Stamp of Approval: NY Launches Local Food Certification Program

Could one little sticker simplify your search for locally grown, sustainable food? The Cuomo administration believes it just might.

Last week, at a press conference in the Bronx, Governor Cuomo unveiled “New York State Grown & Certified,” a first-of-its-kind program to identify and promote New York food producers who adhere to specific safety and sustainability guidelines.

The multi-faceted program has three goals:

  1. Strengthen consumer confidence in New York products;
  2. Address food product labeling; and
  3. Assist New York farmers in taking advantage of the growing market demand for locally grown foods.
Farms that qualify for the program will be able to label their produce with a “New York Grown & Certified” sticker. Photo credit: Don Pollard/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

The Department of Agriculture and Markets will work with New York State producers to assist them in qualifying for the voluntary certification program. Farmers interested in participating will have their facilities inspected by health and agriculture officials, and those who meet the standards will get to label fruits and vegetables with a special “New York State Grown & Certified” sticker. 

The state will also launch a marketing campaign this fall to promote awareness of the program and highlight participating producers.

More than 100 qualifying farms have already expressed interest in the program.

“New York State agriculture is an essential pillar of our economy, bolstered by the modern market demands for safer and more sustainable food,” Governor Cuomo said. “The New York Grown & Certified Program strengthens the link between producers and consumers and provides new opportunities for agricultural development.”

De Blasio Shows Support for Local Food with Hunts Point Investment

Every day, some 13,000 trucks travel into and out of the Hunts Point Cooperative Market, located in the South Bronx. If you purchased or ate food today—and you live in New York City—chances are, most of what you consumed made a stop at this enormous market first.

In fact, a full 60 percent of the city’s produce and about half of the city’s meat and fish passes through Hunts Point for sale and distribution, making it by far the New York region’s largest supplier of wholesale fresh fruits and vegetables to wholesale and retail food businesses.

Needless to say, Hunts Point is a vital component of New York City’s infrastructure—and today, it appears that Mayor Bill de Blasio has acknowledged that.

Speaking at an Association for a Better New York breakfast in Manhattan today, de Blasio announced that his administration will invest $150 million over the next 12 years to revitalize the Hunts Point food distribution center.

Part of these funds would help create a “dedicated space” to better link New York City to upstate food production. This would be beneficial for the economies beyond the five boroughs, he claimed.

It has historically been difficult for small and mid-sized local farms to obtain space at Hunts Point; many are not large enough to afford the commissions at the market but are not small enough.

Details of this program have not yet been released, but clearly there is enormous potential to create jobs and support food that is grown and produced in upstate New York.

De Blasio noted that the funding will also be used to modernize and renovate buildings and other infrastructure, as well as open new space for small businesses. Hunts Point currently supports 115 private wholesalers that employ more than 8,000 people.

Additionally, officials noted that the New Fulton Fish Market will add food manufacturing facilities, and a nearby brownfield site will be remediated to be used as a food processing or manufacturing facility.

“It’s hard to overstate how important Hunts Point is to the future of the city,” said de Blasio. “These are good, decent-paying jobs for New Yorkers at every education level. Our plan protects those jobs and positions the site to create many more jobs for New Yorkers in the future.”

Hunts Point distribution center. Photo via Google Earth.

A Milestone for Food Metrics in New York

Soon, public school students, hospital patients, and even senior center residents in New York State could find locally grown fruits and vegetables on their daily menus, thanks to a new law passed by Governor Cuomo.

The Food Metrics Bill (S.4061/A.5102), sponsored by Sen. Patty Ritchie and Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, mandates that New York State agencies establish a robust tracking and reporting system for all the food they purchase.

The law requires successful bidders on state food contracts to provide the type, dollar value, and geographic origin of all their food to the procuring agency and also requires the Office of General Services and the Department of Agriculture and Markets to develop guidelines for state agencies on increasing their purchase of local foods.

“Eating local is a big trend right now—and it can mean big business for local farmers and food producers. This legislation builds upon that movement, seeking to use the purchasing power of state government to help farmers grow,” said Senator Ritchie.

This bill will provide New York State with valuable (and currently non-existent) baseline data about money being spent on food as well as the geographic source of such food, all with the aim of increasing the amount of local goods purchased by state agencies.

