“New York state is home to over 36,000 farms and 7 million acres of farmland. We rank second in apple production—growing more than enough to meet our local demand. Yet we still import apples from Washington and apple juice from China,” says New York City councilwoman Christine C. Quinn.
That’s a startling statement to the faithful locavore. Quinn is calling for change to New York’s food system, and she’s starting with the Big Apple. On Nov. 22, 2010, she unveiled a long-term comprehensive plan called FoodWorks, which aims to transform the city’s food systems through programs that range from combating hunger and obesity to preserving regional farming and local-food manufacturing to decreasing waste and energy usage.
“It’s a real milestone that NYC’s City Council has developed such a comprehensive and visionary document that recognizes critical linkages between farm and city,” says Jill Isenbarger, executive director of Stone Barns Center, a farm and education center 30 miles north of New York City. “Having this conversation in such a prominent arena is a major first step.”
Part of what FoodWorks will do is guide the city in expanding urban and regional food production. The plan breaks down into many facets for educating New Yorkers about where their food comes from and making local foods accessible through expanding space for urban farms, supporting farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture, and encouraging green roofs and community gardens.
Isenbarger is excited about FoodWorks’ plan to make the connection between food and agriculture real for people.
“It’s a sneaky and effective way of carrying out nutrition education, focusing on the freshest possible, just-harvested food, simple recipes and great taste,” she says. “FoodWorks proposals to promote such programs will make an important difference in New Yorkers’ diets.”
However, food production is just the first step in FoodWorks’ comprehensive plan.
Once the food has been produced, Quinn says between 80 and 90 percent of all food in the U.S. goes through some form of processing. FoodWorks aims to achieve better regional processing by making more affordable manufacturing space available and by providing more technical assistance to food manufacturers.
Then, by diversifying and improving food transport, FoodWorks strives to improve food distribution and lessen carbon emissions.
“In order for food to get from the farm to your table, it has to move through a complex network of warehouses and markets, highways and train stations,” says Quinn. “During that time, a lot of our food has crisscrossed the country or circled around the globe.”
Specifically, FoodWorks proposes to redevelop the Hunts Point Produce Market, increase rail service through the Hunts Point Distribution Center—the world’s largest food distribution center—transform the distribution center into a hub for city-wide food system improvement, and pinpoint the city’s best food distribution routes.
These steps all come together to meet one of FoodWorks’ most critical goals: creating a healthier food environment.
“Right now, there are neighborhoods around the city with such little access to healthy food—they’re known as food deserts,” Quinn says. “Go to Jamaica, Queens, Central Brooklyn or the South Bronx. You’ll see bodegas and fast-food joints on every corner, but very few supermarkets or healthy restaurants.”
FoodWorks proposals include expanding food cooperatives, supporting food outlets with fresh and healthy foods, and discouraging fast-food consumption and unhealthy food consumption.
By providing the FoodWorks system blueprint, Isenbarger believes the city will be positively affected.
“As FoodWorks proposals become enacted, more and more city residents may develop a new understanding or deepen their awareness of our food system—and the incredible inter-relatedness of food and agriculture to other city concerns, such as jobs and health,” she says.