PlaNYC and Urban Agriculture

Posted: October 29th, 2009 | Author:



What is PlaNYC’s vision for Urban Agriculture?


PlaNYC 2030 was issued in 2007 on Earth Day setting long-term goals for sustainability of New York City. PlaNYC should be required reading for all New Yorkers.  No one can read PlaNYC without hoping for 100% implementation in our lifetime.  It’s all good stuff.  And, It happens to be a pretty good read too — loaded with color, charts, graphs, maps and photos.  Never has urban policy seemed so lively.


To my disappointment, however, PlaNYC has no explicit plans for Urban Agriculture.  Below, I analyze PlaNYC identifying the junctures where Urban Agriculture might be included in its scheme of possibilities.




The otherwise excellent chapter dedicated to “Open Space” (p. 29-49) does not mention any opportunities for Urban Agriculture in its program to expand parks, playgrounds and green spaces.   PlaNYC aims “to ensure that every New Yorker lives within a 10-minute walk of a park by 2030.” (PlaNYC, p. 31).  


So, I am left wondering about an alternative vision . . . What if every New Yorker lived within a 10-minute walk of an Urban Farm?  How would that change the way that we live and eat?  Could parks and playgrounds produce food too?  What if street trees bore fruit?   Could GreenStreets become FoodStreets, Block Beautiful become Harvest Bountiful?




But wait!  PlaNYC proposes to “introduce 20 cubic meters of ribbed mussel beds”  illustrating this practice with a cool underwater photograph of “Long-Line Mussell Farm, Valbodalen, Sweden.” (PlaNYC, p. 58).  The “Water” section goes on to harks to an era when New York Harbor was home to half of the world’s oysters, a major source of food and commerce.


Despite some maritime nostalgia, the fine print of this section tells a different story. The mollusks would not be introduced as a source of food but used to clean the water “one of nature’s finest filtration systems.” (PlaNYC, p. 59).  


The “Water” chapter goes on to plan for “vegetated ditches (swales) along parkways,” “greening of parking lots,” and “provide incentives for green roofs.”  Nowhere is there a mention that any of these green spaces could be used for food.


As to “green roofs,” PlaNYC cites a study by Riverkeeper: “[A] 40-square-foot green roof could results in 810 gallons of storm water captured per per year.”  The impact of green roofs on city sewage treatment costs could be enormous.  Green roofs could be a major resource for Urban Agriculture.




Green roofs were promoted once in the “Water” chapter.  PlaNYC does not mention, however, that green roofs also help defeat heat gain caused by ordinary roofs, lowering energy costs associated with electricity for cooling.




PlaNYC’s chapter on “Air” calls for reducing emissions from trucks.  Urban farms have no need for long-haul trucking and delivery, eliminating a major source of emissions.   




PlaNYC does not outline any plans to reduce or re-use sewage or organic waste.  Organic solid waste disposal is costly and often a source of environmental problems, like water contamination and landfill.  All cities — like Portland, Oregon — should consider sanitation reforms aimed at collecting organic waste and converting it into compost.  Urban Agriculture can play an important role in reducing the costs of processing and transporting organic waste by using local compost as fertilizer. 




PlaNYC addressed health issues arising from air, water, transportation and open space.  An important benefit of Urban Agriculture would be changing the priorities of individual consumers by creating ready access and availability of local fresh food.




PlaNYC left me wondering about the places where Urban Agriculture could fit in.  Amendment anyone?  Please share with me your reactions about the nexus between Urban Agriculture and PlaNYC.  Thanks.


Filed under: Urban Agriculture | Tags: , , Clean Water, , , , , , , , , , Organic Waste, , , , , , , | No Comments »

New Future of Food: Glywood Harvest Awards

Posted: October 28th, 2009 | Author:

October 26, 2007 – Glynwood, the non-profit organization with a mission to save farming, held a celebration for winners of the 7th Annual Harvest Awards at the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan.  The awardees participated in a panel discussion entitled, “The New Future of Food: Finding Change in Unlikely Places.”  <<Interestingly, Glynwood also operates its own farm in the Hudson Valley experimenting with sustainable agriculture practices with a focus on raising animals.>>

In a sign of the wide interest in the topic, the large conference room was packed to capacity and there were people in the hallway waiting to get inside.  I sat next to a woman — a dietician — who told me she had traveled from Long Island to hear about sustainable agriculture.

Glywood President Judith LaBelle kicked off the conversation with an introduction of the four winners. First, there were the Straubs of Triple H Farms, dairy farmers from Michigan whose small herd roam free on grassy fields yet make higher profits than other nearby farmers whose huge herds are contained in small spaces, using the industry-standard methods. Next, New Milford Hospital was recognized for its “Plow to Plate” initiative overhauling hospital food to make it healthy and local and fresh. Sounds so sensible that it’s radical: a hospital serving healthy food!  

