Op-Ed: Putting the power of food in the hands of communities

Op-Ed: Putting the power of food in the hands of communities

As human beings, food is what we need to survive and thrive. But we all know that food is more than just a necessity. It’s a connection to our families, our culture and to the Earth.

Unfortunately, in our city — one of the richest in the world — many people don’t have access to adequate, nutritious food.

More than 1 million New Yorkers are food insecure, and there is inequitable access to fresh and healthy food in many neighborhoods throughout the city, predominantly in low-income communities and communities of color.

That’s why I recently released Growing Food Equity in New York City, a detailed report that outlines the City Council’s agenda to tackle the challenges we face in regard to food policy.

This report stems from our core belief that access to adequate, nutritious food is a human right.

That means that we have a moral obligation to build a society where everyone has the fundamental right to be free from hunger and have access to healthy food.

Food policy needs to be addressed holistically if we’re going to achieve that goal, which is why the Council will introduce legislation to empower the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy. That office is currently too understaffed and under-resourced to appropriately coordinate all of this City’s vast food policy.

We also need to expand some of our most successful food programs that not only feed New Yorkers, but also make sure the food they get is fresh and healthy.

One example is our Health Bucks initiative, which provides coupons to low-income New Yorkers to purchase fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets. The program benefits more than just its participants.

Health Bucks encourages participants to shop at farmers’ markets, which are an important part of our local food economy.

Stimulating that economy — which also includes Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs and fresh food boxes — is at the heart of what we need to do to achieve our ambitious food policy goals.

I’m also calling for the city to fund a Community Food Hub Incubator to develop and support even more local food businesses and farm-to-city projects. The Council will also consider legislation to create an Office of Urban Agriculture that will help prioritize the ecological, economic and health benefits of urban agriculture in our city, including community gardens and urban farms.

Things like local food businesses, CSAs, farmers’ markets, and community gardens are integral to our diverse communities, and as city we must do everything we can to help make them a success.

This is smart food policy.

New Yorkers know best what kind of food they need to sustain themselves and their families physically, emotionally, and culturally. Our diversity is our strength, and we don’t need a top-down approach to food equity.

Rather, we want a system of food governance that grows (pun intended) from the communities themselves.

That’s at the heart of the City Council’s food agenda – implementing food policies that enrich our diverse communities.

Food is power. And we want that power in the hands of the people.

Corey Johnson is the New York City Council speaker