This information will also be shared with the state’s agricultural community, in hopes that farms may tap into the institutional food market by shifting production towards those items shown to be in demand.

Channeling this opportunity to local farms can reduce carbon emissions related to food production and transportation and help keep them profitable, protecting vulnerable farmland from development.

The New York League of Conservation Voters, which works to make environmental sustainability a top political and policy priority in New York State, named State Senator Patty Ritchie a 2013 “Eco-Star” for her work on The Food Metrics Bill.

Taking a Bite out of NYC’s Carbon Emissions

From shopping at Greenmarkets to eating less meat, New Yorkers can reduce their carbon footprint three times a day by making more sustainable food choices—a fact many agriculture groups hope Bill de Blasio will champion during his term as mayor.

Up to 13 percent of all household carbon emissions can be traced back to what we eat and how it’s grown, packed, and shipped. With 8.3 million permanent residents and 52 million tourists visiting annually, New York City requires a lot of food—yet most of it is grown in other states (or even other countries), using pesticides and carbon-intensive growing methods.

Creating sustainable food policies and increasing local food purchasing could not only reduce the city’s carbon footprint, but also support our health, our economy, and our environment.

Putting Things in Context

Food policy is not a new issue for New York City. During the 12 years that Michael Bloomberg served as mayor, his administration maintained a serious focus on public health, working to increase access to fresh, nutritious food for all New Yorkers.

And on a state level, the Food Metrics Bill passed by Governor Andrew Cuomo this past December will ideally lay the groundwork for increased purchasing of local food by state agencies.

But many involved in agriculture and environmental efforts in the city feel Bloomberg missed a critical opportunity to highlight the connection between agriculture and carbon emissions.

For example, the first edition of the landmark PlaNYC was all but silent on the issue of food. The second edition, released in 2011, did introduce food as a “cross-cutting issue,” but devoted only two of the plan’s 98 pages to food, with no concrete policy steps. By comparison, Chicago’s regional plan has an entire chapter devoted to food systems.

Taking Stock

Now that Bill de Blasio has taken office, many are scrambling to understand how his administration will approach these same issues.

While he has not yet tipped his hand with regards to climate change or food policy specifics, there is reason for optimism.

In July of 2009, then-city councilmember Bill de Blasio sponsored the first ever resolution linking food and climate change, “A Resolution to Reduce NYC’s Climate ‘Foodprint.’” In it, de Blasio called for the implementation of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s report “Food in the Public Interest,” a lengthy series of recommendations to increase the availability of locally grown food in New York City.

De Blasio also encouraged the establishment of “FoodprintNYC,” a citywide initiative that would include “climate-friendly food policies and programs, financial and technical support, a public awareness campaign regarding the city’s food consumption and production patterns and greater access to local, fresh, healthy food.”

Specifically, the resolution called for:

  • An analysis of New York City’s foodshed;
  • An expansion of local and/or organic food distribution centers, both wholesale and retail;
  • Increased support for community gardens and urban farming initiatives; and
  • Local food procurement goals of 20% for city-run institutions within 10 years.

Sadly, while Foodprint garnered a respectable number of co-sponsors and a lot of grassroots support, the full council never actually voted on it. Many suspect de Blasio became distracted by his own campaign for public advocate. Others argued that the resolution process was not the best approach for Foodprint in the first place: resolutions are nonbinding and often only express a legislature’s intent.

The Next Four Years

We have yet to see how food and climate priorities will shape de Blasio’s administration, and attempts to reach his office for comment have so far been unsuccessful.

But there is at least some hope that Foodprint remains a guide for future policy work. For one thing, de Blasio participated in the first-ever Mayoral Candidate Forum on the Future of Food in NYC this past July, and did not shy away from making the connection between food, sustainability, and climate change.

And, as the new mayor of a city built on a collection of islands with 520 miles of coastline, one hopes that preparing for and fighting against climate change will become a central tenant of his sustainability platform.

De Blasio’s previous support of Foodprint—and the coalition built around it—proves that he and other New York City policy-makers are aware of the critical connection between food and climate change. Whether he and his administration will take action around these issues remains to be seen.