Category: Community Voices #4: Transportation/Infrastructure
Just Food and GreenMarket – Community Voices 4: Urban Agriculture/Hunger
| May 18, 2010 | 6:46 pm | Community Voices #4: Transportation/Infrastructure | Comments closed

The common event, Community Voices #4, featured two grassroots community organizations, Just Food, and GreenMarket.

Abby Youngblood, the speaker for Just Food, initiated the lecture with a PowerPoint that highlighted the increase in obesity of people living in the United States.  The general trend shows that obesity has been on the rise, particularly in southern states. Furthermore, there is a positive correlation between increasing amounts of fruits and vegetables consumed and one’s waistline. This statement aided in setting the stage for the rest of her presentation, and helped showcase the necessity of fresh fruits and vegetables in one’s diet.

Operating since 1995, Just Food has helped provide city residents with fresh produce from local farms.  Just Food works with many programs, including The City Farm, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), Fresh Food for All, Community Food Education and Food Justice. These programs range from teaching knowledge of food growth, to increasing access to local produce. Just Food promotes Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) initiatives, and strives to eliminate food deserts in the city. Considering the decline of family farms, