The New York City Council has already dedicated $2 million to converting an abandoned warehouse in East Harlem into rental commercial kitchens. Talk about helping small business, someone who has a recipe they think they can sell will have a start up just for the rental fee, politicians helping people and Speaker Quinn expects that it will grow by 15 to 20 small businesses and 100 jobs per year.
But the plans for the future were even more impressive. Both Christine Quinn and Dan Barber discussing changes in the distribution chain to get away from a food economy built when gasoline was twenty-four cents a gallon, an extremely wasteful system that had become a disaster to the world’s environment. Government representative and food activist together, discussing making the shorter more sensible and far less fossil fuel burning trip from farm to table, making it cheaper than the present day big business models. Since local food is more expensive because of distribution problems the city is now working to transform from local farmers growing, then driving individually to farmers market to an efficient delivery system that creates local jobs for New York City residents. They want to change the Hunts Point Market in the Bronx so that local food becomes a $3 billion dollar industry in New York City for sustainable local regional agriculture.
Much of what was discussed was about economic development and sounded like government learning from people. Christine Quinn said "it’s about using food to put New Yorkers to work, and finding ways to make food work for us." There are now twenty real official USDA farms in New York City with the City Council speaker stumping for World War II style victory gardens and using more roofs in the city to create small commercial farms.
Much was about urban obesity, aggressive new zoning to bring more supermarkets to neighborhoods that have become urban food deserts are already in place. Bloomberg’s salad bars in public schools has already gotten a lot of press in the campaign against obesity here but the city council has also purchased the food stamp scanners for farmer’s markets and seen an enormous growth in healthy food being sold to poor New Yorkers. Last year there was over a quarter million dollars in food stamp sales at farmer's markets, government working to give people the choice and the option. Working toward a local ecology awareness to make New Yorkers familiar with what they are missing and instead of finger waving at obesity, city dwellers learning to find fast food repulsive through consuming delicious local food.
There was much more said, going into composting so it is about not just farm to table but beyond. I suggest you listen to the entire interview for a progressive pick me up or check all of the information available at THE COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK that includes ninety pages of progress.
Here are the five points presented by the council.
1. Improve the city’s food infrastructure. Too much of New York City’s food infrastructure is outdated and inefficient, which costs us jobs and damages our environment. We need to begin making key, targeted investments – creating better links between the city and upstate producers, and supporting a smart redevelopment of Hunts Point.
2. Create new and better jobs in the food industry. There are currently over 19,000 New Yorkers employed in the food industry, but the potential exists for many more. The Council is going to develop creative ways to expand local food manufacturing, and attract more food industry companies to the city.
3. Keep more local food dollars in the local economy. Food sales and services in the five boroughs constitute a $30 billion market, but only 2% of the fruits and vegetables coming through the Hunts Point produce market are grown in New York State. The Council will pursue State legislation allowing the City to prioritize local producers; look to expand farmers markets and CSAs; and encourage more wholesalers, retailers, and restaurants to use regional products.
4. Reduce diet related diseases like obesity, heart disease and diabetes. 58 percent of all adults in New York City are overweight or obese, and more than half a million New Yorkers have been diagnosed with diabetes. We can fight this epidemic by bringing more healthy foods into low income neighborhoods, enroll more New Yorkers in Food Stamps and WIC, and getting more children taking advantage of free meals.
5. Reduce environmental damage from the production, transport, and consumption of food. Food in the US travels an average of 1,500 miles before consumption, dramatically increasing both greenhouse gasses produced and energy consumed. We can get more food transported into the city by rail instead of by truck, expand urban agriculture, and create programs allowing restaurants and homeowners to more easily compost their food scraps.
It seems so hard to find a good government story lately but this local story is a winner. It’s not just New York, this has become one the most exciting and popular social movements in the nation. From the growth in farmer’s markets to some more depressed cities rezoning areas back to farmland tax structures. I understand that some cities are already way ahead of New York. This has become a growing good news for grass roots story. And Christine Quinn even called for grassroots support to accomplish some of these goals.
Just a short time ago this sounded like some fantasy fiction from some "crazy locavores." I remember the first time I heard Dan Barber speak. I went with Jill Richardson to Slow Food Nation in 2008. I was very impressed but it didn't sound like his message was ready for prime time. I wrote about the second time I saw him, he gave an incredible speech about the advantages of local food as an introduction to Martha Steward in the New York Botanical Garden and it was well received by an audience waiting for a cooking demonstration. Now Dan Barber sits next the the second most powerful person in New York City government and they agree about almost everything.
If you are one of those "crazy locavores" congratulations on a job well done and pat yourself on the back. If you are not than I hope you enjoyed a story of progress. It happens.
Cross-posted at La Vita Locavore.