These recommendations come from a group of grassroots thought leaders of color, working in New York City and nationally to promote economic self – determination and food sovereignty for communities of color, through a variety of projects related to urban agriculture. The Center for Social Inclusion assists with policy idea development, solidifying relationships and thinking through strategy.
In late 2014, Governor Cuomo along with other state and local officials developed a Regional Food Hub Task Force with the explicit goal of developing a plan to expand the distribution of regional foods to the New York City marketplace.
We write this letter as community residents, leaders, and organizers to provide written input regarding the food hub task force initiated by the governor’s office. We bring with us a diversity of experience, theory and praxis in food access ranging from work with and in community gardens, food justice coalitions, food hubs, farming, food justice advocates and activists, racial equity advocacy groups and community residents.
We were notified that the task force, consisting of government representatives, would gather input from community residents via an intermediary, Karp Resources, via phone calls and interviews. Several of us participated in the calls with NYC EDC and Karp Resources and all shared a common concern regarding the extent in which community input would be relayed back to the committee and subsequently be truly incorporated into the planning. We are therefore providing a summary of our input directly outlined below in our own words.
We have come together in a larger network to drive racial equity and food access in New York City and particularly statewide. We believe a strong and equitable food system fosters resilience in historically disinvested, now vulnerable, communities by reshaping our relationship to vital resources like water and land. This system respects and honors the ingenuity, innovation, and indigenous work in communities. It is a system that allows for people who have historically been marginalized to be not just consumers but also producers, reclaiming power and restoring our relationship to food and power with it.
We write this statement particularly to the task force in expectation of our state government being inclusive of and reflective of community concerns and with an expectation that the action planning will be aligned with our vision for a just, democratic, racially equitable, and sustainable food system. With that, we envision a process driving us closer to a much more democratized food system where ultimately communities of color, who have been largely marginalized, have the political power, economic ownership and agency to drive decision-making processes about the food in our communities. For this to be a reality, we recommend the following:
- Conduct an equitable process which includes community input and a structural race analysis. The challenges we face are complex and require strategic, complex solutions. While community has been called upon to inform the process, to fully understand and appreciate the nuance of both the opportunities and challenges before us, the taskforce must find a process that truly responds to community input.
- An immediate first step would entail releasing a draft report to community participants for review and input before finalizing recommendations. In the current form, the process between the taskforce and community experts is reflective of an extractive, transactional relationship. For this process to truly be transformative and sustainable, community expertise must be centered.
- An on-going step is incorporating a structural race analysis. This means addressing structural racism in New York that continues to stratify our state, and weaken our economic competitiveness. Race continues to be a persistent indicator of poverty and land dispossession in NY State. We see, for example, that African Americans while only 17.5 % of the state population, are most likely to live in poverty, with rates of at least 26%. This means 1 in 4 African American families are living in poverty. We see massive wealth inequities with Black and Latinos with Blacks having a median liquid wealth of only $200, compared to $23,000 held by whites. Latinos do not fare much better than African Americans, with a median liquid wealth of only $340.
- We also see that out of 36,000 farmers in NY state, we only have 164 Black farmers, which is grossly inadequate considering the demographics of our state.
- Incorporating a structural race analysis also means we must (among other things) apply key questions in the planning work and in regards to any suggested recommendations: Who benefits? Who drives decision making? Who is in leadership? What ownership opportunities are being created and for whom? Who is missing? Are we sustaining or recreating gaps by race
- Include a means to create and fully fund programs to protect and facilitate land ownership and sustainability for Black farmers. Access to land to preserve Black farmers must be a part of the scope of creating a sustainable food system. According to the Center for Social Inclusion at a recent food hub conference, “looking at the next generation of farmers, there could be no farmers of color if we don’t actively support them. Food hubs can either repeat, reform or transform a system.” While no single person is responsible for our current system, we do have a responsibility to address the historical legacies of institutional discrimination, particularly highlighted by the Pigford I and II cases. Our farming agencies have traditionally actively discriminated or eliminated the concerns and inclusion of Black farmers and communities.
Black farmers in NY state continue to report a lack of support, neglect and discrimination from state agencies, particularly with regard to loan and resources that they notice their white counterparts are receiving. According to Rev. Robert Jackson of Brooklyn Rescue Mission Urban Harvest, a local organizer of farmers markets in Brooklyn, “it is important to support farmers who identify with their customer base. It’s critical. One of our farmers, Ralph Poindexter, for example, has customers that have been repeat customers for at least 5 years and come to farmers markets specifically because of those relationships. Black farmers deserve to have full access to resources they need to not only sustain, but to thrive. Why should they have limited resources and be denied access?”
