Categories
Uncategorized

Vancouver’s New Food Strategy

 
Sole Food Farms, Vancouver BC
On Tuesday, January 29, the Vancouver City Council will consider [UPDATE: PASSED UNANIMOUSLY BY THE COUNCIL] a comprehensive food strategy crafted through collaboration between city staff and the Vancouver Food Policy Council, with substantial input from members of the public.  The strategy document responds to a June 2003 mandate from the Council for the creation of a just and sustainable food system and elaborates on goals and objectives from the 2007 Vancouver Food Charter, the 2011 Greenest City Action Plan, and various laws, regulations, advisory documents, programs and grants that have, over the past decade, established Vancouver as a leader in food policy.
 
The Vancouver strategy addresses all phases of the food system, from production to disposal.  It emphasizes five areas that are by now common to the urban food plans that have been produced over the last few years:
 
  • support for urban agriculture and connections to the rest of the food system;
  • increasing public participation in the activities of neighborhood food networks and community based programs;
  • improving access to healthy, local, affordable food;
  • addressing the needs for food processing, storage and distribution infrastructure to increase the production and distribution of local food; and
  • reducing food waste and increasing the beneficial reuse of discarded food
Several aspects of the strategy distinguish it from other city food plans and policy platforms:
 
The strategy emphasizes the value of promoting commercial urban agriculture through clarification in the city’s zoning of where commercial food production is appropriate, what limits or mitigation strategies are needed, whether and to what extent farm gate sales are appropriate, and through the creation of a new urban farming business license. The strategy also mentions the need for alternative food retail and distribution models, including community food markets, food distribution hubs and pre-approved Community Supported Agriculture
(CSA) distribution sites in public locations to help urban farmers sell their produce.
 
The strategy calls for the integration of food production into the streetscape including growing vegetables and fruit and nut trees in residential boulevards, traffic circles and other marginal spaces. This includes switching from ornamental to edible landscaping in residential, commercial, institutional and parks landscaping plans, and the planting of food-bearing trees as new trees are planted in parks and on other public land. Cities are just beginning to experiment with urban orchards (e.g., Seattle) and urban farms as stormwater management infrastructure (e.g., NYC), but city engineers still resist vegetation that requires increased management and maintenance.
 
Throughout the Vancouver Food Strategy there is a strong emphasis on neighborhood-scale solutions.  This is expressed in support for neighborhood-based food networks (“coalitions of citizens, organizations and agencies that work collaboratively in and across Vancouver neighborhoods to address food system issues”) and neighborhood-scale food infrastructure.
 
City officials are often resistant to policies that extend beyond the municipal boundaries, particularly those addressing rural farming. The Vancouver strategy is notable in its discussion of the regional foodshed. The document recommends that Vancouver should strengthen alliances with other municipalities in the region and advocate for the enhancement of the Agricultural Land Reserve, which protects farmland in the agriculturally productive Fraser Valley region.
 
The Vancouver strategy recognizes that food system governance includes a wide range of entities, not just conventional government officials. It acknowledges that effective governance of the food system involves individuals in government, in non-governmental organizations, as well as ordinary citizens and people from different sectors, companies and organizations.
 
Finally, the Vancouver food strategy emphasizes integrating food policies with other municipal priorities, by “putting a food system lens on plans and policies at all levels of government.” The document calls for aligning Vancouver’s food systems goals with other municipal functions, highlighting the potential for food policies to add value to conventional city activities like housing development, land use planning, public health and transportation planning, which often are not perceived as food-related. The strategy recommends a “food system checklist” to help city staff pay attention to food system needs as they review development applications, rezoning applications, or community plans.
 
