Thursday, February 13, 2014

New Report on NYC's "Public Plate"

A new report by the NYC Food Policy Center at Hunter College analyzes the processes by which NYC sources and serves the 260 million meals and snacks served annually in schools, jails, and various social service programs.  This “public plate” (c.f. Kevin Morgan) could provide better nutrition, help reduce food insecurity, create jobs, and support a more resilient and robust regional foodshed. Among the report’s policy recommendations are:

1. Strengthening the Office of the Food Policy Coordinator by providing more staff to monitor public food procurement and provision;
2. Updating food standards;
3. Improving data collection and reporting on the city’s compliance with existing nutrition standards and providing procurement information to better track how much is being spent to purchase food;
4. Expanding participation in federal child nutrition programs by using a federal option to provide school lunch free to all children in low-income neighborhoods, and by implementing breakfast in the classroom across the school system;
5. Advocating for improvements to and expansion of the Federal Child Nutrition programs scheduled for reauthorization in 2015;
6. Assessing the meals provided by various food vendors;
7. Scrutinizing the costs of prices obtained by contractors.
8. Involving those consumers of public food in menu planning and program delivery,;
9. Strengthening the capacity of foodservice workers;
10. Expanding procurement of local food by building menus around what is produced in the region rather than establishing menus and then searching for available local food;
11. Advancing food education;
12. Supporting mission-driven community based catering and food processing organizations; and
13. Identifying the need for new kitchen capacity to support an improved foodservice program.

Monday, September 9, 2013

FoodWorks Update

On September 4, the New York City Council Speaker (and Mayoral candidate) Christine Quinn released an update toFoodWorks, the Council’s food policy platform. The update reviews recent accomplishments and recommends new policies to improve the city's food system. Here are a handful of highlights, some related to City Council laws, some Council-funded projects run by non-profits, and others initiatives of the Bloomberg Administration:
  • Pursuant to Local Law 48 of 2011, which required the New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) to create an online, public database of vacant city-owned property that includes an assessment for urban agriculture, more than 100 properties have been identified as potentially suitable for food production.
  • Local Law 49 of 2011 and the City Planning Department’s 2012 "Zone Green" zoning
 text amendments waived floor area and height limits for certain rooftop greenhouses, making it easier for building owners to install rooftop farms.
  • The New York City Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) green infrastructure grant program has funded the construction of three green roof projects that include food production and education.
  • City funding has enabled the number of farmers markets to increase from 120 in 2010 to 136 today.
  • The number of Greenmarkets accepting electronic benefits transfer cards for SNAP recipients has increased from 6 in 2006 to 51 (of a total of 54) Greenmarkets and 11 Youth Markets. Greenmarkets now sell $800,000 worth of produce through the EBT program.
  • In 2012, the New York City Department of Education (DOE) bought
 an estimated $25 million worth of regional products, 14% of the City’s total food budget.
  • The Department of Education has nearly doubled the number of salad bars in schools, from 586 in 2010 to 1043 this past year.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Summary of London's Capital Growth urban ag project

Styles House allotment, on land owned by Transport for London above Southwark tube station.
(Source: The Telegraph,

A new report by the NGO Sustain (Growing Success: The Impact of Capital Growth on community food growing in London) describes the progress of Capital Growth, a partnership of London Food Link, the Mayor of London, and the Big Lottery’s Local Food Program to create 2,012 new community food growing spaces across London by the end of 2012. The project involved making new land available for gardening spaces, providing materials, technical assistance, and a support network for growers, and influencing policies to support the expansion of urban agriculture.

Among the accomplishments described in the report are:
  • The creation of 124 acres of new food growing spaces;
  • Establishing 20% of these urban agriculture sites on housing estates and 35% on school sites (with 700 schools growing food as part of the project); and
  • Ensuring that two-thirds of the gardens/farms were on land that was unused, derelict, or inaccessible.
New policies are often driven by projects that require legal, administrative or procedural changes. One of the accomplishments of the Capital Growth effort was the generation of policy changes to accommodate the expansion of urban agriculture in London.  Key new policies include:
  • Including the Capital Growth project in 
the London Plan, the city’s 20-year strategic framework, so that it encourages local planners to create and protect land for food production;
  • Getting the Greater London Authority to include food production in the city’s green infrastructure plan;
  • Getting local borough strategies to include food growing as an important land use;
  • Challenging perceived legal barriers to growing food; and
  • Working with Transport for London on ways to access transportation sites and developing a template lease agreement for these sites.

Monday, January 28, 2013

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.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

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: .