The Food Shed: Promoting Sustainable Local Agriculture
- With Michael Conrad, Assistant Director of The Urban Design Lab at the Earth Institute at Columbia University
- David Haight, New York Director of American Farmland Trust
- Robert Lewis, Special Assistant at NYS Department of Agriculture & Markets
- Brad Marshall, Co-Owner of The Piggery, a small sustainable pork farm.
The Panel was asked: what were the barriers to creating a local food system ?
David Haight pointed out that New York is blessed by water but that our farmland is under threat. Our nine million acres can grow food for only 6 million people, which means that not all food can be local nonetheless we should be using as much land as we can for food production. Urban Ag is making a triumphant return and we need a system to match space with farmers and distribute produce. Land use regulations are barriers all over NYS and we need local laws that help to make it easier to farm. “Local is illegal in many cases in NYS.” He pointed out.
Bob Lewis: “So much good stuff is going on, there is a great swelling of interest, it is sad to talk about barriers because so many are being broken.” Green markets have become the first hope in changing the system, they have made farms solvent, created buzz and even celebrities. They have brought a much needed jolt of enthusiasm to our local food movement but we need to create infrastructure to bring that hope to our wholesale markets. What I found refreshing about Mr. Lewis’ approach is that even though he stated that we would still need produce from CA, we have a unique opportunity to have local farmers feed us. To do this however, we must clear many of the channels that stand between farmers and NYC consumers. He noted that it is easier to get an apple from Washington State delivered to NYC than from Washington County, NY because there are means of transport set up. He stressed that we need to recreate these channels with smart solutions that lesson food miles. He also noted that policy level connection ias critical. Rural and City People have to get together and ask: “Are our policies farmer friendly? Are they food friendly?
I especially liked Brad Marshall’s talk because as a meat producer many of his grievances are mine. USDA processing is his biggest problem; plants are over booked and hard to get slots (an appointment for a slaughter). Mr. Marshall wanted to thank Just Food who helped Pigery create a CSA so that he could distribute his pork without the headache of dealing with the USDA. He asked us: “How do I get my product to you?” Good question! We need public investments in logistics, refrigeration, shipping and processing.
- After brief and passionate brain storming sessions the groups agreed that the biggest barrier to a local food shed was Infrastructure and Distribution. We LACK REGIONAL INFRASTRUCTURE to facilitate transporting and processing food from upstate New York to New York City. We need more USDA plants, processors, milk plants, shipping companies, refrigeration systems, etc.
- Another issue that we agreed on was land access. How do we make sure we are successfully utilizing our farmland and urban spaces to grow food? Lots of interesting thoughts on how to match young farmers with land as well.