City Council Speaker Corey Johnson unveiled a new comprehensive agenda on how to tackle the city’s pervasive issue of food insecurity. 

Joined by East New York Councilmember Rafael Espinal, the speaker presented the new report “Growing Food Equity in NYC” at P.S. 89 Cypress Hills Community School on Thursday, August 1. 

The report outlines causes for the city’s hunger problem, including a lack of access to healthy and affordable food options for low-income New Yorkers, and proposed several policies that could be implemented in the coming year. The city council’s agenda includes addressing student hunger and ramping up the city’s summer meals program, expanding urban agriculture, empowering community gardeners and reducing food waste.

According to the Foodbank for NYC, an estimated 1.4 million New Yorkers are food insecure and have to rely on emergency food programs such as soup kitchens and food pantries each year.

“New York City is one of the richest cities in the world, yet more than one million of our residents are considered food insecure,” said Johnson. “That’s unacceptable.”

At the center of the council’s agenda is the city’s Office of Food Policy. Currently equipped with limited authority, Johnson hopes to transform the office into an agency that will oversee NYC’s food policies and develop a citywide food plan. The office will also be tasked with expanding existing programs such as summer meals and Health Bucks, which provides fruit and vegetable coupons to low-income New Yorkers, as well as manage the city’s school nutrition programing to increase fresh food consumption among students. 

Councilmember Rafael Espinal of the 37th District. Photo credit: NYC City Council

The council is looking to create an Office of Urban Agriculture to boost urban farming and empower community gardeners to help them generate income from their produce or the education they offer to the community. In addition to providing communities with cultural, educational and health benefits, community gardens can also be instrumental to reducing the heat-related effects of climate change, officials said.

“Urban agriculture is the most underutilized tool we have to close the freshness gap in low-income communities,” said Espinal, a keen proponent of urban agriculture who has created legislation to set up an urban agriculture website. “But momentum has been building, due in large part to the city’s existing infrastructure of community gardens, rooftop farms and indoor hydroponic farming.”

The city’s food equity agenda will also focus on addressing college student hunger. The city council allocated $1 million of its FY 2020 budget for a pilot program to increase food access for food insecure CUNY students. Johnson cited a recent survey which indicated that almost half of CUNY students have experienced food insecurity.

In an effort to make healthy, affordable foods accessible in the city’s food deserts, the council plans to make more neighborhoods eligible for the Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (FRESH) zoning bonus, an intiaitve that provides grocers with tax incentives if they open their supermarkets in underserved areas. 

“Food is a human right, which means as a city we need to establish food policies to help ensure that none of our residents are going hungry or relying on unhealthy foods to survive because they don’t have the means or access to nutritious meals,” said Johnson.

To see the full report, go here.

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