food production

New Yorkers are trying to have legislation passed that would help bring in a start to urban farming to New York City. Local Brooklyn resident Adam talks about the importance of food production change and how vertical farming would help the community as well as expand healthy food availability to the crowded city. Below is an excerpt on why New York needs this change and how it can benefit communities across the United States.

If a tree grows in Brooklyn, so too can a cherry or a cucumber. Now imagine a crop large enough to feed our entire city.

When New Yorkers go to their local grocer or supermarket, we often see produce imported from other states or countries. There is no reason why the majority of our natural food products cannot be grown and sold right here in the Big Apple. For an urban center as large as New York City, we must be prepared for the challenges of climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, a changing ecological system, and the need to supply healthy food to an ever-growing population.

At the same time, we face a crisis of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity of epidemic proportions. The growing urban agriculture movement around the world, estimated at between 15% and 20% of global agricultural output, has the substantial potential to revolutionize our city’s food system and turn a page on protecting our health and environment while bolstering the economy.

We have the ingenuity at hand to take advantage of the plentiful space in the five boroughs, to make this 21st century dream a reality. New York City has rehabilitated unused space before, most famously with the High Line. Our city has 14,000 acres of unused rooftop space, and there are more than 45,000 square feet of publicly owned land in East New York alone. With the use of smart, cutting-edge technology, we would be able to grow enough to feed as many as 20 million people in the metropolitan area.

As New Yorkers, we need to think boldly about the many benefits of expanding urban agriculture. Cities contribute to 70% of the world’s global greenhouse gases, and a City Hall analysis from last year found transportation accounts for nearly 30% of our own output.

Local food production means less trucking required to go in and out of our neighborhoods, reducing the amount of carbon emissions pumped into our city as well as relieving stress on our highways. Green roofs and gardens used to grow produce pump oxygen into the air and cool down our environment, while playing a major role in reducing the runoff and flooding that heavy downpours create. Our environmental future is at stake, and urban farming helps us grow a more sustainable and resilient city.

In Brooklyn, food insecurity and poverty are compounded to create an economic and health crisis. A 2016 report by FoodBankNYC showed Kings County has a food insecurity rate of 20 percent, the only borough with a rising trend since 2009. Lacking basic healthy food access contributes to high levels of preventable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. African-American and Latino communities across central and eastern Brooklyn are twice as likely to suffer from these debilitating and deadly diseases.

There’s even a condition known as Flatbush diabetes; that says it all.

Urban farming is the key to solving this problem, creating mixed-use neighborhoods where this kind of horticultural industry could thrive. The aquaponics market alone is expected to expand over the next five years at an annual rate of 14.3%, generating a value of more than $900 million by 2021. Thinking beyond the traditional expansive farms of America’s heartland, the technology exists to grow crops and careers on unused spaces in the heart of New York City.

Think of the broad potential. We can even establish high-yield farms on our many public housing developments, creating jobs in communities plagued with chronic unemployment, educating a new generation in healthy living, and providing access to fresh foods right at residents’ doorsteps.

The buds of this revolution are growing, but commercial and industrial scale urban farming is tangled in the weeds of bureaucratic uncertainty, making implementation that much more difficult. While scientists and agro-experts have done their jobs of innovating, government has not caught up.

Sophisticated vertical farming operations can be more efficient and profitable, but our zoning laws leave open many questions as to where these businesses can operate. For example, current regulations prohibit growing and selling produce on the same lot regardless of what the lot is zoned. In fact, the zoning text only mentions the word “agriculture” on a handful of its nearly 4,000 pages, thereby making this practice permissive but vague at best. This uncertainty stifles growth.

That is why we are proud to introduce City Council legislation that would rationalize this industry through the creation of a comprehensive urban agriculture plan in New York City. Our legislation would catalogue existing and potential growing spaces, classify and prioritize uses, identify potential land use policies that would favor expanding agricultural uses, as well as expand the availability of healthy food in low-income neighborhoods by integrating this practice across the city’s conservation and resiliency plans.

This plan is the seed to robust growth. Let’s cultivate a multi-million dollar industry here in New York City with a harvest of economic, environmental, and health benefits that we can all share.

Source: NY Daily News