food that is sustainably produced and affordable using fair labor practices and sound production methods.
The GCAP recognizes the regional, national, and global dimensions to the food system, yet also focuses on neighborhood-level solutions that enhance resilience. The GCAP recommends support for neighborhood food networks or coalitions to increase community capacity at the neighborhood scale, along with the development of neighborhood food infrastructure, including food hubs (facilities to connect rural farmers to urban consumers), community kitchens, markets, gardens, and even community root cellars for food storage and community bread ovens. And, recognizing that small initiatives often have a hard time promoting their work and attracting financial support, the plan calls for the development of information-sharing systems to better integrate those working at the grassroots. 
If the GCAP is adopted, as expected, and is actually funded by the City Council over the next decade, Vancouver is likely to achieve its bold goal of being a food systems leader.
Planning Urban Agriculture Zoning

Minneapolis Advances Urban Agriculture Planning

Minneapolis is on its way toward adopting a new comprehensive urban agriculture policy plan.  Last Tuesday, February 22, the Minneapolis City Planning Commission moved to recommend that the City Council adopt the proposed plan. The next step is for a subcommittee of the City  Council to discuss the plan on March 24th, and if voted out of committee to be considered by the entire Council.

Minneapolis’s plan contains the following recommendations for action on land use and zoning, the identification of new land for food production, community gardens, and economic development, as outlined in the Planning Commission’s staff report:
Zoning and Land Use
·  Define urban agriculture in the zoning code
·  Allow small-scale market gardens in most zones and on rooftops
·  Allow larger urban farms in commercial and industrial districts
·  Allow residents to have home-based food growing businesses
·  Allow home growers, community gardeners, and commercial gardeners to use trellises, hoop houses, raised beds and other techniques
·  Improve farmers market and community garden signage
·  Incorporate urban agriculture in small area plans and transportation plans
Land Availability
·  Review the City’s land inventory and consider selling or leasing more properties in underserved areas for urban agriculture
·  Alter land sale policies to encourage the sale of land for growing
Community Gardening
·  Reassess the available parcels to make sure they are desirable for gardening and serve more under-served areas
·  Consider selling some of the current community garden parcels to gardeners
Economic Development
·  Support the Homegrown Minneapolis Business Development Center
·  Conduct a market and economic impact analysis to better understand the future role and economic impacts of urban agriculture
Like most municipal plans, the Minneapolis urban agriculture plan has to be consistent with and supportive of the city’s comprehensive plan.  The plan identifies several specific goals of The Minneapolis Plan for Sustainable Growth that urban agriculture supports:
·  Promote nutrition strategies to ensure access to healthy foods for all residents
·  Educate residents and property owners about the benefits of recycling, and of properly composting and reusing yard wastes and organic plant-based food waste
·  Support the growth and development of local businesses
·  Support the creation and improvement of community gardens and food markets which sell locally and regionally grown foods
·  Where appropriate, support the planting of edible fruit and vegetable plants
·  Encourage the equitable spatial distribution of community gardens and food markets to provide all Minneapolis communities with access to healthy, locally grown food
·  Explore opportunities for partnerships linking farmers markets, community gardens and open space
Planning Policy San Francisco Uncategorized Urban Agriculture Zoning

Urban Ag and the General Plan: San Francisco

San Francisco’s charter requires that ordinances affecting land use must be consistent with or conform to the policies of the city’s General Plan. Last week’s Planning Commission resolution urging the Board of Supervisors to enact a new urban agriculture planning code included an assessment of how the revised code relates to the General Plan. Not surprisingly, the Commission concluded that promoting urban agriculture through zoning changes that make it easier to locate urban farms and gardens would conform to the General Plan.  But the resolution went further by affirmatively stating that urban agriculture helps to achieve a number of San Francisco’s broad goals and objectives. 

The following General Plan policies (in bold) and Planning Commission assessments (in italics) illustrate why cities like San Francisco should embrace zoning and other land use regulations that encourage the expansion of urban food production. The Commission’s claims make sense, and may seem obvious to advocates of urban agriculture, but empirical data would provide much stronger support.
Excerpted from Planning Commission Resolution No. 18276, which was passed by the Commission on February 17, 2011.
Policy:  Encourage development which provides substantial net benefits and minimizes undesirable consequences. Discourage development which has substantial undesirable consequences that cannot be mitigated.
Assessment: The proposed Ordinance, in part, will facilitate the growth of small businesses engaged in urban agricultural activity. These businesses have substantial net benefits to the City of San Francisco, both economically and ecologically. The proposed Ordinance will foster local production of food, a goal of Executive Directive 09‐03, “Healthy and Sustainable Food for San Francisco.”
Policy: Maintain a favorable social and cultural climate in the city in order to enhance its attractiveness as a firm location.
Assessment: The proposed Ordinance will facilitate the growth of small businesses dedicated to the production and consumption of locally grown and seasonally consumed produce and processed goods. The growth of the local food sector in San Francisco creates a favorable social and cultural climate in the City that attracts firms and their employees.
Policy: Promote the attraction, retention and expansion of commercial and industrial firms which provide employment improvement opportunities for unskilled and semi‐skilled workers; Assist newly emerging economic activities.
Assessment: The proposed Ordinance facilitates the creation of small businesses engaged in urban agricultural activity. This is an emerging economic activity in San Francisco and the proposed Ordinance will formalize the status of much of the current urban agricultural activity currently underway. In addition, these firms involved in urban agriculture can provide employment opportunities for unskilled and semi‐skilled workers throughout the calendar year because of the favorable growing climate in San Francisco.
Policy: Ensure and encourage the retention and provision of neighborhood‐serving goods and services in the cityʹs neighborhood commercial districts, while recognizing and encouraging diversity among the districts; Preserve and promote the mixed commercial‐residential character in neighborhood commercial districts: Strike a balance between the preservation of existing affordable housing and needed expansion of commercial activity; Promote neighborhood commercial revitalization, including community‐based and other economic development efforts where feasible.
Assessment: The proposed Ordinance will permit urban agriculture uses, either principally or with Conditional Use authorization, in neighborhood commercial districts, thereby promoting the mixed commercial‐residential character of those areas. Those neighborhood commercial districts in need of revitalization will benefit from the proposed Ordinance as it allows a new use category to be established where before they were prohibited. The establishment of urban agricultural uses in the neighborhood commercial districts will help provide neighborhood serving goods in the form of fresh produce.
Policy: Encourage appropriate neighborhood‐serving commercial activities in residential areas, without causing affordable housing displacement.
Assessment: Within residential districts the proposed Ordinance will allow urban agricultural activity that is desirable and appropriate, akin to the small pedestrian‐oriented corner grocery stores and other convenience shops. Urban agricultural activity can meet frequent and recurring needs of residents without disrupting the residential character of the area. The proposed Ordinance establishes physical and operational standards that help to ensure that the urban agricultural activity in residential areas will be primarily pedestrian‐oriented, that it serve the needs of the immediate residential neighborhood, that it not draw significant trade from outside the neighborhood, that it not be disruptive to the livability of the surrounding neighborhood and restrict the use of heavy machinery.
Policy: Encourage mixed land use development near transit lines and provide retail and other types of service oriented uses within walking distance to minimize automobile dependent development; Promote the development of non‐polluting industries and insist on compliance with established industrial emission control regulations by existing industries.
Assessment: The proposed Ordinance will foster the local production of food which will, in many instances, allow residents of San Francisco to forgo an automobile trip to a grocery store and instead travel by bicycle or foot to an urban agricultural use permitted to sell produce. Given the physical and operational standards, the urban agricultural uses allowed will be non‐polluting.
Policy: Restore and replenish the supply of natural resources.
Assessment: The proposed Ordinance facilitates activities that seek to cultivate land to increase vegetation, replenish wildlife and landscape man‐made surroundings. It will permit projects that revitalize the urban environment both economically and ecologically.
Policy: Expand community garden opportunities throughout the City.
Assessment: The proposed Ordinance will facilitate the establishment of community gardens throughout all zoning districts as it proposes to principally permit such use, when it meets the physical and operational standards, in all zoning districts.
Policy: That existing neighborhood‐serving retail uses will be preserved and enhanced and future opportunities for resident employment in and ownership of such businesses will be enhanced.
Assessment: The proposed Ordinance will facilitate the creation of new neighborhood serving businesses that can be resident owned. With the creation of new, resident owned urban agriculture businesses, existing neighborhood serving retail will have another establishment from which to purchase products or additional patrons in the form of new the owners and employees of the urban agriculture businesses.
Planning Policy San Francisco Uncategorized Urban Agriculture Zoning

