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Council Goes Green With Local Farming Bills

By Jill Colvin | July 28, 2011 8:55pm
The City Council welcomes fresh produce as part of its Community Supported Agriculture program.
The City Council welcomes fresh produce as part of its Community Supported Agriculture program.
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William Charles Alatriste

MANHATTAN — The City Council gave the thumbs up to green thumbs Thursday, with a package of legislation designed to give local farming a major boost.

The council voted to encourage city agencies to buy local food that is grown, harvested or produced in New York State as part of Speaker Christine Quinn’s Foodworks initiative.

The council also voted to add greenhouses to the list of rooftop structures excluded from height limitations to encourage their use and passed new guidelines aimed at reducing the use of packaging, including encouraging vendors contracted by the city to eliminate it entirely or switch to recyclable materials.

“These bills are crucial to the goal of Foodworks —  to use our food system to create jobs, protect our environment, and improve public health,” Quinn said in a statement.

“By encouraging city agencies to buy regional food, we’ll keep more local dollars in the local economy. We’ll make it easier for New Yorkers to grow their own food in rooftop greenhouses, and push city government to purchase food without unnecessary packaging,” she said.

Ahead of the vote, Council members and staffers welcomed a delivery of fresh squash, eggplant, basil, peppers, lettuce and other fruits and veggies from New York’s Norwich Farms and Red Jacket Orchards to the 16th-floor lunch room at 250 Broadway as part of the council's new Council Community Supported Agriculture program.

The Council CSA, which was established in April, is the first government-based CSA program in the city, and delivers fresh produce to more than 50 members of the council staff.

Councilwoman Gale Brewer, who visited a series of farms in upstate New York earlier this month, praised the move to local growers.

“It's clear to me that we have the production and processing capacity to partner with our farmers, get healthier, teach our kids to eat right, grow the economy, and save money,” she said.

In addition to the local farming push, the council also voted to create a new searchable database of all 18,500 city-owned and leased properties, which members hope will help to identify wasted space and scout potential new venues for affordable housing, open spaces and community gardens.

And it voted to force the city to report new details about its food purchases, including which milk and fresh produce purchased by the Department of Education is locally-sourced and how the city is working to improve the nutritional value of meals at places like schools, hospitals and homeless shelters.