 

Categories
Uncategorized

Evaluating Corner Store Programs

NGOs and cities throughout the US have launched programs to help the owners of bodegas, convenience stores, liquor stores and other small food establishments sell healthier food.  A concise article published by the Centers for Disease Control summarizes the evaluations of these programs to determine whether they have an impact on food availability, diet, and other factors that influence diet-related diseases.*
Among the findings:
Overall, the foods that were being promoted by these pilot programs were more available in the stores as a result of the pilots.  Where sales data were collected they showed that the programs resulted in significant increases in the sales of the promoted foods.  Produce sales, in particular, increased 25% to 50%.
Seven programs resulted in increased food and health-related knowledge among consumers, while 9 programs found significantly increased purchasing frequency of at least one promoted food.
Of 4 trial programs that assessed impacts on body mass index, no significant changes were observed from pre- to post-pilot.
Price reductions in the form of discounts, coupons, vouchers, and loans were (not surprisingly) found to increase consumer demand for and consumption of healthier foods.
The data suggests that these programs can make healthier food available in communities with limited full-service grocers and encourage the purchase of healthier food. Unfortunately, however, the evaluations have been insufficient to answer whether and to what extent they work, or whether certain interventions are more effective than others. The evaluative methods varied significantly, limiting the ability to compare the program impacts across the different pilots, and did not involve randomized controlled trials that would provide greater reliability.
More systematic evaluative data would help policymakers and philanthropic organizations decide how cost effective corner store programs are and the extent to which this is a viable strategy for increasing food access and improving public health.
*Gittelsohn J, Rowan M, Gadhoke P. Interventions in small food stores to change the food environment, improve diet, and reduce risk of chronic disease. Prev Chronic Dis 2012;9:110015. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd9.110015 .

Categories
Uncategorized

Chicago’s Draft Food Plan

In October 2012, Chicago released a draft food systems plan, called A Recipe for Healthy Places that recommends changes to the city’s food environment to reduce obesity and strategies to improve education about food, nutrition and healthy eating habits. Its vision statement calls for creating a “culture that values fresh, nutritious food” through urban farms and gardens and food enterprises, with adequate food retail availability in each neighborhood and a “food safety net” to ensure that the lowest income residents are able to eat well. The draft plan was developed through a process that included 26 public meetings held over 13 months, with more than 400 participants, and it suggests roles for both government and non-governmental entities.
While the plan outlines very general goals and strategies, many of which are included in other municipal food plans, A Recipe for Healthy Places describes several interesting initiatives:
(1) The Green Healthy Neighborhoods project, which involves residents and NGOs in several South Side neighborhoods (Englewood, West Englewood,
Washington Park, Woodlawn and parts of New City and Greater 
Grand Crossing) in developing a land-use strategy to create urban agriculture districts.
(2) An effort to integrate public health issues and strategies into local land-use planning projects. The Department of Housing and Economic Development will incorporate Health Impact Assessments (HIA) in local land-use planning to identify strategies for increasing the healthful impacts of a project, while the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) is considering incorporating HIAs into regional planning and project development efforts.
(3) The creation of a “system of farms and gardens,” with the City joint venturing with an NGO or land trust to develop city owned vacant land into urban agriculture sites, including amalgamated scattered farm sites. In addition, the Chicago Park District will identify space within parks for food production.
(4) An effort by the Department of Housing and Economic Development to work with residents and community organizations to identify land in neighborhoods that can be prepared for commercial-scale food production through a local planning process that involves finding suitable vacant land, willing community partners and an organization to maintain and operate the site(s).
(5) The development of a network of nonprofit and for-profit organizations to provide resources and technical assistance for school and community gardens.
(6) Protocol development for site remediation and management for food production.
(7) Work with existing retailers, including drug store chains, to increase fresh produce and other healthy food retail options, especially in underserved areas. 
(8) Developing more-efficient systems to help eligible households obtain and maintain SNAP benefits.
(9) Creating standards for the food served at catered meetings, public meetings, and vending machines in City buildings, and guidelines for healthy food for events that involve public funding or permits.
(10) Adoption as a formal plan by the City of Chicago.
The plan is funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) Initiative, which is funded through the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund. A number of other US cities, like Los Angeles and Seattle, are using CPPW funds to do food system planning. 

