NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn Presents Foodworks

photo by Erin McCarthy

Monday morning, food advocates, policy makers and community gardeners alike gathered to hear New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn unveil FoodWorks, a new vision to improve New York City’s food system. Quinn confirmed what sustainable food system advocates have long been murmuring – that shoring up those systems can create jobs. It is unclear at the moment how Manhattan Borough president Scott Stringer’s FoodNYC plan, the byproduct of the NYC Food & Climate Summit will be integrated into Quinn’s vision but she assured us that she will be working with him and others on FoodWorks.

The crowd gathered at Food and Finance High School in Manhattan, where, with the help of Cornell Cooperative Extension, the school works to integrate food into the daily curriculum, a perfect setting for the speech.

Quinn began with some hard facts: $1 billion is spent on grocery stores outside of the city, $6 billion on medical care, and one of out every four children in the city is obese. With that said, she explained, “we [already] have the resources we need to transform our food system.”

Quinn continually focused on the local economy and job growth in the city and surrounding area. With over 36,000 farmers in New York state and 7 million acres of farmland, supporting regional farmers is an important and accessible goal. She hopes to hold a “business to business” conference to connect farmers with distributors. Here are some other areas where she highlighted innovative plans for improvement:

Processing and Manufacturing : investing $10 million into small manufacturing to keep businesses in the city. She spoke of the shared commercial kitchen at La Marqueta in East Harlem, which is owned by the city and will be used as an incubator for small businesses.

Food Access : getting CSAs into unlikely settings like senior centers and public housing. Quinn announced that next year they will be starting one at City Hall! She spoke about better access in food deserts, highlighting the FRESH program, which has created 3 new grocery stores in targeted areas of the city. The next step is the “grocery works” program, which will train and place 100 New Yorkers to manage and work in grocery stores. Finally, Quinn was adamant against the current mandate to fingerprint applicants for food stamps. She rang out “now is the time to decriminalize hunger!”

Distribution : Quinn identified Hunts Point Market in the Bronx, built in 1967, the largest food distribution center in the world (and not without its problems) as the most important piece of FoodWorks. She looks to bring products in by train, reducing truck emissions and combating the high asthma rates in this area, and increasing the relationship between the market and the community where it is situated.

Overall, it was inspiring to experience a vision for a fairer, more sustainable food system for New Yorkers. I am giving thanks this year for Foodworks, and I look forward to seeing its evolution in the coming year. Here’s hoping it works!