Later today, a small group of New York City food advocates will gather to share ideas with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.  Tonight’s meet and greet comes on a wave of recent events, all involving city government, to engage local food and urban environment activists.  The Mayor’s office continues to hold public forums on PlaNYC, and last week, before an audience of the city’s most vocal change agents, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn presented FoodWorks, a series of proposals to improve the NYC food system, “from ground to garbage.”

In a phrase:  The cat is now out of the community garden.  There’s talk among those of us working on these issues about whether or not the city is serious in its call for change.  I certainly hope so and can’t help but wonder if officials are already past the point of no return.  As we move forward, I have two requests…yes, two for now.

1) Let’s not be a dysfunctional family.  Let’s work together.  The Mayor’s Office is in, Quinn is in — and based on the NYC Food and Climate Change Summit last year — Stringer is, too.  Yet whenever I hear proposals from a local gov camp, there’s little mention of proposals from colleagues across the street or across the river.  Yes, we are a city of geographical pride (Greenpoint, Brooklyn = Number One 4-EVA!), but we let’s not have our fiefdoms hinder the big solutions.

2) Let’s build on our resources already underway.  In Quinn’s talk, she saved her strongest language for Hunt’s Point, the city’s food distribution hub and the largest such center in the world.  In brief, it was already antiquated when it opened in 1967.  It connects to the city by a mess of highways, and diesel trucks idle around it all-day and night, contributing to ugly air in its South Bronx host neighborhood.  The area consistently registers an alarming rate of asthma sufferers.

City Council Speaker Quinn Addresses the Audience at Food & Finance High

“If we only get one thing in all of FoodWorks right, it has to be this [Hunt’s Point],” said Quinn.

I’m all for it.  But rather than get overwhelmed by designing the perfect solution for food in 2060 at Hunt’s Point, what if we were to begin now by strengthening a decentralized distribution system?   For example, shortly after Quinn’s talk, I got to have coffee with Robert LaValva, the local hero behind the New Amsterdam Market.  Here’s someone with deep skills and experience in creating systems — both as an architect and a market progenitor.  His market attracts thousands of people each week to the space in front of the former Fulton Fish Market buildings.  How can this area be a nexus for our city food system once again?  If the political will is there, as we are hearing, elements like these buildings should no longer be at the mercy of other pressures.

These are initial thoughts.  There’s much more to say on the topics mentioned here, so stayed tuned.  In the meantime, please find the full FoodWorks report here.  And with that, let’s pull up to the dinner table together tonight.

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I’m not usually one to swoon over local government, but the latest initiatives from the Offices of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer are awfully attractive.

In Honor of the Wintry Wind Gusts Today - Image by Crafternoon

This week Quinn introduced a program entitled, “FoodWorks New York.”  According to the press release, “Outside of the U.S. military, New York City is the largest institutional buyer of food in the country.  The Department of Education alone serves over 860,000 meals a day.”

It turns out that the Dept. of Ed. is setting up an increasing number of salad bars in the schools.  Great news — but all the romaine lettuce comes from Maryland and California.  They would buy the lettuce in New York state, however, there are no facilities for washing, cutting, and packing it in our region.  As a result, we’re carting this produce around the country before it gets to New York lunches.  The FoodWorks program aims to fix these broken links in the local supply chain.  In The Case of the Well-Traveled Romaine, the city has plenty of empty industrial space that could house the needed processing facility.

To learn more and read about the five goals of FoodWorks New York, please find the press release here.

The next object of my admiration is the The NYC Sustainable Food Charter created by the Office of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.  It has been enthusiastically circulated in preparation for the NYC Food and Climate Summit tomorrow.  It means a lot to me to live in a place that sets these priorities for its people.  I’m looking forward to the gathering of the NYC tribes at the Summit.  The Food Charter has set our agenda.