Wednesday, July 27, 2011

FoodWorks Legislative Package Scheduled for Vote


On Thursday, July 28, 2011, the New York City Council is expected to enact a package of legislation (Int. Nos. 615-A, 452-A, 248-A, and 338-A) that will advance significant parts of the Council’s groundbreaking Foodworks policy plan and thus move us closer to attaining a sustainable, fair, and healthy food system in New York City. 

Food System Metrics Bill (Int. No. 615-A)

The recently released update to PlaNYC acknowledged that “healthy, sustainable food systems are critical to the well-being of our communities and central to our ability to accommodate a growing population.” Yet administrative agencies have never systematically examined the food system, leaving large gaps in our understanding of where our food comes from and how it moves through the city to our tables and into the waste stream.  Int. No. 615-A begins to close that information gap by requiring the city to develop baseline information about our food system so that we can make intelligent, coordinated planning and policy decisions. And by making core information about our food system available publicly, ordinary citizens, business people, urban farmers, and advocates will be better able to participate in decision-making about food policy.

Specifically, the bill provides the following information:

  • Data on farms participating in the watershed agricultural program, enabling us to understand the kinds of agricultural activity underway in the Catskills, the extent to which NYC funds are being deployed to help farms in our watershed reduce their environmental impacts, the kind of food produced on those farms, and ultimately, whether and to what extent NYC should change or expand its watershed agricultural programs.
  • Information on the provenance of milk and other food products purchased by the city, improving our understanding of the food miles of city-purchased food and opportunities to re-localize food purchases, and therefore support regional farmers and distributors.
  • Information on community gardens that would enable the city council and the public to identify community boards that are underserved, and help to better deploy resources to assist gardeners with production tools and materials, technical assistance, and retail channels for produce, like farmstands and CSA distribution systems.
  • Data on food manufacturers receiving economic development assistance will show the extent to which our EDC and IDA are supporting food manufacturing in NYC and identify opportunities to enhance city support for food manufacturers.
  • The number of truck and rail trips to or through Hunts Point Market will enable the city to improve transportation options in a neighborhood overwhelmed by diesel exhaust.
  • Information on grocery store space per capita will enable city officials, the public, and food access advocates to have a clearer sense of which neighborhoods lack adequate food retail and how food retail access has changed year to year by neighborhood.
  • Data on the FRESH initiative will illustrate progress of the initiative to incentivize grocery store development and to support jobs in the food retail industry, and identify gaps in food access that remain. 
  • Information on the establishments participating in the healthy bodega initiative will illustrate the extent to which that program has been successful in meeting the healthy food access needs of neighborhoods under-served by full-service supermarkets.
  • Data on job training programs to help individuals seeking work in the food industry will help make these training programs more effective.
  • Tracking the total number of meals served by city agencies will illustrate the extent to which city-provided meals are meeting the nutritional needs of residents in different communities.
  • Data on the nutritional quality of city-provided meals will document the extent to which we are meeting the goal of having 100% of our meals meet basic nutrition standards.
  • Information on revenue earned from school vending machines will help school food advocates track the extent to which foods from vending machines compete with school meals, and show the extent to which schools are dependent on vending machine revenue.
  • Data on SNAP recipients will enable the Council and city agencies to determine whether current outreach efforts are adequate.
  • Information on nutrition education programs will help identify the most innovative, successful models of nutrition education, enabling agency officials to improve their educational outreach and, ultimately, improve the nutritional status of agency clients.
  • Tracking the number of salad bars in public schools and hospitals will enable the Council and advocates to track the city’s progress in providing adequate access to fresh fruits and vegetables in these institutions.
  • Quantifying the amount spent to purchase water other than tap water will point out waste and help agencies to figure out how to eliminate bottled water purchases.
  • Information about the green cart initiative will help in evaluating whether the green cart program is meeting the food access needs of the communities in which they are located, how to improve the program, and to what extent cart operators are accepting EBT payments.
  • Tracking the number of vendors at greenmarkets will enable the city to determine whether it is doing a sufficient job providing space for the direct marketing of fresh fruits and vegetables through the Greenmarket program, and whether the number of farmers selling at greenmarkets is increasing or decreasing.

