September 24, 2018

East NY Farms!.JPG

East New York Farms! Photo by Caitlin Marie Boas MPA-ESP ’18
East New York Farms! stands as an example of urban farming in New York City. Photo by Caitlin Marie Boas MPA-ESP ’18

In August, New York City Council member Rafael L. Espinal Jr. announced that he was introducing a legislative package that would support urban agriculture across the city.

Surrounded by community leaders and food justice advocates, Espinal said, “Whether through zoning laws or bureaucratic hoops, or lack of investment and incentives, or the practice of taking away community garden licenses, we’re not doing enough to support these spaces that do so much for our ecosystem.”

The proposed legislation was informed by research findings produced by a team of Capstone workshop students in the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy program at SIPA, who also appeared at Espinal’s press conference. The students’ report, “Rooted in Resilience,” aims to create opportunities for entrepreneurial practices, establish channels to navigate supporting organizations and government agencies, and to preserve and support existing gardens and farms, which are the fabric of so many New York City communities.

Urban agriculture, broadly defined, refers to the cultivation of food within a city’s limit. There are currently 600 community gardens, six commercial rooftop farms, four commercial vertical farms, and 715 public school gardens in New York City, the students reported, but they “could be bolstered by articulating common goals through the lens of resilience, mitigating the existing competition for resources and funding, and providing clarity regarding city government’s support for the enterprise at the community, nonprofit, and private levels.”

After extensive stakeholder interviews, site visits, and data analysis, the students — Dafna Bareket, Caitlin Marie Boas, Joseph DeMarco, Rebecca Hopkins, Devika Kaul, James Lin, Philip Malley, Julie Manoharan, Alexander Rudnicki, Daniel Wohl, and Ella Wynn, all MPA-ESP ’18 — made 10 policy recommendations pertaining to governance, regulations, and operations.

Nancy Degnan MPA ’01 PhD ’01GSAS, a SIPA adjunct professor and the students’ Capstone adviser, said the report “is novel and innovative because [the students] addressed urban agriculture in a thoroughly holistic way.

“From zoning to water and resources management to supply chain to economic development to environmental and community justice to nutrition, education, and job readiness, the team revealed the challenges and the solutions that urban agriculture offers.”

Since the spring, the students have presented their findings at numerous town halls and community meetings. They will continue to work with Espinal and legislation cosponsor Brooklyn Borough president Eric Adams to advance the effort.

“We are grateful to have partnered with these champions of community gardens and urban farms, and believe these bills will go a long way in realizing the full potential of urban agriculture across NYC,” said Boas.

— Brett Essler