In July 2017, Borough President Adams joined Council Member Rafael L. Espinal Jr. in introducing legislation at the City Council (Intro 1661) calling for the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) to create a comprehensive urban agriculture plan for the city. The multi-pronged plan included a variety of methods to harness the global urban farming industry estimated at a value of $5.8 billion in the next five years across community and youth empowerment, economic development, health care, and land use policies. In particular, their bill proposed to catalogue existing and potential urban agriculture spaces; classify and prioritize urban agriculture uses; identify potential land use policies to promote the expansion of these practices across the city; analyze the zoning resolution, building code, and fire code to promote the industry; expand the availability of healthy foods in low-income communities; integrate urban agriculture into the City’s conservation and resiliency plans; encourage youth development and education with regard to local food production; spur job creation, as well as study the feasibility of creating an Office of Urban Agriculture.
This proposal came on the heels of a study conducted by the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship (CUBE) at Brooklyn Law School, which found that New York City has enough unused rooftop space — totaling 14,000 acres — to grow enough produce that could feed as many as 20 million people in the New York metropolitan area. The study also found that, although urban farming accounts for about 15 to 20 percent of world agriculture, New York City’s rooftop farming practices are limited to commercial and industrial zones along with school buildings. Growing and selling produce on the same lot is prohibited regardless of zone, and no information is provided to the public on whether indoor farming is allowed in any zone. The Zoning Resolution only mentions the word “agriculture” a handful of times, thereby making urban agriculture permissive but unclear as to precise policy. The lack of a coherent citywide urban agriculture strategy means the City continues to have difficulty accounting for the food deserts that are located across lower income neighborhoods, whose residents lack sufficient access to grocery stores or fresh produce.
Earlier in 2017, Borough President Adams made a commitment alongside Council Member Espinal to invest $2 million in capital funding — $1 million each from our respective offices — toward the creation of an urban agriculture incubator in the borough. The funds would facilitate the adaptation or construction of a dedicated space for emerging businesses engaged in sustainable food innovation, something that is critical to growing an industry with significant economic potential for New York City. According to industry representatives, this incubator could address their burdens particularly by reducing costs associated with procuring space so a more diverse entrepreneurship can gain access to the industry, as well as place a greater emphasis on measuring and understanding the true sustainability impact of these technologies.
In April 2016, an urban agriculture symposium was held at Brooklyn Law School’s CUBE, which Borough President Adams co-presented alongside Council Member Espinal as well as the NYC Agriculture Collective, Design Trust for Public Space, and City University for New York (CUNY) Urban Food Policy Institute. The discussion focused on how this conceived boost to the industry is part of a plan to focus on City agencies updating their regulations to better support expansion of the practice, as well as working more intensely with the public and private sectors to create incentives that encourage rooftop and vertical gardens. He also hosted an interagency roundtable discussion at Brooklyn Borough Hall to begin formulating these ideas. Brooklyn Law School and CUBE have committed to provide legal services to all organizations and entities that are enrolled in the incubator program.
Overall, Borough President Adams’ administration has allocated more than $2.5 million through my Growing Brooklyn’s Future initiative to advance greenhouse studies, including hydroponic farming, at 17 schools in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville, Canarsie, Carroll Gardens, Cypress Hills, East New York, Mapleton, Marine Park, and Williamsburg. In addition, he is actively working with the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) to establish a large-scale greenhouse, the first of its kind on public housing property in New York City.