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February 22, 2021
Brooklyn, NY – Today, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams joined the New York University (NYU) Stern Center for Sustainable Business and the Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, along with leading urban agriculture advocates, to release a new report on the untapped potential of urban agriculture, titled “The New Agrarian Economy.” The report lays out concrete proposals to encourage the growth of urban agriculture in New York City. The economic devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the need to identify new and burgeoning industries that can drive a sustainable, equitable recovery. If scaled up citywide, urban agriculture can not only provide good employment opportunities in the City, but can also help provide locally-grown produce to underserved communities and combat diet-related illnesses, which have been found to be leading co-morbidities associated with COVID-19.
“The New Agrarian Economy” outlines several areas where the City can work in concert with advocates and industry leaders to expand urban agriculture opportunities across the five boroughs, with priority given to historically underserved communities. Its recommendations focus on clearing regulatory hurdles to establishing and growing urban farms, expanding hands-on educational opportunities for students, reimagining existing infrastructure such as City-owned land to make it greener, promoting environmental preservation measures, and investing in workforce development for the urban agriculture sector.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility of our city’s economy and the deep inequities embedded in our food system. Urban agriculture has the potential to revolutionize our urban landscape and play a significant role in an equitable recovery process, helping us to become a greener, healthier, more prosperous city after the pandemic. Our new report lays out a roadmap for achieving that, proposing steps that build on my previous advocacy efforts in Brooklyn. As the past several years have shown, there is tremendous economic potential in this promising sector — we just need the political will to invest the necessary resources to encourage its growth. I thank all of the advocates and industry leaders who offered their input into this report, and look forward to continuing our advocacy to turn our concrete jungle into a green oasis,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.
During his tenure in office, Borough President Adams has been a tireless advocate for promoting urban agriculture in Brooklyn and throughout the five boroughs. In 2017, Borough President Adams partnered with former Council Member Rafael L. Espinal Jr. to introduce legislation calling for the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) to create a comprehensive urban agriculture plan for the city. He also partnered with Council Member Espinal to invest $2 million in capital funding toward creating Brooklyn’s first urban agriculture incubator, to help entrepreneurs with a dedicated space for their businesses. To date, Borough President Adams has allocated $21 million to our “Growing Brooklyn’s Future” initiative, which gives K-12 students throughout Brooklyn hands-on learning opportunities to see how their food is grown, while producing 175 pounds of vegetables per classroom per school year to improve their diets with fresh produce. Borough President Adams is also 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, and has allocated $16.8 million to the project.
“New York City is quickly becoming the capital of urban agriculture in the US. Our city fields a deep bench of talent in support of the ‘New Agrarian Economy’ that inspires Borough President Adams. We have unmatched commercial, community, not-for-profit, and academic resources. And yet, strong and creative public-private partnerships are needed if urban agriculture is to realize its potential. We applaud Borough President Adams for his vision and initiative to grow our economy, employment, and food for all New Yorkers,” said NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business Project Director Invest NYC SDG Marianna Koval.
“New farms are popping up all over New York City, from rooftops, warehouses, and trailers, to communal spaces, growing by 56 percent over the past five years based on USDA data. The pandemic’s early days of empty grocery shelves showcased the critical importance of a locally-based food system, and urban agriculture has a robust role to play in developing pathways to increased resiliency in our local food system. I commend BP Adams for his visionary recognition of the economic potential of urban agriculture, and particularly, his laser focus on the need to engage our youth from all backgrounds in farming for a more just food system in the future,” said Cornell CALS Associate Dean for Land-Grant Affairs Julie Suarez.
“This report is a call to action, as we begin to look beyond the pandemic, at remaking a food system that works for all New Yorkers centered in equity. At our Farms at NYCHA, we see every day the power of urban agriculture to provide accessible organic produce to our NYCHA communities while also serving as the grounds for job training for NYCHA young adults; creating opportunities for health, education, and community engagement; and delivering valuable environmental benefits. Green City Force is proud to be a part of New York’s ‘New Agrarian Economy’ and continuing to grow our impact within NYCHA with the support of the Borough President, both in Brooklyn where we got our start and citywide,” said Green City Force Executive Director Tonya Gayle.
