Last Thursday, New York City announced what could be far-reaching guidelines on city food sourcing. The administration has created a plan to promote spending on sustainable local and regional food, with a focus on food procurement from New York State suppliers, to encourage consumption of fresh, seasonal food and to bolster local economies. Only a handful of regional governments have passed similar plans, including San Francisco (San Francisco, why must you always beat us with your progressive city-wide policies?) and Toronto, although many local food policy councils have recommended similar initiatives.
NYC is second only to the US military (!) in institutional food spending. The city spends billions of dollars on food – for schools, city hospitals, prisons and hundreds of other government agencies. Ultimately, this spending equals amazing purchasing power and the ability to positively impact the way food is grown, processed and distributed in New York State.
I can’t help but think we've come a long way since the days of McDonald’s in several of New York City’s busiest public hospitals. And as a mom of a kid who is not yet school age, the local food procurement guidelines means something personal to me – my son, who will (eventually) be attending NYC public elementary school, may not be saddled with frozen pizza and canned corn for his school lunch (yay!), and as such, I may not be saddled with packing him a lunch every day (double yay!). Although the NYC Department of Education has already made significant inroads in sourcing food locally through its SchoolFood program (currently, about 18% of NYC’s school food is locally sourced), the NYC Local Food Procurement Guidelines is a clear statement by city officials that local food is the freshest and healthiest choice – with economic benefits to boot.
The guidelines concern contracts for more than $100,000 (either at one time or annually) and apply to all city agencies. They allow agencies to give a “price preference” to New York State food products (meaning that NYS producers will be given preference if they fall within 10% of the lowest bidder). City agencies can also mandate that certain products (think apples) come solely from New York State. Contracts are also encouraged to include provisions about “freshness and perishability” of food products, to reduce the time between harvest and purchase, and NYS products are promoted over food not grown in NYS. Pretty remarkably, agencies are also encouraged to work with the Mayor’s Office to procure value-added products not yet made in New York State – the city says it will use its considerable purchasing power to encourage local producers to provide value-added goods like pre-sliced apples.
The Guidelines focus exclusively on New York State farms (instead of, say, regional farms in New Jersey, Connecticut or Pennsylvania, some of which may be geographically closer than upstate NY farms) for economic reasons – supporting local NYS farms strengthens local NYS economies. Farmers from our local neighboring states don’t entirely lose out, though, because the city is also actively promoting a new local food hub, Greenmarket Co., designed to provide wholesale local food from NY and our neighboring states to privately held companies (grocery stores, bodegas, institutions, etc.).
All of this is part of a broader initiative, FoodWorks, launched in November 2011 by NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn (rumored to be a mayoral candidate for the 2013 election). FoodWorks outlines what the City Council calls a “ground-to-garbage” approach to food system issues in New York City. Quinn’s initiative describes sweeping goals for agricultural production, food processing, distribution, consumption and post-consumption practices.
If Quinn’s plan works (and doesn’t get thwarted by the notoriously bloody NYC political system), bona fide food system change could be made in New York. Next goal: getting the US Military on board with locally sourced sustainable food!
Read all about it:
- Press release on Local Food Guidelines here
- NYC Food Purchasing Guidelines, information on the new Greenmarket Co. wholesale local food hub and other resources located here
- Speaker Quinn’s FoodWorks plan located here
Megan Saynisch is a cook, gardener, culinary anthropologist and writer living in Brooklyn with her husband and young son. A graduate of the French Culinary Institute, she is the creator of the blog Brooklynfarmhouse.com.