San Francisco Near Adoption of Urban Agriculture Planning Code

Alemany Farm, San Francisco
On February 17, 2011, the San Francisco Planning Commission passed a resolution approving a new urban agriculture planning code that would allow a range of urban gardens and farms to be located throughout the city.  The new code creates an agricultural use category with two sub-uses (Neighborhood Agriculture and Urban Industrial Agriculture) that represent different scales and intensity of food production.
The Planning Commission’s action is an important step toward integrating various scales of food production into San Francisco’s landscape, creating certainty about where and to what extent urban land can be used to grow food.  San Francisco residents are environmentally conscious and the Bay Area is where the word “locavore” was coined, yet even the most fervent sustainable food supporters can have NIMBY tendencies when urban farms sprout near their homes.  The code change will hopefully create consistent expectations and ensure that gardens and farms can locate throughout the city and improve — not detract from — the quality of life for which San Francisco is famous.
If enacted by the city’s Board of Supervisors and signed by the Mayor, as anticipated, the city’s planning code would for the first time clearly define the status of urban agriculture in San Francisco by identifying where small and large scale farms can be located, letting property owners, urban farmers, and ordinary people know exactly what kinds of agricultural uses are allowed in any given place.
Neighborhood Agriculture is any use for food or horticultural production that occupies less than 1 acre. It includes but is not limited to home, kitchen, and roof gardens.  The use of a site for food production may either be “principal” or “accessory” to other uses, such as a private home. These smaller growing spaces must also comply with the following standards:
·      Sales and donation of fresh food or horticultural products grown on site may occur between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m.  People are allowed to sell produce from their garden/farm but cannot create a storefront in or make commercial improvements to their home that turn it into a defacto grocery store.  They cannot sell value added foods like jams or baked goods.
·      Compost areas must be set back at least three feet from structures on adjacent properties.
·      If fencing encloses the farmed area, it must be wood or ornamental and comply with a section of the planning code that regulates fences.
·      Mechanized farm equipment is prohibited in residential districts except during the initial preparation of the land, when heavy equipment may be used to prepare the soil. Landscaping equipment designed for household use is permitted in residential districts.  All farm equipment must be screened from sight.
Urban Industrial Agriculture uses describe farms that are one acre or larger, or smaller farms that cannot meet the physical and operational standards for Neighborhood Agriculture. This more intense use is principally permitted as-of-right only in industrial districts.  In all other districts, creating a farm one acre or larger requires conditional use authorization, which is granted only if the project is deemed necessary, desirable, and compatible with the district.
The proposed zoning changes were widely supported, though urban agriculture practitioners and supporters raised a few concerns: (1) that the fencing requirement was onerous and unnecessary; (2) that the fee for obtaining a change of use (currently $300) was prohibitively high for smaller growers; (3) that selling value added food is an important source of revenue and an appropriate activity on an urban farm; and (4) that urban soils may not be safe.  In approving the code changes last week, the Planning Commission called for further consideration of these issues.
Another concern was raised by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), which supplies the city with drinking water.  Staff at the commission noted that large-scale urban agriculture would increase water use, despite the fact that a programmatic Environmental Impact Report for SFPUC in 2008 limited the amount of water consumption through 2018 and required that any increases in water use be met through conservation, recycling, graywater, rainwater harvesting, and city groundwater. Given that the expansion of urban agriculture in San Francisco will require that more alternative water sources be developed to meet the increased demand for irrigation water, SFPUC recommended adding requirements that urban farms use water-efficient practices.
Stay tuned for any fine-tuning that may happen at the Board of Supervisors.
Planning Policy Uncategorized Urban Agriculture Zoning