“There is a deep rich history of communities of color leading the community garden and urban agriculture movement in New York City,” said Equity Advocates Policy Director Gabrielle Blavatsky. “We agree with Borough President Adams that the City of New York can and should do much more to protect existing community-owned and -operated urban farms and put funding toward the critical programs they run to provide healthy fresh food, job creation pathways, much needed greenspace, as well as nutrition and farming education in neighborhoods most impacted by food injustice and apartheid.”
“As a New York-based urban agriculture advisory firm that has carried out more than 20 consultations in the New York City area, facilitated more than 100 urban agriculture-related classes and lectures, and helped organize multiple weeklong AgTech conferences, Agritecture has had a front-row seat to the natural innovation and diversity of the urban farming ecosystem in this city. But without supportive policies, urban agriculture will not advance beyond a niche movement. We firmly believe in the vision laid out by Borough President Adams,” said Agritecture CEO Henry Gordon-Smith.
“Since 2014, the NYC Agriculture Collective, the producer of global industry event NYC AgTech Week and registered non-profit, has worked to increase education, awareness, and exposure to urban agriculture, food access, and green building for New Yorkers. We believe that increased access to resources in these areas benefit the health, economy, and resiliency of our city, and stand by all efforts in support of that mission,” said NYC Agriculture Collective Vice President Shelley Golan.
“Students who grow food get excited about eating it. Given the impact of animal-based and processed foods on the most common diseases, and the disproportionate impact on communities of color, there is a great need for urban agriculture with a focus on plant, rather than animal foods, and we are grateful to Borough President Eric Adams for not only prioritizing this, but taking concreate actions to improve the health of his constituents and beyond,” said Coalition for Healthy School Food Executive Director Amie Hamlin.
“From Brooklyn to the Bronx and all boroughs in between, Eric Adams understands the value of urban agriculture and that access to healthy, just, and fair food is a basic human right; that hungry and poorly fed children struggle in school and work harder to thrive, and that urban farms, urban agriculture, and healthy, accessible greenspaces provide opportunities for community development and self-reliance that mitigate our most pressing inequities and injustices — particularly for marginalized, over-extracted, communities of poverty and color. As New York City’s most famous vegan and recovering diabetic, BP Adams knows firsthand that cheap food is both expensive and exploitive; he is to be commended for his advocacy and support of grass-roots organizations like Green Bronx Machine and others working to build equitable and inclusive paradigms where they are needed most,” said Green Bronx Machine Founder Stephen Ritz.
“As an education partner that has brought hydroponic farming to more than 170 New York City public schools, NY Sun Works supports Eric Adams’ efforts to expand the urban agriculture sector in the city. We are honored to work with Borough President Adams to give New York City students the skills to engage in the growing hydroponic farming workforce as they learn the science of sustainability and the importance of nutrition using 21st century technology. Students in our partner schools grow food in their hydroponic labs to help address food insecurity in their communities. The pandemic has brought to the forefront the need to address equity, health, and economic security, and ‘The New Agrarian Economy’ can help lead the way,” said NY Sun Works Executive Director Manuela Zamora.
“This plan acknowledges the importance of the urban contribution to our City’s food system. There are but 139 new Black farmers in the State among its 57,000 farmers. It is a $42 billion food industry in which New York State imports more than 85 percent of its food. The report addresses racial equity, creation of urban farming models that go beyond jobs and allows us to think of these new opportunities as a foundation for community wealth building,” said Corbin Hill Food Project, Inc. Founder and President Dennis Derryck, PhD.