Categories
Uncategorized

Seattle’s Food Action Plan

Seattle just released its Food Action Plan, a blueprint to improve the city’s food system. Many of the recommendations in the plan will be familiar to those of us who work on urban food policymaking. These include: expanding SNAP enrollment; creating a “Fresh Bucks” program to help SNAP recipients shop at farmers markets; expanding the city’s P-Patch community gardening program and facilitating rooftop agriculture; investigating the viability of food hubs; helping corner stores sell healthy food; and promoting backyard composting.
The process for arriving at these recommendations follows what planners describe as a “rational” planning model: (1) Public participation to establish broad priorities; (2) Translation of these priorities into four goals; (3) Establishment of criteria (feasibility, potential reach, inclusivity, community health impacts) to evaluate different recommended actions; and (4) Evaluation of existing food-related activities and new policy ideas based on these criteria to arrive at final strategies, recommendations, and specific actions.
Two aspects of the plan – and Seattle’s efforts over the last several years in the area of food planning and policymaking — distinguish it from many similar efforts around the country.  The difference is an emphasis on integration across agencies and integration of food into existing planning processes.
The city has a Food Interdepartmental Team (IDT), a working group of senior staff members from different agencies who collaborate on various food policy issues, and this team has been involved in the development of the Food Action Plan. The IDT has been successful at overcoming administrative silos and coordinating food policy work across different agencies, in part because they consist of energetic and dedicated individuals and in large measure because the current Mayor has given them direction to do so.
Second, Seattle has focused on integrating policies into existing planning processes so that officials consider the needs of the food system as different types of infrastructure are developed, new land uses are planned, and projects are designed. This integrated planning approach is reflected in several strategies.
For example, the Food Action Plan recommends integrating “food access policies into the Comprehensive Plan, the Transportation Strategic Plan, Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plans, the neighborhood planning process, and other relevant plans so that planning processes include consideration of the availability of healthy food” (emphasis added). In particular, the plan calls for new criteria that would be applied during the transportation planning process to ensure that food access is included as transportation infrastructure is developed. That means building “pedestrian, bicycle, and transit connections between neighborhoods and community gardens, food banks, grocery stores and farmers markets” as a matter of course as transportation engineers consider physical infrastructure and route planning.
The Food Action Plan also calls for integrating urban agriculture into the city’s Comprehensive Plan, and recommends integrating supportive policies into additional plans and efforts, such as incentive programs to encourage green development.  One such program, the Green Factor, requires developers of new projects to increase the use of landscaping.  The Green Factor provides a bonus for incorporating productive (vegetated) landscapes into new development. A second program, Priority Green, allows expedited permitting for projects that meet Seattle’s sustainability goals, which includes the design of on-site food production into new projects. A third expands a program to require developers to purchase development rights from farmers in the region to meet the city’s incentive zoning requirement in the downtown area and hopefully stem farmland conversion.
As with all plans, the Food Action Plan will require various city agencies, the Mayor, and the City Council to take steps to implement its recommendations.  Seattle’s food governance network, including NGOs, community activists, academics, the business community, and policy entrepreneurs within city government will have to monitor its implementation and effectiveness.