Chicago’s Urban Agriculture Zoning Proposal

Growing Home, Inc.
On December 8, 2010, Chicago Mayor Daley introduced legislation to add community gardens and commercial urban farms to the city’s zoning ordinance. If adopted by the Chicago City Council, gardens and farms would become legal land uses within the city limits provided that they meet the requirements outlined in the zoning ordinance with respect to size, location, and operational parameters.
To many urban agriculture practitioners in Chicago, the new language provides certainty for the first time that community gardens and commercial farms are legal land uses within the city. Others fear that the proposed changes unduly restrict the scale of urban agriculture ventures and impose onerous restrictions that will make their businesses – and future larger scale urban agriculture ventures — untenable. The debate that will unfold in Chicago over the next month, as the city’s aldermen hold hearings on the proposal, is no different than discussions about the role of urban agriculture in city life that are being carried out in communities across North America.
Among the thorny questions for planners, policy makers, practitioners, and members of the public include: the appropriate scale of urban agriculture; whether food production should be interspersed throughout the city, form a contiguous productive landscape, or be concentrated on the periphery; whether food processing and sales are appropriate in residential neighborhoods; and more broadly whether food production deserves to be treated differently than other types of businesses competing for space in the city.
Chicago’s Food Planning Context
The proposed zoning changes are one element of a broader food systems planning process that has been underway in Chicago for much of the past decade. In 2009, the Chicago Food Policy Advisory Council and the City of Chicago’s Department of Zoning and Planning developed a Food Systems Report to outline the food systems needs for Chicago and to provide a framework for a comprehensive regional planning effort led by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), the official metropolitan planning organization. Following an extensive planning and public participation process, the CMAP board adopted a regional plan called GO TO 2040 on October 13, 2010. GO TO 2040 covers a wide range of environmental and quality-of-life concerns, but what distinguishes from other sustainability-focused plans (like NYC’s PlaNYC 2030) is that it devotes an entire section to promoting a sustainable local food system. With respect to urban agriculture, the GO TO 2040 plan recommends that local governments in the Chicago region should “simplify and incentivize the conversion of vacant and underutilized lots, spaces, and rooftops into agricultural uses.”
Proposed Amendments
Chicago’s proposed zoning changes attempt to do just that. Under the proposed amendments, community gardens would be defined as neighborhood-based developments that provide space for members of the community to grow plants for beautification, education, recreation, community distribution or personal use. The gardens have to be sites that are owned and managed by public or civic entities, nonprofit organizations, or other community-based organizations that are responsible for maintenance and operations. Community gardens would be allowed in virtually every part of the city with the exception of manufacturing districts.
Community gardens in residential districts may not be larger than 18,750 square feet. Larger community gardens may exist in parks and open space districts. Sheds and greenhouses may not take up more than 10% of the community garden site, or 100 square feet, whichever is greater. Composting is limited to the materials generated on-site, not organic matter brought to the garden by local residents. And the processing, storage and sale of plants or plant products are prohibited on site.
The ordinance defines commercial gardens and greenhouses as growing locations used for the propagation, processing, storage and sale of plants and plant products. These include growing beds, hoop houses, greenhouses, vertical farms, and hydroponic systems.
Outdoor locations would be allowed in commercial and certain business and manufacturing districts, as well as planned manufacturing districts. Indoor facilities would also be allowed in every planned manufacturing district. With respect to composting, commercial gardens are also restricted to composting only the organic matter generated on-site.
Features of the Proposed Amendments that Warrant Further Discussion
Certain aspects of the proposed zoning ordinance changes have been criticized in recent news articles. While it is not clear whether these dissenting voices reflect broader opposition to the proposal – that will only become apparent when the Council holds its first hearing on the issue – the issues raised pertain to zoning for urban agriculture in every major city. And although every city is unique, looking at how other jurisdictions have addressed them is one way to evaluate Chicago’s proposal.
Size Limit on Community Gardens in Residential Neighborhoods
One concern is the proposed 18,750 square foot limit on community gardens in residential zones. (Gardens on public land have no such limits.) Advocates feel that large tracts of vacant land in low-income residential neighborhoods are an opportunity to develop urban agriculture projects at a scale that will make them financially viable and a significant source of fresh food for the neighborhoods in which they are located. The 18,750 square foot limit will prevent larger projects from locating in residential communities. On the other hand, existing residents who value the residential character of their community may prefer the development of more housing in their community. These debates are particularly contentious in cities with significant swaths vacant land, like Detroit, where proposals for large scale agriculture projects are being advanced by both private firms and non-profit organizations.
In Seattle, on September 23, 2010, the City Council adopted land use code changes that allow community gardens as permitted uses in all zones (with some limitations in industrial zones). In residential zones, urban farms are permitted as an accessory use without a permit if they are up to 4,000 square feet of planting area. Larger farms in residential zones require an administrative conditional use permit. In commercial zones, urban farms are allowed as a principal or accessory use, with facilities up to 10,000 square feet allowed in NC1 zones, 25,000 square feet in NC2 zones, and no size restrictions in NC3 or C zones. Urban farms are allowed as a principal or accessory use in industrial zones, including on the tops and sides of buildings.
In contrast to both Chicago and Seattle, San Francisco’s proposal defines “neighborhood agriculture” sites as those less than 1 acre (43,560 square feet). The San Francisco proposal includes community gardens, community supported agriculture, market gardens, and private farms. “Urban Industrial Agriculture” is defined as the production of food or horticultural crops on a plot of land 1 acre or larger, or on smaller parcels that cannot meet the physical and operational standards for Neighborhood Agriculture.
New York City zoning has for a long time allowed “truck gardens” and farmstands in residential and commercial districts, provided that no offensive odors or dust are created and that only products produced on the same property are sold from the garden. Urban agriculture is permitted in New York City’s manufacturing districts (M1, M2, or M3) without these nuisance or sales restrictions.
Food Sales
In contrast to Chicago, which does not have provisions for farmstands and therefore would treat food sales from a garden as a commercial activity not permitted in a residential zone, Seattle, New York and the proposed San Francisco zoning ordinances allow food sales from the farm site.
Treatment of Agriculture as an Interim Use
Another concern raised about Chicago’s proposed zoning ordinance changes is that urban agriculture projects that are meant to temporarily occupy vacant land slated for development would be disadvantaged by requirements for fencing and landscaping that apply to other businesses. Entrepreneurs throughout North America are experimenting with growing food in Earth Boxes, bags, and other mobile planters. A growing number of non-profit organizations would like to be able to farm sites on a temporary basis. Chicago’s own City Farm is designed to be relocated once the site it occupies is developed (although it has been in place for a decade). Should cities favor this kind of activity instead of other temporary uses such as parking lots, gas stations, storage lockers, etc? If standards are in place to protect the character and environment of a neighborhood is there any justification for carving out an exemption for a food production site?
In San Francisco, city officials created an innovative strategy, called a Green Developer Agreement (GDA) to address so-called soft sites, parcels that developers have received approval to build on but that lay fallow due to the economy. The goal of the GDA program is to provide financial incentives for the temporary greening, beautification and/or conversion of vacant development sites by offering developers the opportunity to lock-in their existing entitlements for a 5-8 year period provided that they use the site for a green purpose, including urban agriculture. The binding nature of the agreement ensures that the interim use remains for the period prior to construction, and it also protects developers from losing control over the site if the interim use is so popular that residents attempt to scuttle the original approved development.
Rooftop Agriculture
The Chicago zoning ordinance proposal does not address the issue of rooftop agriculture, although in dense cities, rooftops are increasingly looked to as potentially viable places to grow food. New York City has two commercial rooftop farms, one nearly an acre in size. Rooftop farms exist in Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, as well as Chicago. Would it be appropriate to encourage building owners to install greenhouses by exempting the structures from bulk or height limits?
Seattle, in its recent zoning changes, decided to allow rooftop greenhouses to rise up to 15 feet above the height limit of property in the manufacturing, commercial, industrial, and downtown zones if the greenhouses are dedicated to food production. New York has not yet agreed to such an exemption, though a recent policy report by the City Council Speaker ( ) proposes to explore a variety of incentives for rooftop agriculture, including height allowances.
Final thoughts
As the proposed urban agriculture zoning ordinance is debated in the City Council, urban agriculture practitioners will undoubtedly raise these and other issues, citing existing and proposed policies adopted in other large cities. The challenge for Chicago’s alderman will be to think about the kinds of urban agriculture ventures that may be viable five, ten, and twenty years into the future, decide whether Chicago wants to attract those kinds of for and non-profit food production businesses, and ensure that the zoning ordinance incentivizes – and does not inhibit — the conversion of vacant and underutilized lots, spaces, and rooftops into agricultural uses. These are likely to include medium- to large-scale urban farms, aggregated backyard farms, rooftop agriculture, and livestock. Providing space for these activities, and the processing, distribution, and retail infrastructure necessary for farming to succeed, could very well improve Chicago’s environment and economy.
Legislation Planning Policy Urban Agriculture Zoning

Seattle City Council News Release: Seattle City Council approves urban farm and community garden legislation improving access to locally grown food

Seattle City Council News Release: Seattle City Council approves urban farm and community garden legislation improving access to locally grown food

Food Access New York Nutrition Planning Policy Schools SNAP Urban Agriculture Zoning

Municipal Food Planning A-Z

New York, like most other US cities, lacks a comprehensive food system plan. Nevertheless, New York has implemented some of the most ambitious policies and programs in the nation to address issues of food security, nutrition, urban agriculture, and institutional purchasing of sustainably produced food. Every stage in the food system, from production to residuals management, is addressed by at least one city agency, typically with input from various stakeholders.