“We opened New York’s first commercial-scale rooftop greenhouse in Brooklyn nearly 10 years ago with a dual purpose to bring fresh, nutrient-dense, local produce to the region and to build adaptive reuse projects that transform underutilized real estate in the city into productive agriculture,” said Gotham Greens Co-Founder and CEO Viraj Puri. “Today, demand for our products has grown so significantly that we’ve built two additional greenhouses in New York City and five others in cities across the United States. After an unprecedented year that revealed the fragility of our food supply chain, the city experienced unparalleled demand for fresh produce that we were able to fulfill, showing just how vital indoor agriculture is to our city. We are grateful for the support of people like Brooklyn Borough President Adams who continue to see the value of urban agriculture and advocate for more support of our industry so we can continue to bring fresh foods to those who need them most.”
“Urban producers can unlock tremendous opportunities within the surging plant-based protein market. Growing inputs for high-quality alternative proteins will allow urban producers to realize economic growth opportunities in a burgeoning industry and contribute to the development of a truly secure, sustainable, and just protein supply to feed the growing population. Alternative proteins are a key tool to realize Brooklyn Borough President Adams’ vision of a better future for food. Increased government investments in production and technology can make this future a reality,” said the Good Food Institute’s Associate Director of Regulatory Affairs Elizabeth Derbes.
“Since launching our first school farm in Newark, NJ in 2009, AeroFarms has passionately continued our mission to build responsible farms both in the New York-Metro area and around the world to nourish our communities all year-round with sustainable, fresh, nutritious, and delicious produce. We believe in the power of indoor agriculture to transform our food supply chain for a better, safer, more equitable food system and applaud Mr. Adams’ vision to invest in New York City’s farming ecosystem. We recently announced the first ever municipal vertical farming program with Jersey City and the World Economic Forum where we are building 10 indoor vertical farms in community centers and schools to provide access to local healthy leafy greens. We hope this initiative serves as a model for other cities around the country and around the world,” said AeroFarms Co-Founder and CEO David Rosenberg.
“Borough President Adams’ plan paints a clear picture of what our food system can be, rather than the cluttered quagmire of unhealthy foods that it currently is. We couldn’t agree more that practical steps to increase access to fresh produce and to educate our next generation of community food advocates are needed, and were delighted to see the work of so many Food Ed Coalition partners highlighted,” said Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food Education and Policy Deputy Director Julia McCarthy.
“Transforming New York City’s local food production capacity, expanding food hubs, and reimagining and creatively using food infrastructure are significant and essential steps in ensuring the resilience of our local and regional food systems. As we continue to see the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbate longstanding issues — from rampant joblessness to extreme food insecurity — we are inspired to see Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams offering a multi-faceted approach to building out a greener food economy,” said NYC Good Food Purchasing Program Campaign and Community Food Advocates Director Ribka Getachew.
“Research has shown that children who have access to gardens eat more vegetables, sometimes as much as three additional servings each week! Considering how nutritious vegetables are, and knowing only one in 10 children eat enough of them, any amount of increased consumption will have a significant and meaningful impact on our children’s short- and long-term health outcomes,” said Balanced Executive Director Audrey Sanchez.
“The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated and shined a bright spotlight on the tremendous structural problems within our city’s, and nation’s, food system, as we watched its supply and distribution chains break down, our food businesses at all levels close, our food workers lose their jobs, and our citizens go hungry at exponential rates while food went to waste. Creating localized food economies — particularly in our most historically marginalized communities, which have also borne the brunt of the pandemic — that bring in the latest technologies for growing, activate unused land and space in creative ways, create new production and processing companies, employ local residents, and train our youth to be, not just participants, but future leaders of these enterprises is a critical path to a robust, equitable, and food secure future. Teens for Food Justice’s work empowering students in these communities to grow produce hydroponically in their schools, understand and teach others about nutrition, health, and food policy, and build an advocacy movement for a just food system gives us clear insight into the importance of a strong vision and plan to make this possible. We applaud and support Borough President Adams for providing both through his ‘New Agrarian Economy Report’,” said Teens for Food Justice CEO and Founder Katherine Soll.