There are gaps in some of the required data (e.g., the farmers market data only includes Greenmarkets, not independent farmers markets), and the legislation imposes few obligations on the part of the city to gather new data (e.g., on the geographic source of food) that does not already exist or that vendors do not currently provide.  In the coming years, the Council will need to ensure that the reporting agencies follow the spirit of this new law and make good faith efforts to obtain and provide this valuable information.

Local Food Procurement Bill (Int. No. 452-A)

This legislation is an important step towards using the city’s purchasing power to support regional farmers, processors, distributors and producers, including businesses located in New York City.  The bill requires the chief procurement officer to develop local food procurement guidelines for agencies, monitor agency implementation of the guidelines, and prepare an annual report for the Council on each agency’s efforts to buy New York (State and City) food.

An important feature of the legislation is a requirement that the city include in each solicitation for food purchases and food-related service contracts a request (unfortunately not a mandate) that each vendor supplying food do the following:
  • Review a list of New York State food products to determine if any are provided under the contract;
  • Report all the food procured under the contract by type with the dollar value of each type; and
  • Report
    • any New York State food procured under the contract, with the dollar value of each type procured,
    • any food from outside of New York State procured when it is also available in New York, together with the value of such purchases, and
    • any other out-of-state food purchases.

The obligations on the procuring agencies are minimal, since they are not authorized to pay a premium for local food and are only obligated to ask their vendors for information about provenance.  Nevertheless, having an annual report will provide information for the first time on whether and to what extent the city is able to encourage the purchase of local food. If the procurement guidelines do not, in fact, result in more local purchases, the Council and advocates will be armed with data to support changing the requirements. 

Database of Potential Urban Agriculture Sites (Int. No. 248-A)

Space is one of the biggest obstacles to the expansion of urban agriculture, especially in dense, economically vibrant cities like New York. Int. No. 248-A would create a powerful new tool for community groups and individuals to identify potential sites for new gardens and farms.  The legislation would require the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) to keep and maintain a free, publicly accessible, searchable database of all city-owned and leased real property, including information regarding the location and current use of such property. This information is currently available in several databases, but not in one place, not online, and not for free.

It will cover the approximately 18,500 parcels that are owned or leased by the city, including schools, police stations, libraries, warehouses, highway maintenance yards, parking lots, piers, and vacant land. Users will be able to find out the location and dimensions of each site, along with many other details. DCAS also would have to indicate whether a particular property is suitable for urban agriculture, presumably requiring the agency to assess site conditions like access to sunlight, and helping to fulfill a commitment in PlaNYC to search for new sites for food production.

Unfortunately, a loophole in the bill specifies that data must be provided to “the extent such information is available” to DCAS, which removes any affirmative obligation on the part of DCAS to collect new information.   It will be up to the Council and advocates to ensure that the spirit of the law is followed, and if not, to tighten the requirements in the coming years.

Rooftop Greenhouse Bill (Int. No. 338)

New York is a leader in rooftop agriculture with commercial rooftop farms (e.g., Brooklyn Grange), greenhouses supplying retail food establishments (e.g., Eli Zabars) and restaurants growing food on their rooftop (e.g., Bell, Book and Candle).  This legislation 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 a roof’s area qualify for this exemption, however, so larger structures may still bump up against size limits.


Conclusion

In conclusion, it is clear that Int. Nos. 615-A, 452-A, 248-A will go a long way towards making food systems planning standard operating procedure in New York City.  Doing so will improve program effectiveness, fulfill several goals of PlaNYC, and provide a new level of transparency that will enable the Council to oversee agency performance and allow the public to participate in the development of food policy. 

PlaNYC noted that the “complicated and inter-related subsystems [that make up the food system] aren’t easily understood or influenced….” In part, this is because agencies have never before been required to aggregate, organize, and analyze data about the food system.  Enacting these three bills will change that, ensuring that agencies begin to gather information – and therefore play a role in influencing – New York City’s food system.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

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.

NYC Legislation Requires Public Database of Potential Urban Agriculture Sites



Space is one of the biggest obstacles to the expansion of urban agriculture, especially in dense, economically vibrant cities like NY. A new bill in the New York City Council, Int. No. 248-A, expected to pass the full Council on Thursday, July 28, 2011, would create a powerful new tool for community groups and individuals to identify potential sites for new gardens and farms. 

