The Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship hosted “Growing Greens in the Grid: The Future of Urban Agriculture in NYC,” a two-part discussion on April 6 that featured Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and New York City Councilman Rafael L. Espinal.
The first panel “Introduction to Urban Agriculture,” included Henry Gordon-Smith, Managing Director, Blue Planet Consulting; Ben Silverman, Chief design Officer & Co-founder, Edenworks, Inc.; and Rosamond Fletcher, Director of Programs, Design Trust for Public Space.
Gordon-Smith provided an overview of the New York City Collective of Urban Farms, including the Battery park Urban Farm, Brooklyn Grange, Gotham Goods, and Aero Farms.
Silverman underscored the importance of local sourcing. “Local is truly the new organic,” he said, referring to studies that suggest consumers prefer local produce to organic, as local produce often has a longer shelf life because it does not have to be shipped long distances.
He also discussed the diversity of the farms and gardens in New York City and the importance of “food justice,” which gives residents not only easy access to fresh produce but a key role in its production, which benefits the community.
Fletcher discussed her role with the Design Trust for Public Space, including the Five Borough Farm Project, the first citywide, comprehensive urban agriculture plan for New York City. The Five Borough Farm team evaluates the city’s existing urban agriculture activity, establishing a set of metrics by which to quantify the benefits of urban agriculture, and makes policy recommendations to relevant city agencies.
"Urban agriculture is a win-win for everyone involved,” Fletcher said.
Part II: Urban Agriculture Policy Discussion included Adams and Espinal in addition to Nevin Cohen, Director of Research at CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute.
“There is a synergy and energy that Brooklyn has” Adams said. “It has become this magnet of creativity, and there are great opportunities to really deal with the conversation around urban agriculture.”
Adams discussed the importance of access to fresh produce in public housing areas, where grocery stores are nearly inaccessible while bodegas mostly offer unhealthful processed foods.
Espinal explored the economic benefits to the City of adopting urban agriculture-friendly policies. "Rooftop farms are a great way to provide local jobs,” he said.
Cohen, also involved with the Design Trust for Public Space, discussed the methods used to rate the success of Urban Agriculture projects, pointing out that as a new industry, many new urban agriculture startups have failed despite their good intentions.
“We need to understand the environmental and health consequences of these farms, because there are opportunities to maximize the recent gains we’ve made in urban agriculture,” Cohen said. “In profiling farms and gardens throughout the city, they’re using their spaces and activities for social justice, to deal with race, class, and gender oppression. It’s an important metric that’s a little bit harder to measure, but no less important than actual growing.”
A highlight of the evening was a presentation by CUBE Fellow Tatiana Pawlowski ’17 of her paper, “From Food Deserts to Just deserts: Expanding Urban Agriculture in New York City Through Sustainable Policy.” Her paper is scheduled to appear in a forthcoming volume of the American Bar Association Journal of Affordable Housing and Community Development Law.