Categories
Uncategorized

Food Metrics report for NYC

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

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

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

Categories
Uncategorized

Urban Food Policy is Under-Funded

Urban policymakers increasingly recognize that the way food is produced, procured, distributed, and discarded in and around our cities has a substantial effect on public health, the economy, regional land use, and the environment. Throughout the US and Canada, supportive city officials have created innovative food policies and programs to align the food system with municipal goals.  These efforts, often prompted by and in collaboration with advocacy organizations and community activists, entrepreneurs, teachers, gardeners, chefs and everyday foodies, range from healthy school lunch programs to funding for farmers markets and food hubs, to zoning changes that encourage rooftop farms. In 13 US and Canadian cities, food policy directors[*]guide these policy and program development efforts, often with input from food policy councils composed of various stakeholders. 
Directors are under-resourced
A new study, based on a survey of 13 cities that have food policy director positions, illustrates that urban food policy remains an under-funded, under-staffed effort fraught with political and administrative challenges – even in cities that are considered leaders in progressive food policymaking. For example:
  • 7 of the 13 food policy directors are doing the job solo, with no staff
  • 11 of the 13 food policy directors have no discretionary budget
  • Of the 11 of 13 surveyed cities that have food policy councils, 8 councils receive no city financial support.
Program-related work in cities (e.g., managing community gardens, running healthy corner store programs) is typically funded through and administered by line agencies, so resources are available.  Yet without budgets and some staff, directors have to rely on grant money (which is time consuming to obtain and manage), the willingness of different city agencies to provide staff support, and external help from NGOs and students. A comment in the report from the city of Portland that their sustainable food program “lives by the kindness of graduate students” indicates how precarious some of these under-staffed programs can be.
If cities are serious about moving food policy ahead they need to actually invest in policymaking infrastructure. That means providing food policy directors and coordinators with sufficient budgets to hire the staff to do the kinds of analysis necessary to understand how the food system fits together. While coordinators can draw on the expertise and resources of individual agencies they will always be in the position of begging for and borrowing those resources.
Location of Coordinator is Key
The report explains that where food policy programs are housed within the city bureaucracy, including proximity to elected officials, determines the direction or focus of the policymaking and the likelihood that initiatives will be implemented. Eight of the 13 directors surveyed were situated within sustainability-related departments or programs, with 3 of the 8 also connected to a planning department. However, sustainability departments typically engage in strategic planning but lack regulatory authority or control over line agencies. Food policy directors in these departments need to develop policymaking power by working closely with agencies that possess power through their control of land (e.g., parks, housing) or by virtue of their regulatory authority (e.g., health).
Connection to and support of elected officials provides power to get local legislation and programmatic initiatives adopted. However, political pet projects designed without the support of the implementing agencies risk being neglected or subverted by the bureaucracy.
Locating food policy initiatives within a particular department may provide the food policy director with authority to launch programs or advance regulations. Yet being inside a department that has a specific mandate can be limiting because it focuses the efforts on issues that that agency is required and able to address. If a food policy director is in the city’s health department, for example, it will be easier to implement policies addressing nutrition and diet-related diseases than transportation efficiency or the provenance of food purchased by the city.
Placing the food policy director position in a part of the city’s administration that provides access to top agency officials across the administration (like the Mayor’s Office), makes it easier for the director to link the efforts of disparate agencies. Creating an internal food advisory committee that consists of officials from those agencies is another strategy to get buy-in for policies across departmental silos.  Of course, unless the food policy director is perceived to have power (perhaps by virtue of being supported by the Mayor or a Council Member), senior officials from different departments may not attend and participate in a committee that is seen as merely advisory.
Measuring Impact
The report suggests that food policy coordinators identify metrics that are already being tracked by different agencies and to use those metrics to measure the impacts of programs and policies.  Yet, in some cases, easily tracked metrics may not measure the impacts one cares about. For example tracking the distance of households from full-service grocery stores using the linear distance from a centroid in a census tract tells us relatively little about actual food access, (i.e., how easy or difficult it is for residents to reach a retail shop selling healthy food) or the mental models that people use to make decisions about organizing their shopping experiences, including where to shop for different types of food and how to arrange chores so that food shopping is convenient.
The report stressed the importance of interdepartmental coordination, and one of the key tasks of food policy coordinators is to ensure that agency programs and policies are in sync and working towards the same citywide goals. But the challenge is that when city agencies do not see it as part of their mission to support sustainable food systems, any effort on the part of related agencies to contribute to the food system will be solely based on the interest and willingness of the agency head to do so.
Creating structural change so that agency heads see improving the food system as part of their mission, and one they will be evaluated on, is really key. One of the ways to do that is to ensure that existing systems for tracking agency performance, like citywide management reports, measure the extent to which an agency’s actions contributes to the food system’s sustainability. For example, the parks department might be required to track the conditions and productivity of the community gardens and farms under its purview, or the sanitation department might track the quantity of compost generated from organic waste that is returned to urban gardens and farms.
Staffing and Budgets of Food Policy Directors and Food Policy Councils
City
Title
Reports to
Year Staff Hired
FT Positions
Funding Source – Director
Funding Source – Staff
Discretionary Budget
Food Policy Council Budget (2011)
Food Policy Council Staff
Baltimore
Food Policy Director
Planning Department Director
2010
3
City
Grant
$0
$0
0
Boston
Director of Food Initiatives
Mayor
2010
1
City
City
$25,000
$50,000 (grant)
1
Los Angeles
Sr. Advisor on Food Policy/Special Projects in Water
Mayor
2011
1
City
NA (None)
$0
$500,000 (city,in-kind,foundations)
5.5
Louisville
Food Policy Coordinator & Brownfields Program Manager
Chief of Economic Growth and Innovation
2011
2
City
City/Grant
$0
$0
0
Minneapolis
Homegrown Minneapolis Coordinator (Contractor)
Sustainability Director
2008
1
Grant
None
$0
$0
0
NYC
Food Policy Coordinator
Deputy Mayor Health and Human Services
2007
2
City
Grant
$0
$0 (no FPC)
0 (no FPC)
Newark
Food Policy Director
Director of Economic and Housing Development
2012
1
City/Grant
None
$0
$0 (no FPC)
0 (no FPC)
Philadelphia
Food Policy Coordinator
Director of Policy and Planning
2010
1.25
City
None
$0
$0
0
Portland
Food Policy and Program Manager
Senior Sustainability Manager
2005
1
City
None
$0
$0
0
San Francisco
Food System Director
Director of Environmental Health
2002
1
City
None
$0
$0
0
Seattle
Food Policy Advisor
Director of Office of Sustainability and Environment
2012
0.8
City
None
$0
$0
0
Toronto
Manager, Food Strategy
Director of Healthy Living, Toronto Public Health
1990
51 (Includes Health Department staff)
City and Province
City and Province
$30,500
$15,500 (City and Province funded)
1.5
Vancouver
Social Planner
Director of Social Policy
2004
1.5
City
City
$0
$15,000 (none in 2012)
0
Source: Hatfield, Molly M. 2012. City Food Policy and Programs: Lessons Harvested from an Emerging Field. City of Portland, Oregon Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/416396