The new legislation would require the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) to keep and maintain a free, publicly accessible, searchable database of all city-owned and leased real property, including information regarding the location and current use of such property. It will cover the approximately 18,500 parcels that are owned or leased by the city, including schools, police stations, libraries, warehouses, highway maintenance yards, parking lots, piers, Housing Authority buildings, and vacant land. Users will be able to find out the location and dimensions of each site, along with many other details.

This information is currently available in several databases, but not in one place, online, and not for free. For example, the city’s “Gazetteer,” which lists city-owned and leased properties, does not include the characteristics of the properties to determine whether any particular parcel is suitable for other uses. The Department of City Planning maintains a proprietary database that describes all properties in the five boroughs, but it is only available for purchase.

The new online database would enable ordinary citizens to access the detailed property information that is currently collected by the city, making grassroots urban agriculture planning possible. DCAS also would have to indicate whether a particular property is suitable for urban agriculture, requiring the agency to assess site conditions like access to sunlight, and helping to fulfill a commitment in PlaNYC to find new sites for food production.

Local Food Procurement Bill Moves Through NYC Council

Today, the NYC Council Committee on Contracts is expected to vote out of committee a bill (called Int. No. 452-A) that would encourage city agencies to buy New York State food, defined as food grown, produced, harvested, or processed in New York.  The legislation requires the chief procurement officer to develop local food procurement guidelines for agencies, monitor agency implementation of the guidelines, and prepare an annual report for the Council on each agency’s efforts to buy NYS food.

Agencies are not obligated to spend more on New York food, and in response to complaints from the Bloomberg administration that the original reporting requirements were onerous, the latest version of the bill merely requires agencies to request provenance data from vendors and to report that information if provided.  The onus to gather and report the location of food bought by the city was removed from the agencies themselves.

The legislation seems like a good first step, though the obligations on the procuring agencies are minimal, since they are not authorized to pay a premium for local food and are only obligated to ask their vendors for information about provenance.  But having an annual report will provide data for the first time on whether and to what extent the city is able to purchase local food, enabling the Council and advocates to ratchet up the requirements if the law isn’t working. 

An accompanying resolution (Res. No. 627) calls for the New York State Legislature to amend the state’s General Municipal Law to enable city’s like New York to preferentially procure food from the wider foodshed, including from nearby states of New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire.

If voted out of committee today, the full Council is expected to approve the measures on Thursday, July 28, 2011.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Region that Food Saved

Hardwick, VT has a closely interlinked network of food producers, processors and retailers that form as close to a model sustainable local food system as it gets. Read Ben Hewitt's profile of Hardwick, The Town That Food Saved, for details, or watch a nice profile by Dan Rather here.

The Center for an Agricultural Economy, the non-profit that helped coordinate the cluster of businesses that are at the heart of Hardwick's emerging alternative food economy just released a comprhensive plan for the entire Northeast Kingdom.  Following a mapping of the region's agrifood assets, the plan outlines steps to nurture the mix of farmers and related businesses that will help to grow the economy sustainably. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Menu of Food Initiatives in PlaNYC


New York City's PlaNYC 2030, released in 2007, was roundly criticized by advocates of sustainable food systems because it was silent on food production, processing, distribution, or disposal.  On April 21, 2011, Mayor Bloomberg released updated PlaNYC, which introduces the topic of food as a cross-cutting issue.  There are references to food throughout the document, particularly in discussions of what constitutes sustainable neighborhoods and in reference to specific initiatives like community- and school gardens and composting programs. 

For a complex issue like food, it is a bit surprising that only two of the plan's 198 pages are actually devoted to food. By comparison, Minneapolis just completed a major urban agriculture plan that augments its comprehensive plan, and Chicago's regional plan has an entire chapter devoted to food systems. The City Council's own FoodWorks is a comprehensive 90-page policy plan.   

To those of us engaged in food policy, most of the initiatives in PlaNYC will sound familiar. And, unlike a proper food system plan, PlaNYC does not articulate a comprehensive vision of a sustainable food system. It does not explain how the discrete pieces fit together and how food relates to other agency plans, like the City's Solid Waste Management Plan or DEP's recently released Sustainable Stormwater Management Plan. And with the exception of the farms in our watershed, the food elements are entirely focused on the five boroughs, ignoring our role within the foodshed.

