Tiffany Cordero

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On June 11, the New York City Council’s Committee on Land Use held a hearing on Council Member Rafael Espinal’s bill calling for the development of an urban agricultural plan. 

Prior to the hearing, Council Member Espinal joined Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, community gardeners, and urban farmers at a rally at City Hall Park in support of the legislation. 

“About two years ago an iteration of this bill was passed. It required the city to create the first website that would assist urban farmers and gardeners with the information and resources they need. That was just the first step,” said Council Member Espinal.

The proposed bill would require the Department of City Planning to develop a comprehensive urban agriculture plan that addresses land use policy and other issues to promote the expansion of urban agriculture in the city. In lifting restrictions and clearing up land use policy, the plan would promote the expansion of urban agriculture, including community gardens, large-scale urban farming, and tech-based agricultural innovators. 

Urban farm in Bushwick, via Oko Farms.

“Every day, we are pioneering new ways to grow fresh produce that can feed our communities. But the government has not kept up with these innovative companies,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams. “The legislation being heard today will move the conversation around urban agriculture forward, making our economy stronger, our environment cleaner, and our communities healthier. I thank Council Member Rafael Espinal for his partnership.”

If passed, the department would be required to deliver the plan to the mayor and the speaker of the city council by July 1, 2019.

When asked how the proposed legislation would impact North Brooklyn communities, the council member’s sights were set on the potential for young New Yorkers. “New York City believes they are doing a lot to support urban agriculture, but the argument can be made that we can do more,” said Espinal. “This bill forces the city to recognize urban farming and agriculture as part of our ecosystem. It will create a task force to help young North Brooklyn residents with the education and resources they need to bridge the ‘freshness gap,’” he added. 

Advocates that testified at the hearing have long argued that the need for green space and access to local produce is necessary in closing the “freshness gap,” particularly in underserved areas of the city. Studies have shown that urban agriculture is estimated to be a $9 billion industry in the U.S. alone and has the potential to feed 20 million people in the New York City metropolitan area. In addition to this, technology surrounding urban agriculture is increasing and the legislation would assist New Yorkers in finding unique spaces to grow fresh produce. 

RiseBoro market, photo by Luciano Careras.

“When we talk about fighting climate change, fostering community within green spaces, providing access to fresh food, or boosting the local economy, the support of urban agriculture has proven to be able to tie all of these issues together. By creating a comprehensive and inclusive urban agriculture plan, this bill will play an effective role in moving our city forward,” said Espinal. “I’m thankful for the support of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and for the 46 of my colleagues for co-sponsoring this transformative bill.”

If we compare New York City to its Metropolitan counterparts and beyond, it may seem like we are behind in the conversation. However, the introduction of this bill and its staunch support in the local sector mean that the Big Apple is open to the opportunity and is ready to rise to the occasion. 

Cover image courtesy of Rafael Espinal.

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