“The benefits of urban agriculture extend far beyond providing food to New Yorkers. Community and rooftop gardens are sources of valuable open space and provide important shared green sites to grow food, promote health and food education, serve as dynamic classrooms for New York City schoolchildren, create a sense of community, improve racial justice, and encourage connection among community members. The Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center recognizes that urban agriculture throughout the five boroughs also provides ample opportunity for economic investment in green city infrastructure and localized food production. We at the Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center stand ready to support strategies that will expand urban agriculture with a specific focus on equity throughout New York City,” said Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center Executive Director Charles Platkin, PhD, JD, MPH.
“We find ourselves working toward creating great possibilities that address the decades of divestments and inequity that continues to perpetuate itself in New York City’s food systems despite the push for racial and social justice efforts in our communities. It is Universe City NYC’s mission to bring food sovereignty and intergenerational economic development to the East Brooklyn community. We believe this plan supports the creation of sustainable food systems designed by the community, employed by the community. When we invest in a green future, we are aligning our ecological perspectives and reducing threats to the health of the public and the local environment while building resilient food sovereign communities for generations to come,” said Universe City NYC Co-Founders Alexis Mena, Brittany Markowitz, Franklyn Mena, and Jill Bellovin.
“At Bowery, we’re turning industrial buildings close to cities into smart indoor farms that provide communities with year-round green jobs and high quality produce that’s local, safer, and more sustainable,” said Bowery Farming CEO and Founder Irving Fain. “We applaud Brooklyn Borough President Adams for advocating for more support and investment in urban agriculture, recognizing the important contribution to education, local job creation, economic revitalization, and food security that modern farms like Bowery provide. His vision will accelerate our mission to democratize access to fresh healthy food, which has been built into our model from day one, and is an important step in creating an equitable food system that safeguards food access for all New Yorkers.”
“‘The New Agrarian Economy’ presents a vision of how urban agriculture can contribute to a healthy, sustainable, equitable, economically vibrant New York City, along with the specific policies to turn that vision into reality. Most importantly, it recognizes the diversity of our city’s farmers and gardeners, and the value of New York’s polyculture of growing technologies, practices, and spaces. A local, healthy, fair food system will be essential to post-pandemic recovery, and this report is a foundation for building one,” said CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute Research Director Nevin Cohen.
“At Square Roots, we’re repurposing existing city infrastructure and turning that into indoor, controlled-climate farms. These high-tech deployments provide New Yorkers with year-round access to locally-grown, nutritious, fresh food, while creating meaningful jobs — not just in modern farming, but in technology, engineering, and many other disciplines,” said Square Roots CEO and Co-Founder Tobias Peggs. “BP Adams has long been a champion for urban and indoor farming, recognizing the outsized positive impact our sector’s efforts can have on the economy, the environment, and the health of local communities. His drive and vision inspire us to keep creating the modern, resilient, responsible, safe, and equitable food system this city — and indeed this country — both needs and deserves.”
“New Yorkers are hungry for healthy, locally-grown food. The vision of a ‘New Agrarian Economy’ is not only common sense but also a significant step toward a future we all want to live in. As we empower people across the city to embrace plant-rich diets to prevent and overcome chronic illness, Plant Powered Metro New York is ready to stand up for local food systems that offer resilience and vitality to our bodies, our environment, and our livelihoods. This is how we genuinely transform public health and achieve equity,” says Plant Powered Metro New York Network Director Lianna Levine Reisner.
“Our organization aims to strategically reduce racial gaps in wealth and health in Central Brooklyn,” said Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation Executive Vice President and Chief Program Officer Tracey Capers. “We need to make radical changes in the entire food supply chain, starting with how and where we grow food, to ensure that low-income communities of color not only have access to high quality, affordable, and healthy food, but also that our communities benefit economically from the food system. Putting local food production in the hands of local residents is a key component to realizing this vision. Restoration has been partnering with 100-plus community stakeholders for close to a decade to build capacity, advocate for and plan for the practices, policies, and resources that would lead to a local, community-operated food system, including an investment in a Central Brooklyn Food Hub that would aggregate food from local growers. We commend Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams for his leadership and vision and are excited to see what we can accomplish together moving forward.”
A recording of the virtual press conference is available here.
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