In the list below, I’ve briefly reviewed all of the major (and some minor) New York City agencies. I’ve provided a brief description of the agency’s mandate(s), how the agency’s activities (e.g., its purchases, contracts, programs, or regulations) currently affect the food system. In a number of cases, I’ve speculated on how an agency might, in the future, contribute to a sustainable food system if the agency were provided with guidance as part of a citywide plan. This cursory review shows that New York City’s involvement in the food system is extensive, ranging from its rural watershed, through corner bodegas, to Florida citrus groves. Planning and program development is being done in a variety of contexts, with multiple objectives, yet is neither coordinated nor comprehensive. The wide array of New York food initiatives, which are outlined below, are far-reaching in scope, even if not organized or implemented as components of a cohesive citywide food system plan.

Adult Education

The Mayor’s Office of Adult Education provides literacy and basic skills training for adults. Several of its training programs focus on food and nutrition. For example, the office uses a nutrition curriculum to teach adults to read and interpret nutrition labels so that they can distinguish between healthy and unhealthy beverages, and presumably learn how to interpret the nutritional characteristics of other commonly encountered foods. Another lesson engages students by taking them to a bodega to practice reading nutrition labels, choosing the healthiest options, and documenting the types of beverages being sold by the store. The numbers of students who currently participate in these lessons are modest, with some 500 students participating in the Nutrition lesson plan in Spring 2008, with more than half taking the field trips to neighborhood bodegas.


The Department for the Aging (DFTA) is responsible for administering, developing, and providing a variety of services for older New Yorkers with the goal of helping them to live independently while participating in their communities. DFTA provides services to the elderly directly and through contracts with some 600 community-based organizations. The agency administers contracts with 329 senior centers.

DFTA provides over 12.4 million meals annually through home delivery and through senior centers. The characteristics of those meals, including the broad menu choices, nutritional composition, provenance of ingredients, and to some extent the conditions under which the meals are served in senior facilities, are under the agency’s control. In addition to providing food directly to seniors, the agency also helps seniors access a wide range of public benefits, including assisting seniors in applying for SNAP benefits.

A recent DFTA program, in cooperation with the Department of Education, makes use of the large network of school buses, which are under contract to the city but largely remain parked between morning and late afternoon, to shuttle seniors from senior centers and Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs) and supermarkets. The program accomplishes the goal of helping the elderly get access to fresh, healthy food without additional expenditures by the city.


The Department of Buildings (DOB) is responsible for monitoring and enforcing the building code, zoning resolution, and other laws that ensure the safe and permissible use of some 900,000 building in New York. To carry out this mission, the DOB reviews construction plans, building permit applications and renewals, inspects buildings, and licenses, registers and certifies professionals in the building industry.

DOB’s responsibilities affect the food system in a number of ways. It is the agency charged with enforcing the recently adopted FRESH initiative’s zoning changes that encourage supermarkets to open in low-income neighborhoods. It issues building permits for buildings with integrated food production (rooftop farms, greenhouses, hydroponics and aquaculture). It is responsible for determining whether food waste management systems such as greywater systems and composting/blackwater waste recycling devices are permissible. Finally, the DOB regulations permit in-sink garbage grinders, which causes food waste to be incorporated into the city’s sewage effluent (and sludge), and diverts food waste from the solid waste system and, potentially, future composting programs.

Business Integrity Commission

The Business Integrity Commission (BIC), originally created to thwart organized crime’s control of waste management and the wholesale food markets, currently provides oversight of these industries. It is therefore indirectly responsible for overseeing the private waste carting industry’s food waste recycling efforts, from collection and composting of food waste to recycling waste oil into biofuel. It also regulates food distributors operating in the Hunts Point produce market and Fish Market.

Center for Economic Opportunity

The mission of the Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO) is to implement innovative ways to reduce poverty in New York City. CEO works with agencies to develop poverty-alleviating initiatives that increase self-sufficiency, and runs a fund to provide those agencies with additional funding to implement them.

CEO funds initiatives that address food and poverty, including funding a portion of the budget for NYC’s Office of Food Policy, which develops standards and programs to increase low-income New Yorkers’ access to healthy food, and it has developed food industry job training programs designed to help New Yorkers gain entry into the food industry.

City Planning

The Department of City Planning (DCP) is responsible for conducting planning and zoning studies and recommending changes to the zoning resolution to promote the city’s policy goals. The DCP also provides technical support to the City Planning Commission in its review of zoning changes and property dispositions.

In recent years, DCP has begun to produce studies about food access issues. It is responsible for considering the impact of zoning on the location of food retail establishments and food manufacturing businesses, and evaluates zoning variances for food businesses. It is also responsible for evaluating compliance with zoning for land uses for urban agriculture, including community gardens, urban farms, rooftop farms, building greenhouses and other accessory uses that involve food growing.

DCP participates in New York City’s Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) with respect to food producing, processing, and retailing establishments. It also addresses land use issues related to transportation (for food movement), community facilities (including food-related facilities such as community farms) and the use of public spaces. Recently, DCP prepared a study identifying the dearth of supermarkets in certain low-income communities, and in response prepared zoning incentives (FRESH intiative) to encourage supermarkets to locate in these neighborhoods.

City University of New York

The City University of New York (CUNY), the nation’s largest university, enrolls more than 400,000 students. CUNY colleges offer courses on food and food systems, nutrition, culinary skills, and other topics related to the food system.

Citywide Administrative Services

The Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) supports city agencies by providing employment services, managing facilities, providing construction services, buying, selling and leasing real property, and buying and distributing supplies and equipment. To the extent city properties are used for food production, DCAS will be involved in managing and maintaining them. DCAS may be able to sell and/or lease non-residential real property for food production. DCAS buys food service equipment for city facilities, and thus its decisions about the type of equipment affects the extent to which food preparation is possible.

DCAS also provides food for the Human Resources Administration’s Emergency Food Assistance Program. For example, DCAS recently awarded a contract to Tony’s Fish and Seafood Corporation for non-perishable frozen food to be distributed by HRA’s Emergency Food Assistance Program to soup kitchens and food pantries throughout the City that participate in its Food Bank for NYC program. The frozen food items included snap green beans, collards, broccoli and whiting fillet.

