Categorized | City Proposals, Multimedia

NYC is Abuzz about Locally-Grown Food, but will Jobs Follow?

by Karina Ioffee, Kieran Krug-Meadows, Nick Loomis and Geneva Sands-Sadowitz

Eating local is in. New York City farmers’ markets are busier than ever and more restaurants are featuring produce from places like Westchester County farms and cheeses handmade in Brooklyn.

But at a time when unemployment continues to rise—nearly 9 percent in April—can locally-grown food create much-needed jobs?

Dr. Fred Kirschenmann, a third generation livestock farmer and a board member of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, in Pocantico Hills, New York, thinks it can.

From the Source: Listen to people who help bring local food to Brooklyn at the Greenmarket in Park Slope
Dorjee Tsering – Phillips Farms Employee[audio:]
Stephanie Pereira – Bed Stuy CSA Volunteer[audio:]
Dan DiPaola – DiPaola Turkey Farm employee[audio:]

“Moving food over large distances is not the way of the future because of rising transportation costs,” he says. “If we involve more people in producing and processing local food, there are jobs in that.”

Localization can improve quality of life, reduce costs to individuals, and increase wealth within a community, said Michael Shuman, director of research and public policy at The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies and author of Small-Mart.

Shuman recently completed a case study on the local food economy of Detroit for the Fair Food Foundation. The study found that if 20 percent of the food purchased by residents was locally produced, then 5,000 new jobs would be created.

According to Shuman New York City is particularly adept at shifting to a local food economy, because there are many farms and plenty of available land in upstate New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. The most effective way to begin localizing the U.S. economy is to increase government spending on local products and to make it easier to invest in small businesses rather than large companies, said Shuman.

Food is a logical place to start buying local because food “ is something that is on everyone’s mind, everyday,” said Shuman.

Food advocates in the New York metropolitan area are already laying the groundwork. Last December, the Stone Barns Center held a conference for young people interested in farming. More than 100 folks showed up to learn everything from the economics of buying land and starting a business to raising livestock.

“For a long time, we’ve had a notion that farming was a drudgery and that farmland was wasteland,” Kirschenmann says. “But the energy of that meeting was amazing.”

Alex Villani, owner of Blue Moon Fish, fishes off the coast of Norfolk, Long Island. Once he catches the fish, he packs them up and trucks his product into New York City to sell at the Greenmarkets. When he first started his business 21 years ago, the Greenmarket was about 20 percent of his business—now it makes up about 90 percent of his overall business. Villani drives his own truck to the city and then meets a group of workers at the market who help him sell.

Watch below to hear why Villani chooses to sell at the Greenmarket and how his business impacts the economy.

Although starting a farm sounds attractive, it’s not all that easy. Access to affordable capital, land and markets keep some would-be farmers away from the land and existing farmers from expanding their operations.

Lack of parking in New York City and poor infrastructure at farmers’ markets, such as water, storage and electricity are problematic, according to a recent report by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

There’s also the lack of a regional distribution infrastructure that would help connect farmers with stores or markets.

For example, the Hunts Point Food Cooperative in the Bronx, one of the world’s largest wholesale food distributors, according to Stringer, is woefully outdated and in need of renovation.

Last year Stringer’s office launched Go Green East Harlem Initiative that, among other things, is focusing on Greenmarkets in Harlem and other low-income neighborhoods where there are high rates of diabetes and obesity, diseases often caused by a poor diet.

“We’re not going to grow our economy, unless we start thinking locally,” he says. “New York suffered heavy loses in manufacturing, jobs that paid well and provided a good living for thousands of families. The green economy allows us to continue that tradition…and can be the next big economy in which we can invest.”

More restaurants in New York City are choosing to include locally-grown food on their menus and some are doing it exclusively. But there are many challenges, including getting enough produce to meet the demand.

Listen to the experiences of Back Forty’s general manager Michael Fuquay.