2011 NYC Urban Ag: A Nine-Month Review

September 30, 2011 at 2:37 pm 1 comment

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. 

New Farms with More on the Way

Farms have popped up in unexpected places, from rooftops to public parks and stalled development sites.  Battery Park opened a one-acre urban farm that has drawn hundreds of volunteers and scores of school children and neighborhood community groups. Riverpark Restaurant, a new eatery in Midtown Manhattan, took a less conventional approach, turning a stalled development site into a makeshift farm made up of thousands of moveable milk crates.

More are on the way.  Popular rooftop farms — Eagle Street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and the Brooklyn Grange in Long Island City — will soon have new farm neighbors.   The biggest is going to be the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which received a $593,000 grant to build a 40,000-square-foot commercial rooftop farm in the 300-acre industrial park.

Other newcomers include Gotham Greens, which opened a 15,000-square-foot rooftop hydroponic greenhouse in Greenpoint in May, and BrightFarms, an operator of hydroponic greenhouses.  BrightFarms announced plans to build a 25,000-square-foot greenhouse in Long Island City by March of 2012.  It is expected to be the largest rooftop hydroponic greenhouse in the nation.

Local Food Legislation

In August, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed legislation that is expected to boost urban farming in the city.  The legislation requires the Department of Citywide Administration Services to create a public database of all city-owned and leased property, giving urban gardeners and farmers a powerful new tool to identify land suitable for urban agriculture.

The legislation especially facilitates the development of rooftop farms and greenhouses.  It extends a tax abatement of up to $100,000 to owners of green roofs that grow vegetables and edible food. In addition, it excludes greenhouses from building height limitations, making it easier for rooftop farm entrepreneurs to meet the city’s rigid building regulations.

The comprehensive FoodWorks legislation championed by New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn aims to make more locally grown, better-quality food available to New Yorkers. It encourages city agencies, for example, to purchase local food, requiring them to provide annual metrics on the food they procure, including where it comes from.

City Council took a symbolic first move in the city’s all-out effort to increase the sourcing and eating of local and regional food: along with its staff, the Council participates in the city’s first workplace CSA.  Fruits and veggies from upstate Norwich Meadows Farms and Red Jacket Orchards are delivered weekly to the Council’s lunch room on Thursdays.

New Farm School

In January, local food advocacy group Just Food and an alliance of local horticultural and food justice organizations launched Farm School NYC.  The school offers a two-year certificate program in urban agriculture, covering everything from growing techniques to marketing and community organizing.

The school has generated immense interest, so much so that it bumped the number of program participants to 24 from 20.

State Support for Local Farmers

Local agriculture this year received a good deal of attention and support from New York State.  Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), for example, introduced legislation this summer that would create a competitive grant program within the U.S. Department of Agriculture to promote community supported agriculture.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo too has stepped in to support local farming.  In a 156-page report called Farm New York, Gov. Cuomo sets out a plan for reviving agriculture in the state.  He announced a program this summer to launch new farmers markets and expands others statewide as part of his Farm New York agenda. He also signed legislation earlier this year to reduce the regulatory burden on the state’s 300-plus farm wineries.

Lastly, there’s the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, which has launched initiatives to market local food throughout the state.  One program provides grants to grocers and other food retailers that promote local food.  Another program —funded with a federal grant — seeks to link local farmers and food providers with bed-and-breakfast operators.


Entry filed under: City Farmers, Community Gardens, Community Supported Agriculture, Farmers Market, Local Food Production, Rooftop Gardening, Urban Agriculture. Tags: , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Albert J. D'Agostino  |  February 20, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    Governor Cuomo’s program of reviving agriculture in New York state should be applauded, but there is an air of hypocrisy that taints his decision, and that is Cuomo’s ardent support of hydrofracking, a controversial and dangerous method of extracting gas from the Marcellus Shale reserves. To date, there is more than ample evidence of contamination of groundwater and air with a stew of toxic chemicals and leaking gas pipes. I can think of no better way to destroy the future of farming in the state if Cuomo allows the thousands of planned wells to start drilling. This is not a question of will fracking contaminate ground water, but when and how bad? This has already happened in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Texas, Wyoming, and even in New York. There are many small organic farmers located throughout the area where drilling is to take place. Once the water and streams are polluted, a horror from which there is no return, all of these organic farms will cease to be organic, not to mention the health of surrounding community members.

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