Quinn Wants to Transform the City's Foodscape

On Monday, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced Food Works, a plan to address five areas along the city's food cycle: production, distribution, processing, consumption, and post-consumption. The City spends around $175 million on food for schools, jails, senior centers and more. Quinn said she wants to use that purchasing power to refocus the food system so it can create more jobs, improve public health and protect the environment.

When it comes to local production, upstate farmer and MacArthur Fellow Cheryl Rogowski said she and others can grow a lot more food for the city -- but they need help from government and private industry to get that produce to market. "We need you to grow the facilities," said Rogowski, "to get that lettuce down here, get it bagged, get it washed and get it into that school system."

City schools started getting more of their food from local farmers in 2006. Since then, they have spent on average $1 million a year on produce from upstate farms. But that is less than 1 percent of its $145 million food budget. One study suggested schools could increase their spending 10 to 12 percent on locally produced food.

The Food Works plan calls for legislation that would require the rest of city government to purchase food like the schools. "The DOE found ways to buy more locally [produced food] without additional costs," said Quinn. "So why can't every other city agency do the same thing?"

Another aspect of the Food Works plan is to preserve and promote local food processing -- one of the few remaining manufacturing sectors in the city, with $5 billion in annual revenue and 14,000 workers.

Brooklyn's Damascus Bakery is one company looking to expand. "We've actually identified 70 companies just like Damascus, " said Quinn, "they want to stay here in New York but they're worried that they won't be able to afford the space they need to fit their growing demand."

The plan calls for tax breaks and help with zoning among other programs to help foster the food processing sector.

The wide ranging plan contains 59 proposals. It also includes redeveloping the Hunts Point Food Terminal, expanding composting and training the unemployed for grocery jobs.

A suite of legislation will be rolled out next month that will help implement the plan.