[*]The titles of the positions vary, but I use the term “director” to describe them all.

Categories
Uncategorized

SF Urban Agriculture Ordinance — NYC should follow suit

On July 17, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a local ordinance to establish a formal urban agriculture program for the city that would coordinate the work of a wide range of agencies to “generally enhance and increase urban agriculture in San Francisco” (San Francisco Administrative Code Chapter 53). This is a big step forward for a city that has had a long tradition of supporting urban food production, including recent zoning changes to legalize gardens and farms throughout the city.
 The new ordinance requires city agencies to advocate for state and federal funding, collect data related to urban agriculture, support gleaning programs, identify opportunities to use urban agriculture for job training and employment, and ensure that existing farm and garden spaces are used fully. It establishes an urban agriculture coordinator for fiscal year 2012-13.
 The local law also requires a strategic plan for urban agriculture that includes target dates to achieve specific urban agriculture goals, an “assessment of resident, organization, and business needs,” a projected budget, and potential funding sources.  The plan must be completed by December 31, 2012, with an annual progress report by January 1, 2014. The goals established by the ordinance include:


·      
An audit of potential city rooftops suitable for agriculture;
·      Incentives for temporary agriculture projects on vacant land and stalled development sites;
·      Streamlining of urban agriculture procedures;
·      At least 10 new urban farms/gardens by July 1, 2014;
·      The creation of garden resource locations across the city to provide compost, seeds, and tools;
·      And a strategy to reduce the wait list for community garden plots to one year.

The San Francisco ordinance contains policies similar to those recommended for New York City by the Design Trust for Public Space.  In its report (“Five Borough Farm“) released on July 24, (which I co-authored) the Design Trust urged New York City to adopt an urban agriculture policy and plan that establishes goals, objectives, a citywide land use scheme for garden and farm development, and adequate agency budgets to support existing and future urban agriculture activity.

Recognizing (as San Francisco did in its ordinance) that many agencies already support or affect urban agriculture, yet there is little to no coordination among city agencies to ensure that services are provided efficiently and effectively, the report also calls for better integration of urban agriculture into existing plans, programs, and policy-making processes in city government. (Two examples of how an agency can support agriculture while also fulfilling its core mission is the use of the NYC Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Infrastructure Program to support farm creation, or the Department of Sanitation’s compost production program to supply gardens and farms with soil amendments.)
 One need not addressed by the San Francisco ordinance that was highlighted by the Five Borough Farm report is the importance of reducing disparities in access to funding, information, and other resources by creating more transparent and participatory processes—such as a citywide Urban Agriculture Task Force—to enable gardeners and farmers to influence policy and decision-making. In particular, our research in New York City revealed race- and class-based inequities within the urban agriculture system that could be addressed through capacity building among underserved groups and action to address structural racism within the urban agriculture system.
         