Any outcome of the food hub task force must explicitly incorporate support for farmers of color and particularly Black farmers. Otherwise, the outcomes will continue to perpetuate the neglect and massive disenfranchisement of farmers of color that our larger and regional food system has perpetuated thus far.
- Include policies that direct resources (capital) for community of color business and enterprise development. Considering the governor’s interest in economic development for the state, we are concerned that economic development should benefit all residents—particularly the most vulnerable. With that, it is important that communities of color—particularly Black and Latino— who have been historically marginalized— be recognized not just as consumers but also producers. This means the task force addressing food access in communities of color who disproportionately suffer from poor food choices. Investing in food hub and food systems work serving and led by marginalized communities is imperative.
- Urban farmers should be included in the farming census and overall agricultural landscape. Constructive structural initiatives would include dedicating fiscal resources and budgeting for a census of Community gardeners, who are urban farmers. Additionally, Gov. Cuomo’s office and the New York State Department of Agricultural and Markets should fully adhere with legislation authorizing the support of the New York State Office of Community Gardens as well as the New York State Task Force on Community Gardens.
The State’s compliance with legislated mandates of such a cohesive approach to policy vis-à-vis the OCG and CGTF would both unequivocally confirm the State’s as well as the Governor’s commitment to cost-effectively enhancing and maximizing the potential of community gardens/urban farms as vehicles for community revitalization and economic development particularly within historically under-resourced and currently under-served communities. New York State should (re)fund and (re)fill the position of Agricultural Extension Agent for New York City, which has been left vacant since 2010 – this position is needed now more than ever.
- Invest in infrastructure that supports existing efforts and working in collaboration with (or supporting) current community led work. We have a vibrant urban ag network in New York City, many of whom come from a long farming tradition that will be invaluable partners in creating thriving local food systems that benefit all residents of NY state.
Feedback from Central Brooklyn organizations specifically recommended: investing in existing food hub design work that is being designed by community residents and organizations in Central Brooklyn, led by Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation and other partners. This hub is organizing hyper-local farmers in Central Brooklyn to be included in the larger regional food system—connecting local produce, hyper-locally grown, to local plates and retaining local dollars in a vulnerable local economy. Considering Brooklyn residents are over 2.6 million (the most populous borough) with an inequitable food landscape and no real means and infrastructure yet to grow, aggregate and distribute good food in the borough, this is a prime opportunity to reach a significant market and strengthening the local economy of Central Brooklyn, benefiting the Borough, regional farmers and ultimately the state.
We stated that any regional food hub in any region, however, should be driven by community based input. We have an organized body of groups ready to provide design and leadership for any food hub work in Brooklyn, especially Central Brooklyn.
- Invest in micro food hubs*. We recommend not replicating or investing in Hunts Point Terminal Market without rectifying existing inequities and vulnerabilities. We are concerned that Hunts Point controls such a large percentage of food in our region yet also misses the immediate community. Having such a centralized locale for so much of our food in NY is not only dangerous, but it has proven to be of little to no benefit to the surrounding community residents in the immediate community of South Bronx. Residents still face low wages and poor food quality choices in their own neighborhood where Hunts Point Terminal Market occupies. Additionally, the danger in having so much of our food concentrated in one region proved vulnerable and dangerous as we saw with Hurricane Sandy. Any major disasters blocking our access to one location, makes for a vulnerable system. Investing in or replicating a flawed model via Hunts Point without any corrections would be a great injustice.
Micro food hubs, instead, help to serve as an economic development strategy in communities with high unemployment rates. As we work to shift power within the food system, we see an urgent need for community owned centers of food production and distribution, empowering communities who have been politically and economically disenfranchised.
To support micro hubs, we recommend including dedicating fiscal resources for a census of community gardeners, who are urban farmers and include urban farmers in an updated and expanded count a là Five Borough Farm/Farming Concrete (please see https://farmingconcrete.org/mill/) in order to demonstrate the micro food hubs’ potential of NYC based urban agriculture; and, eventually, they must be included in the next USDA/NASS Census for the same reason.
Finally, for micro hubs, we recommend investing in commercial kitchens and related facilities, including washing stations, food processing and storage facilities, marketing, and distribution in addition to support for agricultural food production
- Food Hubs can provide a great opportunity for emerging community based Black and Latino small business entrepreneurs. We suggest improving the connection for these businesses to existing infrastructure in our communities such as commercial kitchens, incubators, and processing centers. Many of these resources go untapped or underutilized by communities of color because they are either unaware of their existence in their communities by the lack of transparency of entry points, applications, and eligibility process or the actual process is not inclusive. This improvement to the local based value chain could increase value added production within communities of color, create jobs, and strengthen the hyper local food system and local economy.
