"If New York crafts a better food system, cities nationwide could draw inspiration from their model."

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A rooftop farm in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. [Photograph: isaiahk on Flickr]

The past few weeks have seen a media frenzy surrounding the FDA Food Modernization Act and the Child Nutrition Act, both of which are making their way through the legislative process at a slow but somewhat steady pace.

I was so caught up in following these bills and their surrounding controversy that I almost lost track of a food revolution developing in New York City. In late November, council speaker Christine Quinn announced FoodWorks, a 90-page plan for reforming and supporting NYC's food system.

The report is separated into five areas of development: Agricultural Production, Processing, Distribution, Consumption, and Post-Consumption. At each level it provides information about the status of food production in New York currently, and recommendations for how the system can be restructured. The goal is maximizing consumption of locally-sourced foods across populations and solidifying community connections.

The section pertaining to agriculture discusses how New York is the second-largest apple producing state in the country and third-largest dairy producer, and yet few of these goods make it to the city's grocery shelves. Quinn proposes patching these connections, as well as finding more space for community gardens and rooftop farms within city limits.

Quinn seeks to reform processing mechanisms in the city by providing space and financial means for expansion of small businesses. Part of the infrastructure proposed includes a permanent location for the New Amsterdam Market, and ten million dollars for manufacturing space for small food producers. Additionally, she would host a business-to-business networking conference, to better match producers with potential markets.

The distribution and consumption sections of the report largely pertain to increasing healthy food access across all neighborhoods of the city. Quinn proposes bringing more food co-ops to under-served communities, shipping local produce to bodegas, and community food guides. She vaguely refers to limiting access to unhealthy food options near schools and other restrictive measures, but given the backlash against similar policy in other cities such reform is unlikely.

Finally, the report delves into how to best deal with post-consumption food waste. Quinn proposes a city-wide composting system to utilize food scraps. I thoroughly support this type of innovative and resourceful solution to the tons of food waste produced by the city—however, much of the populace would have to be educated on proper food disposal before the system could take effect.

Quinn's speech announcing the Foodworks initiative is a call to action. Few of the initiatives in the report are purely top-down. Many of them require active participation of the city's residents in order to create real change.

Mayor Bloomberg's past food initiatives have been controversial, but arguably successful in their missions to improve the health of New Yorkers. I would like to see Quinn's plan implemented widely and appropriately. If New York crafts a better food system, cities nationwide could draw inspiration from their model. One city at a time, we could see a country headed towards local production and happier, healthier citizens.

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