Our Time Press

EXPANDING URBAN AGRICULTURE IN NYC

Rooftop farm in Brooklyn

Our Time Press interviewed Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams during a phone call on the afternoon of his annual evening Borough Hall Christmas Tree lighting event. He was excited to share some his ideas for moving the city forward. They encompassed a far-ranging agenda for managing a sweep of urban issues — education, policing, wellness and health, enterprise and more — under one umbrella strategy. “It’s about having a uniform attack, not a disjointed silo approach to solving problems,” he told us. The following month, BP Adams announced to Brooklyn and the world his “resolution” for, as he told us, “a smarter, healthier city.” It reflects his intent to “lead from a position of being on the frontline and not the rear.”
He has introduced urban agriculture and plant-based culture — and their attending values — as a holistic solution that can work to reorder urban disorders. As one observer noted, he is “talking about stuff that no one else is talking about.”
In March, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams joined the New York University (NYU) Stern Center for Sustainable Business and the Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, along with leading urban agriculture advocates, to release a new report on the untapped potential of urban agriculture, titled “The New Agrarian Economy.”
The report is presented here this April Earth Month, as it lays out concrete proposals to encourage the growth of urban agriculture in New York City.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams at the Brooklyn Farmer’s Market

“The New Agrarian Economy” outlines several areas where the City can work in concert with advocates and industry leaders to expand urban agriculture opportunities across the five boroughs, with priority given to historically underserved communities. Its recommendations focus on clearing regulatory hurdles to establishing and growing urban farms, expanding hands-on educational opportunities for students, reimagining existing infrastructure such as City-owned land to make it greener, promoting environmental preservation measures, and investing in workforce development for the urban agriculture sector.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility of our city’s economy and the deep inequities embedded in our food system,” says BP Eric Adams. Urban agriculture has the potential to revolutionize our urban landscape and play a significant role in an equitable recovery process, helping us to become a greener, healthier, more prosperous city after the pandemic. Our new report lays out a roadmap for achieving that, proposing steps that build on my previous advocacy efforts in Brooklyn. As the past several years have shown, there is tremendous economic potential in this promising sector — we just need the political will to invest the necessary resources to encourage its growth. I thank all of the advocates and industry leaders who offered their input into this report, and look forward to continuing our advocacy to turn our concrete jungle into a green oasis.”
During his tenure in office, Adams has advocated for promoting urban agriculture in Brooklyn and throughout the five boroughs. In 2017, Borough President Adams partnered with former Council Member Rafael L. Espinal Jr. to introduce legislation calling for the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) to create a comprehensive urban agriculture plan for the city. He also partnered with Council Member Espinal to invest $2 million in capital funding toward creating Brooklyn’s first urban agriculture incubator, to help entrepreneurs with a dedicated space for their businesses. To date, Adams has allocated $21 million to our “Growing Brooklyn’s Future” initiative, which gives K-12 students throughout Brooklyn hands-on learning opportunities to see how their food is grown, while producing 175 pounds of vegetables per classroom per school year to improve their diets with fresh produce. Borough President Adams is also actively working with the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) to establish a large-scale greenhouse, the first-of-its-kind on public housing property in New York City, and has allocated $16.8 million to the project.
“New York City is quickly becoming the capital of urban agriculture in the US. We have unmatched commercial, community, not-for-profit, and academic resources. And yet, strong and creative public-private partnerships are needed if urban agriculture is to realize its potential,” said NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business Project Director Invest NYC SDG Marianna Koval.
“New farms are popping up all over New York City, from rooftops, warehouses, and trailers, to communal spaces, growing by 56 percent over the past five years based on USDA data. The pandemic’s early days of empty grocery shelves showcased the critical importance of a locally-based food system, and urban agriculture has a robust role to play in developing pathways to increased resiliency in our local food system,” said Cornell CALS Associate Dean for Land-Grant Affairs Julie Suarez.
“This report is a call to action, as we begin to look beyond the pandemic, at remaking a food system that works for all New Yorkers centered in equity. At our Farms at NYCHA, we see every day the power of urban agriculture to provide accessible organic produce to our NYCHA communities while also serving as the grounds for job training for NYCHA young adults; creating opportunities for health, education, and community engagement; and delivering valuable environmental benefits. Green City Force is proud to be a part of New York’s ‘New Agrarian Economy’ and continuing to grow our impact within NYCHA with the support of the Borough President, both in Brooklyn where we got our start and citywide,” said Green City Force Executive Director Tonya Gayle.
“There is a deep rich history of communities of color leading the community garden and urban agriculture movement in New York City,” said Equity Advocates Policy Director Gabrielle Blavatsky. “We agree with Borough President Adams that the City of New York can and should do much more to protect existing community-owned and -operated urban farms and put funding toward the critical programs they run to provide healthy fresh food, job creation pathways, much needed greenspace, as well as nutrition and farming education in neighborhoods most impacted by food injustice and apartheid.”
“As a New York-based urban agriculture advisory firm that has carried out more than 20 consultations in the New York City area, facilitated more than 100 urban agriculture-related classes and lectures, and helped organize multiple weeklong AgTech conferences, Agritecture has had a front-row seat to the natural innovation and diversity of the urban farming ecosystem in this city. But without supportive policies, urban agriculture will not advance beyond a niche movement,” said Agritecture CEO Henry Gordon-Smith.
“Since 2014, the NYC Agriculture Collective, the producer of global industry event NYC AgTech Week and registered non-profit, has worked to increase education, awareness, and exposure to urban agriculture, food access, and green building for New Yorkers. We believe that increased access to resources in these areas benefit the health, economy, and resiliency of our city, and stand by all efforts in support of that mission,” said NYC Agriculture Collective Vice President Shelley Golan.
“Students who grow food get excited about eating it. Given the impact of animal-based and processed foods on the most common diseases, and the disproportionate impact on communities of color, there is a great need for urban agriculture with a focus on plant, rather than animal foods,” said Coalition for Healthy School Food Executive Director Amie Hamlin.
“From Brooklyn to the Bronx and all boroughs in between, Eric Adams understands the value of urban agriculture and that access to healthy, just, and fair food is a basic human right; that hungry and poorly fed children struggle in school and work harder to thrive, and that urban farms, urban agriculture, and healthy, accessible greenspaces provide opportunities for community development and self-reliance that mitigate our most pressing inequities and injustices — particularly for marginalized, over-extracted, communities of poverty and color. As New York City’s most famous vegan and recovering diabetic, BP Adams knows firsthand that cheap food is both expensive and exploitive,” said Green Bronx Machine Founder Stephen Ritz.