Friday, March 13, 2009

Stimulus for Urban Food Systems

Congress appropriated $28 billion (3.5%) of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 for the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Of the USDA total, the Act provides $19.7 billion to increase the monthly amount of nutrition assistance to 31.8 million people through a 13.6% increase in the monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) - or food stamp - benefit for recipients, amounting to roughly $80 per family per month. The additional funds under the SNAP program will not only help individuals feed their families better, but will stimulate local economies. According to the USDA, for every five dollars spent through SNAP, $9.20 of local economic activity is generated.

The increased SNAP benefit will begin to be distributed on April 1, 2009. In addition, the recovery act provides about $300 million to help states administer SNAP, with the first $145 million released this month.

In an essay in City Limits magazine, I suggest that with the right local policies that enable SNAP recipients to spend their benefits on healthy, locally produced food, particularly fresh fruits and vegetables, these stimulus food dollars can be stretched further to enhance the resilience of the city’s food system.

School Food Recovery Act

On March 9, 2009, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) introduced H.R. 1403, the School Food Recovery Act, which requires schools participating in the school lunch program to donate any food not consumed to local food banks or charitable organizations. Wolf claims that despite the 1993 Good Samaritan Act, which protects donors who give to food banks in good faith from all liability, many school districts have been unwilling to donate excess food, primarily due to administrative resistance and a misperception that federal regulation doesn’t allow it. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor.

Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act of 2009

On March 5, 2009, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) introduced H.R. 1324, the "Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act of 2009." The bill would require the development of new science-based federal nutritional standards governing all foods and beverages sold outside of school meal programs but within the boundaries of school campuses. These standards would apply to foods sold at any time during the extended school day, including when activities are held that are primarily under the control of a school or a third party on behalf of a school. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Legalizing Beekeeping in NYC

City Council Member David Yassky has introduced legislation (Intro. No. 920) to legalize beekeeping in New York City. If adopted, New York City would join the cities of Atlanta, Chicago, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, Toronto, and Vancouver in allowing people to raise honeybees. The legislation is in the Council's Health Committee but a public hearing has not yet been scheduled. The non-profit Just Food is circulating a petition in favor of the legislation.

"Foodprint" Resolution

A group of grassroots organizations in New York City are developing a greenhouse gas "foodprint" resolution that they hope will be adopted by the City Council. The resolution calls for:
- conditions to enable residents and businesses to adopt low-carbon diets based on local, organic, plant-based foods;
- a foodshed analysis to determine where New York's food comes from, how it is transported to New York, and the extent to which the region's foodshed can serve the needs of local residents;
- an expansion of the venues for distributing and buying local and/or organic produce;
- increased support for community gardens and urban farming initiatives; and
- a goal of buying local and organic produce for 20% of the food served in city-run institutions within ten years.
The organizations involved in this effort include Just Food and the Sierra Club NYC Group.

NYS Legislature Advances Support for Farmer's Markets

In New York State, the Senate’s Agriculture Committee moved Senate Bill 1676 out of committee last month. The legislation helps to create year round farmer's markets in cities throughout New York by establishing a regionally based urban greenmarket facilities construction program and providing for planning grants, a revolving loan and a guarantee fund to support construction costs.