Nutrition / Public Health

What Can $15 Million Do For New York City’s Food? The Healthy Food And Community Change Initiative

On Thursday, Feruary 14th, the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund launched the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy and the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund's Healthy Food & Community Change Initiative with a special forum at Teachers College, Columbia University.

On Thursday, Feruary 14th, the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund launched the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy and the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund’s Healthy Food & Community Change Initiative with a special forum at Teachers College, Columbia University.

On Thursday, February 14, 2013, the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund held a special forum at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College in launch of the Healthy Food and Community Change (HFCC) initiative, pledging a generous $15 million for healthy food initiatives across New York City over the next five years. This tops the $1.5 million donation made in 2008 for NYC’s Green Carts initiative.

The HFCC initiative is set to cover four major areas: 1) the new Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy at Teachers College, Columbia University; 2) Neighborhood-based Strategies, such as City Harvest and NYC Green Carts; 3) Public-Private Partnerships, such as Wholesome Wave,  New York City Health and Hospitals CorporationNew York City Coalition Against Hunger and Share Our Strength; and 4) Good Neighbor Grants, funding impactful programs such as Wellness in the Schools and United Way of NYC.

The announcement of the pledge left city officials with one big question, “How should we spend $15 million?”

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn finds it difficult to believe that NYC relies on fresh produce from across the country when much of it is available in New York State. The City Council’s recent report, “Food Works,” outlines the city’s food chain “from ground to garbage can,” including current efforts to initiate a system of curb-side composting. Speaker Quinn admitted that many of these ideas were initially pushed back to clean up outdated laws, such as zoning regulations for roof-top gardens. However, Quinn hailed the city’s success at increasing SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) availability in Farmer’s Markers. Speaker Quinn thinks food can serve as an economic engine, as evidenced by the Hunts Point Terminal Market and the FRESH (Food Retail Expansion to Support Health) initiative.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer began with progressive statement, “Since World War II, New York State has been the largest food purchaser in the world,” he went on, “We need to help people going into the food businesses.” The Borough President feels that land use and zoning regulations can work as catalysts for a regional food chain, “The sky is the limit,” he stated, “…vertical gardening, it isn’t sci-fi, it’s real.”  A challenge, Stringer admitted, is taking into account the smaller “mom and pop” businesses, noting that many fast food restaurants are handed tax deductions, an outdated system that was originally meant to encourage job growth. Stringer aims to solve these issues, and others, with a bottom-up approach that begins with the community. Stringer noted “Youth Bucks,” a program formed through collaboration between a school’s Wellness Initiative, the Manhattan Borough President’s Office, and the New York City Department of Health. Looking ahead, Stringer urges NYC to establish a commissioner-level position for Food Policy, allowing the U.S. Senator from New York Kirsten Gillibran to concentrate on her work at the state level.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker calls to “reward innovation,” and took the time to discuss some of the  initiatives taking place in his city of Newark. The Clean and Green program provides former prisoners with transitional jobs in landscaping and urban farms in Newark, noting a 3.5 acre farm located directly across from a public school. One of Newarks biggest accomplishments to date is establishment of a grant program providing refrigeration units for bodegas to stock fresh fruits and vegetables, to which Speaker Quinn replied, “We would like to adapt that idea (in NYC), we have found it difficult.” However, Booker is hesitant to initiate top-down policies like those in NYC, such as a recent attempt to restrict the purchase of sugary drinks with SNAP. “We don’t know enough about where people are using SNAP,” Booker say, arguing that SNAP stereotypes persist to this day despite statistics that say 40% of SNAP participants are children and 20% are disabled.

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