A Conversation with Food Policy Analyst Alissa Weiss About the Latest FoodWorks Legislation

Assembled by the FSNYC Communications Committee
Edited by: Hans Bernier

Over the summer the New York City Council introduced 5 pieces of legislation that will hopefully change the way city looks at its food. As stated in its press release, the new FoodWorks Bill:

“aims to encourage regional farming, facilitate the identification of city property for gardens or agricultural use and decrease the city’s waste and energy usage, while also increasing the transparency of the city’s progress toward better nutritional outcomes and public health.”

The FSNYC Communications Committee recently corresponded with Alissa Weiss a Senior Policy Analyst with Speaker Christine Quinn’s office. The communications committee assembled a set of questions regarding the legislations impact and how it will be implemented on the ground. We want to thank Senior Analyst Weiss for taking the time to answer our inquiries thoroughly and honestly.

Q: How will this new legislation create jobs?

A: FoodWorks has led to the passage of a number of pieces of legislation in the past year, and there will be more bills in the months ahead.  While these bills will not directly lead to job growth, they lay the groundwork for a more transparent food system that provides policy makers, advocates and communities with the information necessary to develop a robust food economy, which we hope will lead to increased employment opportunities.  

A number of the bills – particularly the FoodMetrics bill, Local Law No. 52 – are intended to provide us with information that we are currently lacking.  We need to get a handle on the City’s food system – what different agencies are purchasing, how much they’re buying and where they’re getting it from; the number of supermarkets in our communities; the extent of our support for local food manufacturers – in order to most effectively grow the food system.  This information will allow us to set goals around things like local procurement, or the City’s efforts to increase fresh food access by supporting supermarkets, bodegas and green carts.  We believe that this work will help a number of food-related industries, and will inevitably lead to job growth.  Other bills seek to increase transparency in order to allow New York City residents to engage more fully in the food system.  Local Law No. 48, which requires the City to create a searchable database of city-owned property, will shed light on the type, location and amount of space available for urban greening; we hope this will facilitate an increase in agriculture in the city and generate the types of job and economic growth that are increasingly associated with urban farming.  Lastly, new legislation, Local Law No. 50 lays out a protocol for City agencies to set up guidelines to increase purchasing of locally grown or manufactured foods.  While City Council cannot mandate that City agencies contract with local farmers or manufacturers, we hope that this bill will lead to an increase in local procurement, which will support job growth.  

Q:    What criteria will the city use to select the local farmers used in purchasing?
A: Local farmers will have to go through the same process as any contractor or subcontractor; they will have to respond to a bid or request for proposal (RFP), and the City agencies will continue to decide how to award its contracts based on the specifications they outline and the cost of the good.  That said, the intent of the legislation was to encourage agencies to consider how to identify local producers and processors and to communicate contracting opportunities with this population.  We are hopeful that in a situation where the local farmer is just as cost-competitive as a non-local farmer, agencies will increasingly give preference to the local option.

Q: Does this new legislation include increase support for organic farming specifically?
A: While this legislation hopes to funnel increased support to small local farmers – many of whom farm in a healthy and sustainable manner – it does not directly target organic farms.

Q: Is it anticipated that the new laws/ordinances could reduce the relatively higher cost of locally farmed foods?
A: This package of new laws is creating an infrastructure for a local food system that will support local farms, whether they are located outside of New York City or right here in the city’s boundaries.  Potential results of the legislation include opportunities like bulk purchasing, or greater distribution efficiencies, which can help reduce costs for the consumer.  Additionally, to the degree that we facilitate urban farmers finding and using public land for their farms, we will help them to reduce their costs.

Q: When will the first annual report be out? How will the information be gathered?What will be done with the data collected from the Annual Food Systems Metrics Report?  What do you anticipate to be the first results of the Annual Food Systems Metrics Report on the practices and operations of city agencies?
A: The first annual City Food System Metrics Report will be released on September 1, 2012.  The Mayor’s Office of Long-term Planning and Sustainability is responsible for gathering the information from the different City agencies and coordinating the report.  We are very much looking forward to the first report, as it will give us an incredibly valuable and comprehensive snapshot of New York City’s food system.  The first report will provide the City with baseline data, which is necessary for setting goals and deciding how to best support food-related initiatives and programs.  The results of this annual report will arm policy-makers, advocates and communities with the information we all need to make informed policy and programming decisions.  

Q: What synergies do you anticipate between the Annual Food Systems Metrics Report and PlaNYC?
A: Food is a critical piece in the sustainability puzzle, as Speaker Quinn’s FoodWorks report emphasized, and we were happy to see that food was included in the most recent update to PlaNYC, and is recognized as playing a role in furthering the city’s environmental goals.  So once the Food Systems Metrics Report is released, we anticipate working closely with the Mayor’s Office of Long-term Planning and Sustainability, and the Mayor’s Food Policy Coordinator to ensure that these documents are used to guide policies and programs in a way that supports sustainability and health for residents across the city.  

Q: How will the new laws related to procurement and local preference be integrated into existing school food vendor contracts - will they be rebidding only as contracts expire or can this jump start more across the board renegotiating of contracts and include new vendors?
A: The new laws don’t actually cover the Department of Education (DOE), because DOE operates under State law.  DOE has already done a lot of innovative work to increase the amount of locally grown and manufactured food it procures, but City Council is working with DOE so that they direct even more of their dollars to local suppliers and the City Council would like to help DOE push that dollar and contract amount even higher.  

Q: How will the new waste regulation be enforced?
A: Local Law 51 calls for city agencies to create guidelines around reducing the packaging of the goods procured through various contracts.  The bill does not mandate a particular type of packaging; instead the intent of the legislation is to encourage agencies and contractors to consider the environmental impact of packaging.  Those contractors who successfully follow the agency guidelines and reduce waste will be recognized by the City.  

Q: Will there be any funding support for the green houses that will be filling the allotted roof spaces?
A: While the upcoming fiscal year is looking to be a difficult one in terms of funding, we are very supportive of urban agriculture and greenhouses.  We will be looking to next year’s budget cycle to see what sorts of proposals we receive, and what we are able to support.  In the meantime, we are working with the administration and various City agencies to determine how to best support green houses and make it easier for them to start and operate a space in the city.  

Q: Will the city owned property data base be open to the public? And if so how will organizations interested in obtaining space for urban agriculture project go about applying?
A: The city-owned property database, which is run by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, will absolutely be open to the public, in an online format.  The purpose of the database is to make this information free, easily accessible and useful to those interested in using city-owned land for urban greening projects.  The database includes information about which agencies own and operate specific properties; the appropriate point of contact is also listed, so that New York City residents who are interested in using specific plots can reach out to the agencies directly.  


Want to learn more about FoodWorks? Read our article here