Division of Real Estate Services

The Division of Real Estate Services (DRES) oversees the city’s commercial real estate portfolio, leasing or buying privately owned properties for City agency use, leasing and licensing city-owned non-residential property for private use, and selling city-owned real estate through public sales and lease auctions. Thus, DRES has the potential to play a role in the disposition of land for urban agriculture.

Citywide Event Coordination and Management

The Office of Citywide Event Coordination and Management (CECM) oversees events and permitting of large-scale street fairs and festivals and other permitted activities. The CECM also advises the Mayor in coordinating policies, plans, and procedures for these events. While CECM’s activities do not directly affect the food system, the office is involved in the permitting and coordination of a wide range of street festivals that involve food and culture, such as the Ninth Avenue Food Festival and the Taste of Times Square. CECM could develop policies and plans to celebrate New York City’s food heritage, food produced using unique, local ingredients, and other activities to promote sustainable food.

Community Assistance Unit

The City’s Community Assistance Unit (CAU) works with the 59 community boards and other neighborhood groups and city agencies to foster the more efficient and effective delivery of services. To the extent that city infrastructure and service delivery affects a neighborhood’s food system, the CAU can be involved. For example, community boards have an important role in advising the city with respect to land use and zoning matters, the operating and capital budget, municipal service delivery, and many other matters relating to their communities’ welfare, including matters that affect the production, processing, and access to food at the community level.

With respect to land use and zoning, Community Boards must be consulted on the location of most municipal facilities in the community (e.g., composting sites, centers for emergency feeding, urban farms) and on other land use issues. They may also initiate their own plans for the growth and well being of their communities. Also, any application for a change in or variance from the zoning resolution (e.g., for the location of a large food retailer in a manufacturing zone) must come before the Board for review. Boards can address the location of farmers’ markets and urban farms, and address the location of projects that are not as of right, such as a vertical farm or supermarket.

Community Boards also assess the needs of their own neighborhoods, meet with City agencies, and make recommendations in the City’s budget process to address them. These needs assessments can include needs related to the food system of the neighborhood, such as facilities for cooking school lunches, emergency feeding programs, etc.

A Community Board can address any problem that affects the community. These problems can include food insecurity, food production, or any other relevant food-related issue.

Consumer Affairs

The Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) helps to resolve consumer complaints, sues vendors who cheat consumers, and licenses (and enforces the license regulations of) 55 categories of businesses. These include regulating weights and measures regulations and inspecting businesses to enforce the city’s Consumer Protection Law. DCA ensures that measuring devices in food establishments are accurate. It monitors and regulates certain food prices, such as milk, regulates unit pricing and the availability of food on sale, and licenses caterers.

Contract Services

The Mayor’s Office of Contract Services oversees, approves, and helps to manage procurement by city agencies. These include food concessions, such as restaurants, snack bars and pushcarts.


The Department of Correction (DOC) manages the city jails that house people accused of crimes or those convicted and sentenced to one year or less of jail time. Curently, DOC manages 15 inmate facilities with an average daily inmate population of approximately 14,000 individuals, each of whom is fed by DOC three meals daily. DOC also manages the food waste discarded by its facilities, and runs a food waste composting facility on Rikers Island. To aid in the rehabilitation process, DOC operates a garden for inmates at Rikers Island.

Design Commission

The Design Commission reviews for suitability all permanent works of art, architecture and landscape architecture proposed on or over City-owned property. It would be involved in the review of any innovative landscape architecture, including productive urban landscapes and farms on city-owned property.

Design and Construction

The Department of Design and Construction (DDC) manages the city’s capital construction projects, which include streets, highways, sewers and water mains, as well as health and human service facilities cultural institutions and libraries. DDC designs and builds city facilities, including facilities with kitchens and gardens, and its design choices influence the extent to which public facilities can produce and prepare food. Its guidelines for buildings and landscapes influence their design. Currently, DDC has prepared design guidelines to encourage sustainable buildings and landscapes to encourage physical activity and public health, but DDC has not yet developed design guidelines to support food production.

Economic Development Corporation

The New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) is a nonprofit organization operating under contract with the City of New York to provide economic development services. EDC finances development projects and provides businesses with a variety of services. The corporation is currently redeveloping the Hunts Point terminal market, the La Marqueta commercial venture (which includes food retail and commercial food preparation space for small businesses), and has redeveloped the city’s public markets. It has the ability to provide economic development services for food-related businesses, and can provide energy assistance to food businesses and retailers.


The Department of Education (DOE) operates the city’s roughly 1,400 public schools and employs 77,000 teachers. SchoolFood, a division of DOE, is the largest school food service provider in the United States, providing breakfast, lunch, snack, supper, Living for the Young Family through Education (LYFE) meals at day care facilities, Saturday and Holiday and Summer Meals meals to students in over 1600 locations, including NYC public elementary, middle, special education, high schools, charter and some non-public schools and day care facilities. SchoolFood serves over 860,000 total meals each day, second in quantity only to the US military.

Through School Food Plus, a program that provides enhanced meals to some students in an effort to improve nutrition, increase student participation in the school meal program, and support regional agriculture, DOE attempts to purchase regionally produced ingredients for its meals.

DOE is able to provide education on food production, through school garden programs, nutrition through home economics and health classes, and culinary programs in a number of high schools. It also operates an agricultural High School (Bowne) in Queens.

Emergency Management

The Office of Emergency Management (OEM) supports the responses to emergencies that affect public health and safety. OEM also educates residents and businesses on the need for preparedness, supports emergency planning, and oversees the city’s compliance with federal emergency response requirements. A central aspect of emergency planning involves ensuring that there is adequate food and water during power outages, disasters and other emergencies. Long term, this may require assessing the food distribution infrastructure to ensure that protracted disruptions to rail and trucking do not disrupt food access, and that our food distribution system is not prone to acts of terrorism or natural disasters.

Environmental Coordination

The Office of Environmental Coordination (OEC) is responsible for managing the environmental review process. It helps agencies conduct environmental impact assessments and write environmental impact statements. It also coordinates the city’s brownfield remediation efforts and advises the Mayor on environmental policy. The City’s environmental quality review (CEQR) guidelines currently do not require project proponents to assess the impact of their proposed actions on the food system, though policy makers have suggested that CEQR can and ought to explicitly require environmental assessments and impact statements to consider food.

Environmental Protection

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) manages the City’s water supply 14 in-City wastewater treatment plants, as well as nine treatment plants upstate. DEP also carries out federal Clean Water Act rules and regulations, handles hazardous materials emergencies and toxic site remediation, oversees asbestos monitoring and removal, enforces the City’s air and noise codes, and manages Citywide water conservation programs.

The city’s sewage treatment system produces 1,200 wet tons of sludge (“biosolids”) each day. This is beneficially reused as fertilizer and soil conditioners on farmland, parkland, lawns, golf courses and cemeteries. DEP ships a portion of the city’s biosolids to Florida, where they are applied to citrus groves.