Categories
Uncategorized

Toward a More Nuanced Understanding of Food Access

Much of the peer-reviewed literature on food retail access shows that major disparities in the availability of healthy food are based on race and income. The studies generally find that in low-income communities of color, compared to higher wealth or racially mixed neighborhoods, large grocers or supermarkets are sparse or non-existent, the distance to supermarkets is greater, and fresh produce is less available and of lower quality. For a clear and accessible introduction to the issue and a review of the literature, see:



Unfortunately, much of the food access research is limited by being supermarket-centric, ignoring many other types of food retail options, from farmers markets to family-owned green grocers.  Studies have focused on access to large supermarkets for various reasons, often pragmatic: databases of supermarket addresses are more easily accessible compared to information on small produce markets and other food retailers; supermarkets often have a reasonably good assortment of food, enabling researchers to assume that the presence of a supermarket means access to healthy food, avoiding the need to measure food quality directly; and because USDA defines food deserts as places bereft of food retailers that gross more than $2 million in revenue per year, studying supermarket access is more directly relevant to US food access policy.

Apart from the limitations of focusing on supermarkets, studies often use simplified indicators of access that make large-scale studies possible, but fail to reflect how people actually shop. Some measure the distance between the centroid of a geographic area (like a ZIP code, census tract or block) and the nearest supermarket. Many use as-the-crow-flies distances, although others estimate distances based on pathways along streets. Still other studies measure the concentration of food retail outlets within geographic areas.

A subset of food access studies address the dimension of food quality, attempting to measure the type, quantity, variety, and freshness of the food available in grocery stores that are close to particular communities. Inconsistencies in what is counted as a grocery establishment (a chain supermarket or an independent grocer), and the use of consumer evaluations of quality in some studies, make it difficult to compare results and raise questions of reliability.

The relationship between supermarket access to fresh produce and fruit and vegetable consumption is more difficult to measure, given the large number of variables that affect shopping behavior, food purchases, and dietary preferences. Correlating supermarket access and obesity (and diet-related disease) is even more complex, given the large number of variables that contribute to weight gain. Some research shows statistically significant relationships between greater access to healthy foods in close proximity to their home and the consumption of more fresh produce and other healthy food items, though other studies show that the presence of supermarkets does not necessarily make a difference in terms of purchases or consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, body mass indices, or diet-related disease. Because many studies are based on a snapshot in time, it is difficult to determine the extent to which people with healthier eating habits self-select for neighborhoods with more food availability.

Three recently published studies illustrate the direction we need to move in to develop a more nuanced and policy-relevant understanding of food access. One explores the relationship between the perceived quality of food retail establishments and purchasing decisions, another shows the varied trips that involve food purchases, suggesting that focusing on distance from home to market misses a good percentage of actual shopping activity. The third identifies significant differences between people’s perceived and physical distance to food retailers, illustrating that understanding the dimensions of the food environment that affect our mental models of access may be as or more important in driving shopping and purchasing behavior as physical proximity. All three make the case for incorporating environmental psychology, urban and architectural design, and marketing into the food access debate.

Blitstein, J. L., Snider, J., & Evans, W. D. (2012). Perceptions of the food shopping environment are associated with greater consumption of fruits and vegetables. Public Health Nutrition, 15(06), 1124–1129.

This study confirms that the quality of the shopping environment affects decisions about consuming healthy food. Researchers surveyed a sample of parents of 3-7 year old children in low-income, minority neighborhoods of Chicago, asking them to report their perceptions of their shopping environments, perceived costs of fruits and vegetables, and their food shopping decisions. Those who rated their food shopping environments more positively (based on food quality, selection and convenience) reported consuming fruits and vegetables at a significantly higher rate per day, independent of perceived cost, store type, and the respondent’s social and demographic characteristics. While not entirely unexpected, this research suggests that simply increasing food retail availability without addressing the shopping environment itself, may not improve diets.

