New York City local food advocates on Wednesday got a taste of how the city’s mayoral candidates think about food. In one-on-one interviews with blogger, author and New York University professor Marion Nestle, mayoral contenders addressed issues that ranged from hunger and school lunches to living wages for food workers, urban agriculture and the Hunts Point market.
The event drew some 1,000 food policy enthusiasts and mayoral candidates Sal Albanese, Bill De Blasio, John Catsimatidis, John Liu, Christine Quinn and Anthony Weiner. Bill Thompson was the only mayoral candidate who did not attend.
The fact that nearly all of the mayoral contenders participated was a coup for the city’s food policy thinkers and activists, Nestle remarked as the crowd awaited the arrival of Quinn and Liu. It’s the first real example of the political clout that food policy experts are beginning to gain, she said, after years struggling to correct flaws in the nation’s food system.
Each of the candidates answered three questions from a list of about 10 questions that Nestle had on hand. They also answered a question from the audience.
Here are snippets of some of the more interesting things the candidates said regarding their views on local food and urban agriculture.
Both Albanese and Liu said they would make information about vacant land more transparent. As Albanese put it, he would make sure the city’s 5,000 acres of empty land “is on the computer.” Even more important, he said he would not accept contributions from developers, saying that community gardens “add food, awesome quality of life and environmental soundness to neighborhoods.” He also said that that he would work to both grow and preserve gardens.
Bill De Blasio and John Catsimatidis both seemed to be on board with increasing the amount of local food available in New York City. Both want to bring in more local food through the Hunts Point market in the Bronx. “I want to reorient over time to more local produce from our broader tri-state area as part of our overall effort to wean us off the culture of produce from 3,000 miles away,” De Blasio said of his vision for Hunts Point. Catsimatidis also said that he wanted to expand and get better road access for the market.
Liu noted that he would “grow the food economy,” saying that he supports rooftop gardens, upstate farmers and the expansion of farmers markets.
Quinn, long a champion of local food and overall food policy issues, noted her work on a comprehensive report released in 2010 that analyzed the city’s food system from farm to table and beyond. During the forum, she emphasized the need to capitalize on the city’s purchasing power to reorient buying toward regional and local produce. It’s the second biggest institutional food purchaser, second only to the U.S. military, she said.
De Blasio had similar views with regard to the city’s purchasing clout. “I think we can focus our city power on the produce from our region and work with other cities to do the same,” he said.
Caption for photo above: Columbia University’s Marion Nestle (left) speaks with mayoral candidate John Liu.
Farm Table Opens amid Urban Farm Fields
Riverpark Restaurant, a tony new restaurant off the FDR Drive in Midtown Manhattan, added a new twist to urban farming when it unveiled a novel outdoor growing operation that surprised even the most jaded New Yorkers. Peppers, eggplants, tomatoes and a multitude of other crops grew in thousands of double-stacked milk crates, the urban equivalent of farm fields.
Now diners can enjoy those fields close up. Riverpark Restaurant set up an outdoor “Farm Table,” which customers can reserve for family-style lunch and dinner celebrations. The restaurant can host up to 12 people at the outdoor table. There’s a minimum charge of $1,800 for dinner events. For lunch, it’s $1,400. (more…)
Staten Island’s Snug Harbor Heritage Farm had planned it for years. Last month, it finally happened. A one-acre field was tilled and covered with winter rye, hairy vetch and field peas and oats, marking the farm’s first official planting.
It was probably the longest-planned — or rather longest-delayed — planting ever, but Gus Jones, the farm’s newly hired full-time farm manager, wasn’t at all surprised.
The land was last used for agriculture 50 years ago, when cows grazed there, Jones explained. The forest had to be cleared, trees chopped and tree stumps removed. And compost — 1,000 cubic yards of it — had to be brought in. (more…)
The urban agriculture movement in New York City has made enormous progress this year. New legislation favoring urban farming was introduced. New farms opened. There’s even a new farm school. It all happened within the last nine months, all of it summarized here. (more…)
CSA Stands Strong Post-Irene
Tropical Storm Irene has tested the will of even the sturdiest farmers. In an interview with NPR, Cheryl Rogowski, owner of W. Rogowski Farm in Orange County, N.Y., talks about the considerable storm damage to her 150-acre farm. She lost 80 to 90% of her crops with most of the farm underwater at the time of the interview.
Rogowski’s farm is one of 15 CSA farms supplying New York City that suffered severe damage, said Jacquie Berger, executive director of the advocacy nonprofit Just Food, in the interview.
Irene may have knocked out half the city’s CSA farms (31 farms run CSA programs in the city) for the season, but it did little to diminish support for the concept of CSA (community supported agriculture). The tropical storm put CSA to the ultimate test, as CSA customers — shareholders in farm harvests — bore crop losses along with their farmers. (more…)
The temporary one-acre urban farm that opened in April at the Battery is not so temporary anymore. It will shift to a new location in the park when a planned bike path comes through in 2012, said Warrie Price, founder of the Battery Conservancy, a non-profit dedicated to revitalizing the Battery at the tip of Manhattan.
“It’s been too much of a great positive thing for the neighborhood and for us as an organization,” she said as she made her rounds amid rows of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, beans and a riot of other crops on Saturday.
Since it opened, the farm has received a great deal of media attention with Inhabitat New York City naming it one of the city’s top five urban farms. It’s been a hit with neighborhood school children, Lower Manhattan residents and local community groups who “adopted” or planted half of the 100-plus vegetable beds. It also drew hundreds of volunteers eager to help the Battery run the operation.
“This is a dream come true,” said the farm’s manager Camilla Hammer, as a bevy of volunteers swirled around her with shovels, rakes and wheelbarrows. (more…)
© Photos by Margarida Correia. See captions at bottom of post.
Though bad weather destroyed most of their heirloom tomatoes, Eckerton Hill Farm still drew significant crowds to its stand at the Union Square Greenmarket on Saturday. The Pennsylvania-based farm had plenty of hot peppers — its second most popular crop — to compensate for the missing tomatoes, and an unusual seasonal show stopper: the jelly melon cucumber.
The oval-shaped cucumbers with protruding horn-like spines caught everyone’s attention.
“What,” most people asked, “IS that?” (more…)