As a quick reference to the initiatives in PlaNYC that relate to the food system -- and a checklist to review the city's progress -- I've compiled the following chart.



Issue
Agency
Commitment
Page
Deadline
Planning

Launch an online platform, “Change By Us,” to “empower New Yorker to self-organize around issues that matter to them” including gardens.
27
none
Planning

We are working to better understand how we can improve the distribution of food into and around the city. As a first step, we will work with the City Council to analyze our foodshed and evaluate the environmental effects of our food systems.
165
none
Foodshed

We will continue to support economic activity—like sustainable agriculture with partners including the Watershed Agricultural Council—that can be undertaken in a way that protects the city’s watershed.
79
none
Foodshed

We will also continue our partnership with the Watershed Agricultural Council to promote sustainable farming techniques that limit the amount of fertilizer and other waste products that run into our reservoirs.
81
none
Foodshed
DEP
Work with the State to secure the prohibition of hydrofracking within the city’s watersheds.
188
2013
Urban Agriculture

We will target high-impact projects in the neighborhoods with the greatest open space needs. These projects will include community gardens and urban agriculture opportunities, which enrich many of the city’s neighborhoods least served by parks.
35
none
Urban Agriculture

We are committed to promoting community gardens and other forms of urban agriculture. We recognize the important role they serve in building communities, supporting local cultural heritage, and bringing individuals together around the vital issue of access to healthy food.
37
none
Urban Agriculture
NYCHA
NYCHA will also expand its urban agriculture program, creating at least one urban farm.
37
none
Urban Agriculture
NYC BCP
We will design protective measures such as liners for state-of-the-art community gardens on remediated brownfield properties. We will work with GreenThumb and the New York Restoration Project to pilot a community garden on a remediated brownfield site.
57
none
Urban Agriculture
DPR
study to id potential urban agriculture or community garden sites on city-owned properties unsuitable for other development
182
2013
Urban Agriculture
NYCHA
plant 129 new community gardens on NYCHA sites
182
2013
Urban Agriculture
DPR
increase number of community volunteers registered with GreenThumb by 25%
182
2013
Urban Agriculture
DPR
expand support for community gardens into new underserved neighborhoods
182
2013
Urban Agriculture
Mayor’s Fund/ DOE
register 25 new school gardens with Grow to Learn NYC per year, and retain 75% of registered school gardens year to year
182
2013
Urban Agriculture
DCP/ DOB/ DPR
reduce impediments to agriculture in relevant laws and regulations
183
2013
Food Processing

We will graduate 25 new businesses from [E-Space] and an additional 40 at La Marqueta, so that food entrepreneurs can bring healthy food and economic development to neighborhoods throughout the city.
29
none
Distribution

Before we can increase the efficiency of our food- related freight movement and reduce its impacts on congestion, and improve residents’ access to food, we need to better understand what New Yorkers eat, where it comes from, how it gets to the city, and where it ultimately gets delivered.
97
none
Distribution

We will … work to shift inbound freight from trucks to rail and increase rail capacity into the city. The Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market, located at the FDC, presents an opportunity to expand the use of freight trains to supplement trucks for incoming shipments. As part of a potential redesign currently under negotiation, we will work to maximize inbound rail market share.
97
none
Food Access

We will also ensure that our housing and neighborhoods become more sustainable. Sustainability means more energy-efficient buildings, walkability, the availability of transportation choices, employment opportunities, and access to retail, including healthy food.
23
none
Food Access

We have begun and will complete a study in East New York, Brooklyn, where, working in close cooperation with the Community Board and other local stakeholders, including the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, we will generate recommendations for land use and zoning changes, and assess other opportunities for making the neighborhood greener. The study will also incorporate efforts to pro- mote public health through improved access to fresh food by seeking to utilize the City’s FRESH (Food Retail Expansion to Support Health) pro- gram and build on the efforts of local groups such as East New York Farms.
27
none
Food Access

Opportunities exist to use existing food distribution infrastructure, like bodegas and food carts, and the City’s regulatory powers to increase access to healthy foods. In partnership with the City Council, we are developing and implementing programs to provide low-cost temporary solutions, while encouraging the development of more permanent markets.
28
none
Food Access

