Food

What Is the New York Foodshed, Anyway?

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In an article he wrote for the Huffington Post last week, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer outlined his plans for making food policy a priority for city government.

Among the initiatives he mentioned was a city “foodshed…consisting of farms in
a given radius of the city where growers of healthy food would have
special access to city markets and from which government purchasers of
food would be required to buy a certain percent of their vegetables,
dairy products and other items.”

Intrigued by the idea — and admittedly envisioning a big, padlocked shed somewhere in the Hudson Valley — Fork in the Road called up the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, which, along with Columbia University’s Earth Institute, is working with Stringer on the project.

Jill
Isenbarger, the executive director of Stone Barns, explains that the
foodshed is currently in an academic study phase, but will be an
“in-depth exam of the local food production and capacity of the New
York metro region.”

The point of the project is to get more
information about where food comes from, “to look for context, like
transportation infrastructure and climatic conditions. It will help us
and other organizations to think about production capacity for this
region, and teach us about areas of the food system that are the most
vulnerable.” They’re looking for concrete data on issues that farmers
confront, such as, for example, the challenges they face in processing
animals for consumption.

The project came about last September,
Isenbarger says, at a meeting Stringer hosted to discuss food justice
and increasing the accessibility of fresh food to underserved
communities throughout the city. Once it’s in full swing, the foodshed
project, she says, will take anywhere from a year to 18 months to
complete.

Isenbarger describes the project as a sum of many
moving parts. “I would say parts are trying to analyze and quantify
food production in the region, and making the comparison between
existing and potential production — what do we produce now, and how
might we think of narrowing that gap?” There are plenty of variables to
explore, such as soil quality, transportation structure, and the length
of the growing season. And there are plenty of regional challenges that
also present opportunities, such as abandoned farmland and the question
of how to better connect farmers both to one another and to underserved
communities.

Ideally, Isenbarger says, the foodshed will
ultimately be used to “break down financial, social, and political
barriers to create a more fair food environment and to give people
better access to good food.”

Though that won’t include access
to an actual shed. “I was at a community meeting where someone asked
about how to get keys to the shed,” Isenbarger recalls. “I think she
was imagining a Gramercy Park situation.”