Eat’n Park Restaurant group won an award for negotiating with distributors to buy 20% of its food from local, seasonal sources serving its 75 family restaurant chain in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. And lastly, Falling Sky Farm in Arkansas, which has been in business just two years, created a new sustainable farm of their own and on-line Farmer’s Market for 20 other local farms.

What was the theme that each of the winners mentioned?  Infrastructure change is key to making the food system more sustainable.  


The Straubs said that banks won’t approve loans to farmers intending to graze cattle because such “Farm Plans” fall outside lenders historic metrics for cash-flow and profits. As a result, the Straubs are working with Cornell University and other farmers to create alternative economic histories and balance sheets for grazing farms. This undertaking would not be remarkable except that the Straubs have been grazing dairy cattle since 1993. So, dairy grazing is not so new and it’s clearly proven and profitable.  For reference to the metrics, see the Straub’s recent report “Profitability in Dairy Grazing.


Eat’n Park would use MORE local food if the distributor would sell it to them. Eat’n Park leveraged its bulk purchasing power to exert influence over food distributors to convince them to carry local produce. With SYSCO and the other big food distributors dominating the trucking lanes, widespread change may be challenging.  


New Milford Hospital reduced the amount of waste associated with its food production by more than half. How? By using everything that it bought and cooking from scratch. Vegetable peelings make stock and not garbage. Leftovers are composted.  The hospital also simplified its menu which further reduced waste and reduced overhead enough to permit the food service to buy higher quality food. As a result, patients’ positive rating of the hospital food increased from 30% to 86% positive in just ten months. Job satisfaction amongst food service staff has also increased as they now feel included in the hospital’s mission and the patients’ healing process.    


Falling Sky Farm reaches buyers directly with its products rather than selling through a middleman. The purchaser gets to know the farmer that provides them with fresher, healthier food. As a farmer-producer, however, Falling Sky Farm is limited to operating at a very small output volume permitted by the USDA regulations. In order to increase its production and reach more markets, Falling Sky Farm would have to drive two hours to process its chickens in a USDA-approved plant. More USDA-approved processing plants need to be initiated for smaller farmers who want to reach more consumers. I am long-time client of Dines Farms, New York.  Dines has responded to the same USDA limitations and taken matters into its own hands, raising money to open its own USDA-approved meat processing facility.


The average age of a farmer in the United States is about 50 years old, suggesting a growing need for younger farmers to continue the farming business. Farm land and farmers are disappearing at an alarming rate. Who will feed this country when they are gone?  Falling Sky Farms provides an answer.  These two young, college-educated founders read Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma inspiring them to visit Joel Salatin’s farm in Virginia who gave them some of the conceptual and practical tools to embark on a new farming enterprise.  



After the panel, Glynwood held a lovely cocktail reception with food and wine provided by (some of my favorite) NYC chefs who attended The French Culinary Institute and whose menus emphasize local produce: Chef Sean Rembold, Marlow & Sons, Brooklyn; Chef Shanna Pacifico, Back Forty, NYC; Chef Josh Eden, Shorty’s 32, NYC and Chef Bobby Hellen, Resto, NYC. I am almost embarassed to admit how many times I have eaten at Marlow & Sons, where Chef Rembold’s use of local, seasonal foods has expanded my palate and my own cooking style. The crowd at the reception was quite thick, making it difficult to consume both food and drink. Yet I did get a chance to sample Chef Pacifico’s winter squash soup with roasted brussel sprout leaves and crispy pancetta — which was excellently seasonal and flavorful. Food pictured above is a paté assemblage prepared by Chef Hellen.  


Overall, Glynwood produced an interesting and inspiring dialogue about the future of food. Glynwood’s awards emphasize practical and effective undertakings happening today which could transform agriculture in the future. That’s appropriate. I have to admit, however, that I was hoping the discussion would continue further up the same road to the future — pointing out grand dreams and bold visions. Maybe I developed an appetite lingering from my weekend conversations about “Utopias.”  In an effort to continue this significant dialogue, I hope to discuss Glynwood’s broader aspirations for tomorrow’s agriculture in an upcoming post.

Filed under: Events, Urban Agriculture | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Scratch Cooking, , , , | 2 Comments »

Brooklyn Farmers Ball – Come One, Come All!

Posted: October 27th, 2009 | Author:

Tonite, I am going to check out the Brooklyn Farmers Ball at the Brooklyn Lyceum.  The event was organized by Food Security Roundtable to raise funds to send a delegation of urban farmers and food justice activists to the Growing Food and Justice For All Initiative over this weekend in Milwaukee, WI at Will Allen’s Growing Power.   As a father of two school-age kids, I can’t miss the upcoming Halloween festivities.  So, I am excited to bid bon voyage to the sojourners this evening.  I hope to hear back  from some of the Brooklyn delegation later this Fall and report on their work in a future post!