Kerr, J., Frank, L., Sallis, J. F., Saelens, B., Glanz, K., & Chapman, J. (2012). Predictors of trips to food desintations. The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 9(1), 58.

Researchers examined the distances that residents of Atlanta travel to different types of food locations. Not surprisingly for this sprawling city, people travel many miles to visit coffee shops and superstores like Costco, and buy food on the way home from work, on the way to other destinations, as well as during trips that originate from home. Those starting a trip in a neighborhood with few food destinations were less likely to travel to a large grocery store to get food, but those traveling to a “medium accessible” environment (with supermarkets) were more likely to visit a grocery store to purchase food. Because people have such geographically varied patterns for buying food (particularly low-income individuals who spend a significant amount of time away from home for work and other responsibilities), studies focusing on the distance from home to market as a measure of food access miss a large portion of food purchasing activity, and therefore fail to understand where, when, and why people make both healthy and unhealthy food choices. This study indicates the need for research on the availability of food outside of the residential environment, particularly along the “activity spaces” – or travel routes — of individuals.

Caspi, C. E., Kawachi, I., Subramanian, S. V., Adamkiewicz, G., & Sorensen, G. (2012). The relationship between diet and perceived and objective access to supermarkets among low-income housing residents. Social science & medicine (1982), 75, 1254-1262.

The third study surveyed low-income residents of housing projects in Boston to determine their perception of whether they had a supermarket within walking distance of their homes.  The researchers found that perceived access to a supermarket was significantly related to fruit and vegetable consumption, but that there was a significant difference between perceptions of a supermarket’s proximity and actual distance. One implication of the study is that understanding peoples’ perceptions of distance – which may be related to the quality (aesthetics, safety, familiarity) of the routes to these venues – is as important as the physical distance.
Categories
Uncategorized

Growing Rooftop Farming in NYC

New York is leader in rooftop agriculture, with several innovative farms: the nearly one-acre Brooklyn Grange, Eagle Street RooftopFarm, Gotham Greens, and the aeroponic growing system atop Bell, Book, andCandle restaurant. An affordable rental building in the Bronx will open with a new rooftop commercial greenhouse, and the Brooklyn Grange plans to launch a new farm on the Brooklyn waterfront to serve the dual purposes of growing food and capturing stormwater, thanks to a grant from the NYC Department of Environmental Protection.
To make even more rooftops available for food production the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) released a proposed zoning text amendment on, on December 12, 2011 that would exclude rooftop greenhouses atop commercial buildings from the lot’s floor area ratio (FAR) and height limits. According to a recent study by the Urban Design Lab, there are approximately 1,200 acres of flat rooftops on private commercial or industrial buildings in New York City that are at or over the maximum FAR. The new zoning would make this potential growing space available.
To qualify for the exemption from FAR and height limits, greenhouses must:
·      not be on buildings that contain residences or other uses with sleeping accommodations.  DCP believes that residential building owners will turn rooftop greenhouses into additional living space instead of growing space.
·      onlybe used to grow plants (or if they are accessory to a community facility, are used primarily for plant cultivation.)
·      notexceed the building height limits by more than 25 feet.
·      have roofs and walls that have at least 70% transparent material (not counting for accessory office or storage space, which may take up no more than 20% of the floor space and have solid walls and roofs).
·      be set back from the perimeter wall by at least 6 feet all around if the greenhouse exceeds height limits.
·      incorporate a rainwater collection and reuse system to reduce the demand on the potable water supply and to minimize stormwater.
The proposed text amendment was referred out on December 12, 2011 and will go through a public review process, including referral for 60 days to all community boards, borough boards and borough presidents for review and comment, followed by review by the City Planning Commission and City Council.
For more information, or to download a copy of the text amendment, go to http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/greenbuildings/index.shtml
Categories
Uncategorized

What New York Should do About Green Infrastructure – NYTimes.com

What New York Should do About Green Infrastructure – NYTimes.com