DEP manages the city’s upstate drinking water reservoirs and surrounding watersheds, and is responsible for carrying out an EPA consent order requiring the protection of watershed properties. To do so, DEP supports sustainable farming operations in the Catskills through the city-financed Watershed Agriculture Council and by promoting rural economic development.


The Department of Finance (DOF) is responsible for collecting city taxes, valuing real property in the city, and maintaining property records. As urban agriculture expands, the DOF will need to consider how to value property used for food production. As the keeper of city property records, DOF has the capacity to identify real property suitable for temporary and permanent food producing gardens.

Fund to Advance NYC

The Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City is a publicly supported, not-for-profit corporation that raises money to promote the general welfare of the City’s residents and aid civic improvements. The Fund supports the work of many City Agencies including Education, Parks, Health, and Cultural Affairs. The fund has the possibility of raising funds to support gardening/farming, food education, processing businesses, school food programs, etc.

Health and Hospitals

The Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) is the largest municipal hospital and health care system in the country, with 11 hospitals, four nursing facilities, six large diagnostic and treatment centers and 100 community and school-based clinics. HHC is the single largest provider of health care to uninsured New Yorkers providing health services to one of every six New Yorkers. HHC provides meals at its hospitals and nursing homes to patients as well as to facility visitors, and is responsible for specifying the nutritional content and provenance of the food it serves. Some HHC hospitals (Jacobi, Lincoln, and Harlem Hospitals) operate greenmarkets on hospital property. HHC care providers also provide nutritional counseling to patients.

Health and Mental Hygiene

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) is responsible for protecting the health and mental well being of New Yorkers. DOHMH provides a wide range of mental health services, community-based public health services, and programs to prevent chronic diseases. The agency also provides research on community health conditions, issues birth and death certificates, enforces the city’s health code, and responds to public health threats.

DOHMH has taken the lead in fostering healthy eating practices. It tracks eating behavior and diet-related health outcomes and develops public policies (e.g., calorie disclosure rules and a ban on trans-fats) to improve nutrition. It operates programs to improve access to healthy foods in low-income neighborhoods, such as healthy bodega and green cart programs. It runs social marketing campaigns related to diet and nutrition, such as recent advertising campaign to make New Yorkers aware of high calorie foods. It advises clients on diet related matters through health clinics, enforces the City Health Code with respect to food processing and selling, and responds to outbreaks of food borne illnesses.

Homeless Services

The mission of the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) is to prevent homelessness and provide temporary shelter for homeless people. DHS manages 15 City-run and 206 privately run shelter facilities and community-based homeless prevention programs in six high need neighborhoods. DHS feeds homeless New Yorkers at shelter facilities.

Housing Authority

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) provides affordable housing to roughly 420,000 low- and moderate-income residents who live in 345 housing developments with 180,000 apartments. NYCHA also helps residents who qualify for federal rent subsidies to locate and rent housing in privately owned buildings. NYCHA provides social services through 112 community centers, 42 senior centers, and a variety of programs.

NYCHA runs one of the country’s largest community gardening programs, providing materials and technical support to 1,800 adult residents and over 2,400 youth and children who in the cultivation of 572 registered gardens citywide.
Some NYCHA facilities provide space for greenmarkets and CSA drop-off sites.

NYCHA also operates a wide range of social services, including, e.g., wellness programs for seniors that include nutrition education. It has the capacity to run educational programs to train residents to shop for and prepare healthy, sustainable meals.
NYCHA’s community programs serve meals that are sourced by the agency.

As NYCHA develops new housing projects it has the capacity to build food-related facilities, from supermarkets to community centers to vegetable gardens, into them. It can landscape its facilities with edible landscaping, including fruit and nut trees.

Housing Preservation and Development

The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) is the nation’s largest municipal housing agency, developing and helping to manage housing throughout the city. HPD develops housing in NYC, incorporating food production into some of its innovative projects (e.g., Via Verde). HPD also controls undeveloped properties that can accommodate food production, even as an interim use.

Human Resources Administration

The Human Resources Administration (HRA) provides temporary assistance and employment services or referrals at 31 Job Centers. HRA also offers public health insurance at 19 Medicaid Community Offices, food stamps at 30 offices, support services to individuals with AIDS and HIV-related illnesses through 12 centers, protective services to adults through 5 HRA borough offices and 4 contracted programs, and services to victims of domestic violence through 45 State-licensed residential programs, 15 nonresidential programs, and various HRA programs. HRA contracts with 95 home care provider agencies, and assists New York City families in obtaining support orders and receiving child support payments at 4 borough and 5 Family Court offices.

HRA is the agency primarily responsible for getting New Yorkers to sign up for SNAP benefits and other programs, such as the emergency food assistance program. Through its contracted health services, HRA is also indirectly responsible for the nutrition of its clients.

HRA and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene provide 100,000 Health Bucks, $2 coupons that can be used to extend clients’ purchasing power to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables at local farmers’ markets. For every $5 food stamps clients spend at participating farmers’ markets, they receive one $2 Health Buck.

Immigrant Affairs

The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and Language Services addresses the needs of immigrants and provides language-related services to immigrants and others with limited English skills. The Office helps immigrants access government services, including food stamps and access to emergency food assistance.

Independent Budget Office

The mission of the Independent Budget Office (IBO) is to provide non-partisan budgetary, economic, and policy analysis for New York City residents and elected officials. While the IBO analyzes a variety of issues, it has in the past examined the SNAP program and could focus on other food-related programs.

Information Technology and Telecommunications

The Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) manages the information systems that support City operations and public access to City services. DoITT operates the City’s 311 Citizen Service Center, manages and operates the City’s data center, Web site, telephone systems, fiber-optic network, radio network, internal data network, and television and radio stations. In addition, DoITT administers the City’s telecommunications franchises including the fiber, cable television, public pay telephones, and mobile telecommunications infrastructure on City property.

The 311 service provides information to New Yorkers on access to food support programs, healthy food options, and enables residents to report complaints about food safety practices in food establishments, including: Supermarkets; Farmers markets; Fish markets; Beverage stores; Bodegas; Warehouses; Delis; Bakeries; Cafeterias; Food carts, stands, or trucks; or Restaurants.

Juvenile Justice

The Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) provides detention, aftercare and prevention services to juveniles, ages 7 through 15. The Department operates three secure detention and 17 non-secure detention facilities that admit more than 5,000 youth each year. DJJ feeds residents at its detention facilities and as a result, has the opportunity through its food purchases to improve nutrition and source healthier food from regional producers.

Labor Relations

The Office of Labor Relations represents the Mayor in labor relations between the City of New York and labor organizations representing employees of the City. The office also administers a variety of programs for city workers. While the labor relations program does not directly address the food system, the health insurance programs that it administers may offer benefits to enable workers to improve their nutrition.