Footnote: October 28, 2009: I guess there were about 300 attendees at the Brooklyn Farmer’s Ball last night, most of whom seemed to be twenty-somethings.  Here’s a photo of the somewhat nutty promenade with the Rude Mechanical Orchestra.

Filed under: Events, Urban Agriculture | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

Urban Farming in the Public Interest

Posted: October 25th, 2009 | Author:

Source: RUAF – Resource Centres on Urban Agriculture & Food Security

THINK GLOBALLY!  Mega cities need mega tons of food to survive.  Urban farming responds to a growing need as mega cities — like New York City — continue to expand around the world.  Urban farming can help increase the availability, access and quality of food for city dwellers.  

ACT LOCALLY?   Why promote the growth of urban agriculture in New York City?

A recent NYC report, Food in the Public Interest, issued by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, suggests that “urban food production” in NYC is one crucial strategy to address a broad spectrum of related local food issues.  The report outlines three major reasons why urban agriculture may be seen as increasingly important in improving the quality and quantity of good, fresh food to urbanites:

(1) “The Environment: Common commercial farm practices such as using chemicals and aggregating livestock in small spaces can contribute to air pollution.  Further, food that travels extraordinarily long distances from farm to plate requires more food, [packaging], storage and refrigeration all of which consume energy [and other resources].”     [Text in brackets added by The Greenest].

(2) “Public Health: Locally grown and distributed food is likely to be fresher, more nutritious, less subject to intensive pesticide use and less processed.”  

Note: The report emphasizes that NYC has a looming and serious health threat of epidemic proportions represented by the steady rise in the incidence of both diabetes and obesity in populations that generally lack access to affordable fresh food close to home. 

(3) The Economy: Enhancing the local food system would create more opportunities for local employment at all levels.  Urban agriculture could also contribute to food security for the City’s neediest.

In addition to these excellent points, The Greenest would add some of its own in support of promoting urban agriculture:

(4) Heat Island Effect – Cities are sometimes called “heat islands” because they are hotter than surrounding areas.    Greenery –like urban agriculture– helps reduce the “heat island effect” by cooling cities down, thereby reducing electricity used by air conditioning and refrigeration equipment.  

(5) Waste Water –   Green spaces absorb more rainfall reducing the amount of stormwater in the city sewage system.  Green spaces can also be irrigated by so-called “grey water” filtered from water produced by stormwater runoff, showers, sinks, diswashers and clothes washers, reducing loads on city sewage systems and doubling the benefits received from fresh water.

(6) Solid Waste  –  Gardens can create and use compost derived from solid waste to fertilize — diminishing the costs, energy and environmental impacts of a portion of the city’s solid waste production.

(7) Psychological benefits – Plants make people happy.  It’s a fact.  It’s a well established human response called “biophilia.”  More plants will make more people happy.  

(8)  “Foodie” Culture – NYC is one of the cultural food capitals of the world, home to many a sundry “foodie.”  Food is the second most talked-about topic in NYC — after real estate.  However, NYC produces less and less of its own food outside of restaurant kitchens.  The growth of urban agriculture will form part of a growing and intensifying local food culture that emphasizes better taste and better health together.  

Through my exploration of Urban Agriculture, I aim to understand what motivates the urban farmer to till the soil — the challenges and opportunities.  In the upcoming posts, I will look at other industries that are part of the “food system” that could be a source of increased productivity and market penetration for urban agriculture.

Filed under: Composting, Food Security, Green Roofs, Uncategorized, Urban Agriculture, Urban Farming, Urban Planning, Water Conservation | Tags: Air Pollution, , Biophilia, , Energy, , , , , Gardens, , , , Heat island Effect, , , , , , , , Public Health, , , , , | No Comments »

“Utopian” Urban Planning: Discussion & Exhibit

Posted: October 22nd, 2009 | Author:

“Utopian” Urban Planning 
Artists and Community Leaders Discuss Brooklyn’s Future
Sunday, October 25, 2009, 2-4pm, Brooklyn Historical Society 
128 Pierrepont Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201, First Floor Community Gallery and basement conference room.          Admission: FREE

Please join me at this round table event in which artists and curator will debate their ideas with community leaders, architects and urban planners, and the general public, with a focus on large (and small) scale planning initiatives.

What does it take to build affordable and sustainable living, working, and transportation systems in Brooklyn?  How can we develop Brooklyn responsibly to meet the needs of its diverse communities, including its artistic communities?  And finally, how do artists play a role in this urban planning process? 