- Ensure community based organizations involved include those led by people of color. There is a vibrant network in Brooklyn, Bronx and Harlem working to ensure our regional food system reaches communities in which our food system often exploits, negates or ignores. The action planning should therefore support and strengthen existing community controlled food security work led by communities of color. Funding should be allocated towards increasing the capacity of organizations led by communities of color to be able to fully participate and partner in sustaining a thriving local food economy. Following are organizations doing incredible work in NYC and statewide in some cases, creating resilient communities:
- La Familia Verde operates a successful urban farm cooperative and farmers market in the Bronx, filling the gap of our current food system supplying produce and farming access where it is needed most. Also, its co-founder, Karen Washington, is also co-owner at Rise and Root farm in Chester, NY.
- Corbin Hill Food Project provides food to those who need it most via a local food hub, reaching some 5,000 individuals per week in the city, of whom 68 percent make less than 200 percent of the Federal poverty level. Exemplifying community leadership, community self-reliance and community ownership, Corbin Hill plays an important part in bridging and linking urban and rural communities in New York.
- Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation’s Partnership for a Healthier Brooklyn includes over 100 member organizations such as Brooklyn Rescue Mission, Brooklyn Food Coalition, City Harvest, Isabahlia LOEF and many other organizations are planning a community designed food hub that will aggregate from hyper local farmers in Central Brooklyn in addition to regional farmers with a concentration on farmers of color. They also lead farm to headstart work sourcing from farmers via Corbin Hill Food Project throughout Brooklyn ensuring thousands of children, parents and staff have access to farm fresh food.
- The NYC Community Garden Coalition is dedicated to promoting the creation, preservation, and empowerment of community gardens through education, advocacy, and grassroots organizing. NYCCGC works at the City and State-wide level to improve the overall regulatory climate and policy infrastructure in such a way as to ensure the viability of community gardens and community farms, and to maximize their community and economic development contributions in New York City as well as throughout the State of New York.
- Sustainable Flatbush develops community based urban agricultural projects in Brooklyn . One of their most successful community projects is a healing herb garden as an outdoor classroom offering free workshops teaching community urban agricultural techniques and how to use culinary and medicinal herbs for health and wellness.
- Blk Projek created the South Bronx Mobile Market – a former school bus running on used veggie oil, will provide local, mostly organic produce to South Bronx Communities. This project will also be used as a springboard for workforce development, job creation and to support local urban and rural growers. The BLK Projek is forging relationships with Sustainable South Bronx, Corbin Hill Farm and Wholeshare to gauge and encourage partnerships that will make The South Bronx Mobile Market a grassroots, inclusive endeavor.
- Brooklyn Movement Center is building a community based food co-op, conceptualized, created, designed by and for Central Brooklyn residents—particularly the most vulnerable.
- In an area with the highest concentration of public housing in the country and very little good food options, Isahbalia LOEF grows food in Brownsville where they also train community food educators, host a farmers market and empowers community to become active agents within the local food system.
There are many, many other examples of dynamic, brilliant work led by communities of color throughout NY state addressing good food access and there is every reason and means by which to have diversity within all facets of our food system and thus our regional and local food economy.
According to Governor Cuomo, “By keeping the revenue generated from our farms and tables right here in New York, we can create more jobs and opportunities in communities across the State, and I am proud to be joining with our business and community partners to grow this vital part of our State’s economy.” We are very much interested and invested in the mission of creating more jobs and opportunities in communities across the state of NY. We believe investing in a sustainable, fair and racially equitable food system will help us do so.
Dara Cooper, Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation
Dennis Derryck, Corbin Hill Food Project
Ray Figueroa, NYC Community Garden Coalition
Karen Washington, La Familia Verde
Anthony Giancatarino, Center for Social Inclusion
Simran Noor, Center for Social Inclusion
Mark Winston Griffith, Brooklyn Movement Center
Brenda Duchene, Isabahlia LOEF
Qiana Mickie, Just Food
Onika Abraham, Farm School NYC
Tanya Fields, Blk Projek
Sheryll Durant, Sustainable Flatbush and Farming Concrete
Rev. Robert and Devanie Jackson, Brooklyn Rescue Mission
* For more information on Micro Hubs: Figueroa, Raymond, Jr.. “Update on FoodWorks, Testimony of Raymond Figueroa, Jr.. ” New York City Council, Joint Oversight Hearing: Committee on Government Operations and Committee on Contracts 25 Sept. 2013: 1-4. Print.