The Office of Operations oversees the daily operations of City agencies, provides them with technical assistance and consulting services. The Office of Operations includes the Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability, which produces the city’s sustainability plan, PlaNYC 2030, and the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Coordination, which manages the environmental review process. PlaNYC 2030 currently does not address the food system (with the exception of a description of the Hunts Point Market redevelopment), but a number of officials have urged the plan’s update to include a section explicitly examining how food system changes can contribute to the city’s long term sustainability. As noted above, the OEC does not currently require environmental reviews to look at food, but there is movement afoot to require the food system to be analyzed in the environmental assessment and imact statement process.

Parks and Recreation

The Department of Parks & Recreation (DPR) maintains a park system of more than 28,800 acres including nearly 1,700 parks. DPR contracts with firms to provide food concessions in parks, and currently encourages restaurants located within parks to train their employees in practices outlined by the Green Restaurant Association (GRA). Some existing restaurants certified by GRA include Ballfields Café and The Boathouse in Central Park, and the West 79th Street Boat Basin Café in Riverside Park).

The DPR’s GreenApple Corps collects organic waste from several soup kitchens and turns it into compost at its Field House in Seward Park.

DPR’s GreenThumb program is the nation’s largest urban gardening program, helping 700 neighborhood groups to create and maintain community gardens. Parks are the locations of dozens of Greenmarket farmers markets.

In the future, if the city were to develop food waste composting programs, it may be possible for DPR to utilize this compost in its landscaping. Parks may also be sites for gardening, and edible landscaping may enable the parks to produce additional food.

Procurement Policy Board

The Procurement Policy Board (PPB) develops rules governing the procurement of goods, services, and construction by the city. The PPB’s responsibilities include rules governing the procurement of food and food production services.


The Department of Sanitation (DSNY) is responsible for collecting and disposing of the city’s solid waste, and the development of long-range plans for handling refuse. The DSNY collects approximately 12,000 tons per day of residential waste.
The Department of Sanitation operates a variety of composting education programs, funds non-profit organizations that compost food and yard waste, and offers low-cost compost bins to residents who wish to compost at home.

School Construction Authority

The School Construction Authority (SCA) is responsible for new school construction and major renovations to older schools. SCA would be responsible for designing and building schools with gardening facilities such as greenhouses, rooftop gardens, and schoolyard gardens. In addition, SCA designs for the school cafeteria determines whether and to what extent cafeterias have the capacity to prepare meals from scratch, or are restricted to reheating prepared frozen meals.

Small Business Services

The mission of the Department of Small Business Services (SBS) is to help businesses and improving workforce development through job training and programs that meet the hiring and training needs of businesses. SBS has the potential to supports entrepreneurs wishing to start or expand food production and processing businesses. The Mayor’s Office of Industrial and Manufacturing Businesses focuses on manufacturing firms, including food manufacturers.


The Department of Transportation (DOT) is responsible for the condition of the cities streets, highways, bridges and tunnels. DOT is also responsible for reducing traffic through installing and maintaining traffic signals, signs, streetlights, and parking meters. The Department encourages mass transit by overseeing the operation of four subsidized franchise bus companies, operating the Staten Island Ferry and promoting new private ferry routes. DOT also encourages the use of alternative modes of transportation, such as bicycling, and administers a citywide program to promote alternative fuels.DOT supports Greenmarkets by providing space on city streets. It is responsible for overall traffic management, including the movement of food through city.

Volunteer Center

The Mayor’s Volunteer Center supports organizations by encouraging and facilitating volunteer activities. The Volunteer Center has the capacity to promote volunteering for activities that may include food production and distribution, such as through community gardens, food pantries and soup kitchens.

Water Board

The Water Board is responsible for setting water and sewer rates, and ensures that they are sufficient to fund the entire water and sewer system’s operating and capital needs, enabling the City to provide clean, safe water to New Yorkers. One of the key policy decisions that the Water Board made was to apply for a waiver from EPA’s surface water treatment filtration rules for the Catskill-Delaware water system, committing the city to fund watershed protection programs in lieu of building a water filtration plant. In doing so, the Water Board agreed to fund a variety of watershed protection programs aimed at supporting farming in the Catskill-Delaware watersheds, including whole farm planning support, economic development programs to encourage sustainable business in rural communities, sewage infrastructure upgrades in the watershed, and other programs to maintain the viability of a rural economy based on agriculture.

In the future, as urban agriculture grows, and irrigation needs increase, the Water Board will need to address the issue of whether water for urban food production should be priced at a residential, commercial, or a different agricultural rate. The Water Board also needs to consider the economic impacts of increasing the city’s industrial pretreatment program, which removes sources of toxicity from the sewerage system and makes the sludge less toxic and more suitable for wider agricultural use.

Workforce Investment Board

The Workforce Investment Board is responsible for improving the employment skills of New Yorkers. The board could focus on providing workforce development for the food industry.

Youth and Community Development

The Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) supports youth and adults through contracts with community-based organizations that offer after school academic support, sports/recreational activities, and cultural experiences. The Department also community centers in public In addition, provides summer employment DYCD is also responsible for the City’s runaway and homeless youth programs.

The DYCD serves meals through community based organizations and city out of school time programs, including at its Beacon community centers. The provision of meals offers the opportunity to source more sustainable ingredients and improve the nutrition of the agency’s clients. Summer employment opportunities could include urban agriculture programs.

Food Access Legislation New York Zoning

Making Grocers more Appetizing to Developers

On May 16th, New York City unveiled a new initiative, Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (FRESH), which combines zoning changes and some financial incentives to make it less costly for developers to include supermarkets in their projects, and to allow the construction of supermarkets in light manufacturing districts without a special permit.

The initiative applies to four areas of the city with the least access to healthy, fresh food: the South Bronx, Upper Manhattan, Central Brooklyn, and Downtown Jamaica. The Bloomberg administration hopes the rezoning will stimulate the growth of supermarkets in these neighborhoods, and in so doing, provide more equitable access to food, promote healthier eating, and reduce diet-related diseases.

The proposed zoning incentives will be reviewed by all affected community boards, each borough board, and the Borough Presidents. Once these community and borough reviews are complete, the City Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposal before it is voted on by the City Council.

Food Disparities

A growing body of evidence suggests that the location and types of food establishments in a community affects the eating habits of its residents, with significant nutrition-related health consequences. Simply put, having a supermarket nearby makes it easier to buy healthy foods such as fresh produce (Zenk et al., 2005).

Compared to more affluent neighborhoods, however, communities with lower socioeconomic status have been shown to have fewer large supermarkets (Morland et al., 2002; Moore and Roux, 2006; Powell et al., 2007), less access to healthy foods (Baker, et al., 2006), and greater distances between residents and the nearest major food store (Zenk et al., 2005). Instead, low-income communities typically have a higher proportion of small convenience stores, bodegas, and liquor stores to full-service groceries and large supermarkets. Though some low-income neighborhoods have specialty grocers supplying high quality food at an affordable price, in many communities, small shops and bodegas generally have fewer healthy options and less fresh produce than larger grocery stores and supermarkets located in higher-income neighborhoods (Graham, et al., 2006).

