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Only Local Lettuce for NYC Agencies, Please
Local tomatoes and beets too, while you’re at it.
In typical New York City fashion, Mayor Bloomberg has taken steps to support the trendiest topic of the day—local food. A slew of bills were passed yesterday that are sure to sustain the city’s rapidly growing urban food cluster.
The first piece of legislation requires the city to collect metrics on how food is produced, processed, distributed and consumed in the region. The next bill alters procurement practices in order for city agencies to purchase more of their food from local farms and processing facilities.
The rest of the legislation was geared towards supporting urban agriculture and rooftop farming. For example, rooftop greenhouses will no longer be counted towards a building’s height and floor area measurements.
The significance of this legislation should not go unnoticed.
As of 2008, New York City was ranked only 25th in local food and agriculture production. As Sharon McMillan wrote for us last week, distressed cities like Cleveland have more fully embraced the urban food cluster as a mechanism for revitalizing inner city economies. In Cleveland, there has been a 600% increase in the total number of farmers’ markets between 2006 and 2009 alone. Farmers’ markets enable farmers to keep 80 to 90 cents of each dollar spent by the consumer—money which tends to be reinvested locally.
The food cluster truly provides massive potential for job creation and local wealth. The cluster is comprised of 90% small businesses and 1.1 million workers. Local food production creates jobs in warehousing, distribution and other supply chain management. Restaurants, markets and urban farms provide jobs for local residents—jobs that often require modest formal education. In an era where our inner city residents are evermore in need of such jobs, the food cluster provides boundless opportunities.
UrbanPonics is just one of several start-up companies exploring the potential of the urban food cluster. This minority-owned nonprofit organization is striving to become the year-round go-to provider of agricultural products in urban locations, beginning in Chicago’s North Lawndale area. Why this area? Company founder, Bral Spight explains that the North Lawndale community has a readily available workforce; disadvantaged residents here often have limited access to other employment opportunities. Furthermore, the North Lawndale also has plenty of city- and privately-owned vacant or underutilized land that can be redeveloped for crop production. These are characteristics of many of our nation’s inner cities, again representing a source for expansion and growth.
Because this topic is so hot right now – and because we recognize the ability for the food cluster to promote urban economic growth – we are making “Food 2.0” one of the main topics at the upcoming Inner City Economic Summit being held in Chicago, October 3-4th.
Furthermore, all of the economic benefits of the urban food cluster we’ve discussed above don’t even begin to touch the benefits provided by increased access to local, healthy food—such as lower incidents of health-related diseases and decreased reliance on fuel (the average fresh food item on our dinner table travels 1,500 miles to get there!).
For all of these reasons, we commend Mayor Bloomberg for making the necessary moves in order to support his city’s growing urban food movement. In a city so densely compact and covered with pavement, it will be a refreshing change to see more living vegetation, especially when it produces our favorite greens, like lettuce and peppers.
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