Special guest speakers include Amy Sananman, Executive Director/Founder, Groundswell Community Mural Project, Shin-pei Tsay, Deputy Director of Transportation Alternatives, Derek Denckla, Founder, Propeller Group and Alexander Gorlin, FAIA, Principal/Founder of Alexander Gorlin Architects. The event will feature an exhibit walk-through with artists and curators, followed by a panel discussion moderated by urban historian and licensed architect Marta Gutman, PhD. (please see attachment for more information about participating organizations/panelists). 

“Utopian” Urban Planning is part of the Brooklyn Utopias? exhibitions and public programs series, in which artists and youth respond to differing visions of an ideal Brooklyn. The main Brooklyn Utopias? art show will be on view in the Brooklyn Historical Society’s Community Gallery through January 3, 2010. Please visit for more information.


I was really impressed with presenters at this event. Each brought a vision for planning a greener city. Alexander Gorlin is incorporating vast tracts of urban agriculture in a proposed community plan for Brownsville. Amy Sananman of Groundswell Mural is inspiring youth to understand the source of our precious water resources through the creation of public art. Shin-Pei Tsay of Transportation Alternatives is sponsoring competitions to design a greener city with fewer (no) cars. The exhibition and the events were very thoughtfully put together by curator Katherine Gressel. Soon, I will be talking to Katherine about continuing the conversation because the notion of “Utopia” shifts with the necessities of each moment.

I think that there is a need to re-discover the impulse to be a “Utopian.” “Utopia” is inherently related to both time + place. “Ou + Topos” is literally “No Place.” “Utopia” is a place that is not a place because it exists only in our minds. Thus, Utopia is a place that always and only exists in the future. It is an imagined future that responds to a longing in the present grounded in some interpretation of problems past. For some, Utopia and Heaven are one. Plato may have called it “Forms.” President William Jefferson Clinton called it “Hope.” Regardless of your cosmology, I believe that it is peculiarly human impulse to work to describe and realize elements of Utopia in the present place and make way for the next, greater vision of Utopia that we will be chasing thereafter.

Filed under: Events, Urban Agriculture, Urban Planning | Tags: Alexander Gorlin, , , Brooklyn Utopias?, Future, , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Urban Agriculture: Expanding the Harvest

Posted: October 19th, 2009 | Author:


It’s harvest time in the Northern Hemisphere.  

Late Fall may be one of the only times of year that urbanites become fleetingly aware that a portion of their food is grown locally. City folk trudge out-of-town, snarling rural traffic in search of scenic apple orchards and pumpkin patches and <<gulp>> corn mazes.

How would our relationship to food change if it was growing in our own neighborhood? 

The locavore, slow food movement — sparked by the likes of Michael Pollan and Alice Waters — has ignited a popular consciousness of the importance of fresh food harvested close to home.  

What about food grown even more locally, harvested within city limits?  

Farmers’ Markets now abound in every neighborhood in New York City and in cities around the country.  Restaurant menus spill over with names of farms and farmers supplying greens, cheese, and beef.  

How about a market or a menu dedicated to produce grown on the rooftops down the street?

My new Urban Agriculture project for “The Greenest,” will delve into answers to questions like these.

My aim is to identify  means and methods of urban agriculture which may be scaled as a feasible food source for all urbanites in the near future to provide “Fresh Food For All”!   

Much of current popular writing on urban agriculture is devoted to the individual backyard gardener.   Some of these personal experiments have broader implications.  

In addition, there are many new exciting enterprises exploring innovative approaches to wider applications for urban agriculture policy and practice.   We need to begin to view these experiments less as pet projects and more as blueprints for a sustainable future.

Filed under: Uncategorized, Urban Agriculture | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Greenest Is Coming!

Posted: October 3rd, 2009 | Author:


The Greenest!

Hello and Welcome to the launch of TheGreenest.Net, a new project by Derek Denckla.  

 ”Superlative Ideas for a Sustainable Future”  is our motto.

Urban Agriculture will be the focus for 2009, exploring best practices and innovation for a large scale market.

I intend to create a dialogue to inspire action by delving into “one big topic” for a solid block of time.  

Time period: Topic “ripeness,” when all angles and nooks have been illuminated.

The Greenest hopes to send off a few sparks that might continue to inspire us to re-align our relationship to each other and our shared environment.

Comments make The Greenest a dialogue, so let the spirit move you.  Really!  Speak Up! 

Coming Soon: Superlative No.1: “Why Urban Agriculture?” hitting the screen-o-sphere sometime in the next week or so. 

Thanks for tuning in. . . .

Filed under: Uncategorized, Urban Agriculture, Urban Farming | Tags: , , Future, , , , | No Comments »
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