Through the Healthy Bodegas initiative, more than 1,000 bodegas have promoted the sale of fresh produce and low-fat dairy products, increasing sales of these products to local residents. The Green Carts program has issued almost 500 new permits to street vendors selling fresh fruit and vegetables in underserved neighborhoods, quickly and effectively expanding retail options. By augmenting the federal food stamp program (SNAP) with “Health Bucks,” we are providing SNAP recipients with $2 in coupons for every $5 in SNAP spent at farmers markets. More than 110,000 Health Bucks were distributed in 2009, generating an additional $220,000 in sales of fresh, locally grown fruit and vegetables.
28
none
Food Access
DCP
Identify additional amendments to zoning to facilitate grocery stores in communities with food access needs.
182
2013
Food Access
EDC
Facilitate 300 more food retail and production opportunities on City-owned spaces in underserved areas
182
2013
Food Access
DPR
Establish five additional farmers markets at community garden sites
182
2013
Residuals Management

We will launch the Greener, Greater Communities approach to help community- and neighborhood-based organizations develop and implement local initiatives. This includes projects to manage stormwater, improve energy efficiency, establish community composting resources, create new public space, and enhance the stewardship of parks.
27
none
Residuals Management

We will work with the city’s 24,000 restaurants and food-related businesses to identify and adopt practices that reduce waste.
138
none
Residuals Management

We will develop new recognition and award programs or build on existing models such as LEED and the Green Res- taurant Association to incentivize businesses and institutions to expand recycling and use recycled and recyclable materials.
139
none
Residuals Management

We will expand outreach and education efforts, benchmark and quantify current community- based composting efforts, and work with community and government partners to increase the number of available drop-off locations for food waste. In addition, we will launch a grant program for small-scale composting to encourage diversion of food waste.
140
none
Residuals Management

To capture the roughly 4% of residential waste made up of leaf and yard trimmings, we will rein- state leaf and yard waste collection for composting in the city. This will create a high-quality soil product for use by City agencies and non-profits in parks and natural resource programs.
140
none
Residuals Management

We will also expand composting of leaf and grass clippings generated by our City parks. Specifically, we will install one small-scale composting unit in each borough. We will also expand the use of mowing equipment that mulches leaves and other organic matter so that nutrients seep into the soil.
141
none
Residuals Management

The City piloted curbside collection for organics in the early 1990’s and found that while it did increase diversion rates in lower-density neighborhoods, it was not a cost-effective collection method. Since 20 years have passed, we will reexamine this issue and complete a new study to determine the feasibility of curbside organics recycling.
141
2012
Residuals Management

We will pursue the establishment of an on-site organics recovery facility at the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center.
141
none
Residuals Management

We will promote commercial organics recovery as part of our proposed business recognition and award program to encourage sustainable solid waste management practices.
142
none
Residuals Management

We will continue to evaluate pilots of new [dewatering] technologies and encourage businesses and institutions to adopt them as a means to increase diversion rates.
142
none
Residuals Management

We will pursue sustainable and economical opportunities to process and market sludge for beneficial reuse through pilot projects and partnerships with utilities and private investors
142
none
Residuals Management
DSNY/ OLTPS
Expand opportunities for communities to compost food waste
195
2013
Residuals Management
DSNY/ DPR
Expand leaf and yard waste composting
195
2013
Residuals Management
DCAS/ DEP
Encourage use of new technologies to increase recovery of commercial food waste
195
2013
Residuals Management
EDC/ DSNY/ OLTPS
Pursue on-site food recovery facility at the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center
195
2013
Residuals Management
DEP/ BIC/ DSNY
Encourage in-city opportunities to recover yellow grease and convert it to biofuel.
195
2013

Agency acronyms:
DEP: Department of Environmental Protection
NYCHA: NYC Housing Authority
NYC BCP: NYC Brownfield Cleanup Program
DPR: Department of Parks and Recreation
DOE: Department of Education
DCP: Department of City Planning
DOB: Department of Buildings
EDC: Economic Development Corporation
DSNY: Department of Sanitation NY
OLTPS: Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability
DCAS: Department of Citywide Administrative Services
BIC: Business Integrity Commission