In New York, like many large cities, the disparities in food access based on income, race and ethnicity are substantial. In East and Central Harlem, for example, bodegas are more abundant and prevalent than supermarkets, in sharp contrast to affluent neighborhoods like the Upper East Side where high quality food is readily available. Indeed, a recent study by the Department of City Planning (DCP, 2008) that underpins the current zoning proposal found that many of the city’s low-income neighborhoods lack a sufficient number of grocery stores and supermarkets.

Proposed Changes

The proposed zoning changes allow developers in the four target communities to build larger buildings than otherwise permitted under the existing zoning if they include a neighborhood grocery store on the ground floor. The bonus to the developer is one additional square foot of residential floor area for each square foot of grocery store, up to a maximum of 20,000 additional square feet.

The food retailer must have at least 6,000 square feet of selling area for general food and nonfood grocery products, with at least half the square footage devoted to the sale of general food products intended for home preparation and consumption, and 30% of the area for perishable food, with at least 500 square feet for the sale of fresh produce. For buildings that take advantage of this new zoning provision, the City Planning Commission may allow the developer to increase the maximum building height by 15 feet to accommodate the additional floor area.

The proposed zoning change also reduces the burden of providing parking spaces as an additional incentive. In districts that permit residential buildings with ground floor retail, only very large stores (over 40,000 square feet) would be required to provide parking, while in other commercial and light manufacturing districts, smaller stores would be exempted from providing any parking.

To encourage grocery store development in areas zoned for light manufacturing use (M-1 districts), the proposed zoning would allow large food stores to be permitted as-of-right. In New York, where the uniform land use review process (ULURP) and environmental reviews can drag on for many months, even for relatively uncontroversial projects, as-of-right development can save a developer time and money.

In addition to these zoning changes, the City has assembled incentives for grocers to build, renovate, and equip their stores in low-income neighborhoods. These include real estate tax abatements, mortgage recording tax waivers, sales tax exemptions, and a variety of existing financial incentive programs that grocery store owners can take advantage of.


This proposal is certainly worth adopting. Providing a density bonus to developers who include grocery stores in their buildings, easing parking requirements, and allowing supermarkets in light manufacturing districts will provide incentives for developers to incorporate food retailers in new construction and in manufacturing areas, and therefore will make it simpler for these businesses to locate in communities currently lacking fresh, healthy food. But it is not clear to what extent these zoning changes will significantly increase food access. Supermarkets locate their stores based on their anticipated customer traffic, revenue projections, and financial risks (Winne, 2008). Having the right zoning in place is only one variable in a much more complex equation.

The current city administration has not been timid about wielding its power to regulate and issue permits — and now zone — to improve nutrition and increase access to healthy food. Over the past few years, New York banned trans fats, required chain restaurants to post calorie information, created 1,000 licenses for mobile food vendors selling fresh fruits and vegetables in poor neighborhoods, funded electronic benefits terminals so food stamp recipients could shop at farmers markets, and added locally-sourced apples to the school lunch program.

But these bold initiatives, while important steps, need to be part of a much broader food planning effort. The City’s major sustainable planning initiative, encapsulated in PlaNYC 2030, offers a prescription for providing housing, energy, water, open space, and transportation infrastructure to a future city with a million more residents. Yet the plan is silent on the question of how we will feed the current and future population sustainably in 2030.

The community boards, Borough Presidents, and City Council should enact the proposed FRESH zoning changes, but should insist on a revision to PlaNYC 2030 that addresses broader issues, such as how to improve transportation to make the movement of food from surrounding farms more efficient and sustainable, steps to develop a wholesale farmers market to make selling local food to restaurants and supermarkets logistically feasible, and a plan to carve out sufficient space for urban and suburban farms, processing facilities, and markets.

Nearly a decade ago, planning professors Kami Pothukuchi and Jerome Kaufman observed that the food system is “a stranger to the planning field,” conspicuously absent from city plans, the planning literature, the classrooms of planning schools (Pothukuchi and Kaufman, 2000). Fortunately, the past decade has seen significant growth in food system planning. It is time for New York City to take the lead by developing a comprehensive foodshed assessment and plan for the city and surrounding region.

To get involved in this initiative, NYC residents should send comments to your local community board, Borough President’s Office, and City Council member.


Baker, EA, M. Schootman, E. Barnidge, and C. Kelly. 2006. The role of race and poverty in access to foods that enable individuals to adhere to dietary guidelines. Preventing Chronic Disease 3, (3) (07/01): A76.

Brown, Elliot. 2009. Amanda Burden: Supermarket Zoning Plan Weeks Away. The New York Observer. April 23, 2009. Accessed at

Department of City Planning (DCP). 2008. Going to Market: New York City’s Neighborhood Grocery Store and Supermarket Shortage. Accessed April 24, 2009 at

Graham R., Kaufman L., Novoa Z., Karpati A. Eating in, eating out, eating well: Access to healthy food in North and Central Brooklyn. New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, 2006.

Moore, LV, and A. Diez Roux. 2006. Associations of neighborhood characteristics with the location and type of food stores. American Journal of Public Health (01/01).

Morland, K., S. Wing, A. Diez Roux, and C. Poole. 2002. Neighborhood characteristics associated with the location of food stores and food service places. American Journal of Preventive Medicine (01/01).

Pothukuchi, K. and Kaufman, J. L. 2000. The Food System: A stranger to the planning field. Journal of the American Planning Association. 66, 2: 113.

Powell, LM, S. Slater, D. Mirtcheva, Y. Bao, and FJ Chaloupka. 2007. Food store availability and neighborhood characteristics in the united states. Preventive Medicine 44, (3) (03/01): 189-95.

Winne, M. 2008. Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty. Boston: Beacon Press.

Zenk, SN, AJ Schulz, T. Hollis-Neely, and RT Campbell. 2005. Fruit and vegetable intake in African Americans income and store characteristics. American Journal of Preventive Medicine (01/01).

Food Access Zoning

Zoning for Food Access

City planners are increasingly applying the tools of their trade to fixing the failures of the urban food system. In the next few weeks, according to a report in the NY Observer, New York City’s Department of City Planning is poised to certify zoning changes to make it easier for supermarkets to be built as part of new developments and in light manufacturing districts. The Bloomberg administration hopes the new rules will stimulate the growth of supermarkets in low-income neighborhoods, and in so doing, promote more equitable access to food, healthier eating, and reduced incidence of diet-related diseases.

Ensuring that a city’s zoning encourages the development of supermarkets and mid-size grocers is a step in the right direction that is likely to improve access to healthy, fresh, and fairly-priced food for a larger number of residents, particularly those living in poor neighborhoods that supermarkets have abandoned. But this particular strategy needs to be part of a much broader food planning effort that includes regional transportation planning to make the movement of food from surrounding farms more efficient and sustainable, the development of a wholesale farmers market, to make selling local food to restaurants and supermarkets logistically feasible, and a plan to carve out the space for urban and suburban food production, processing, and distribution.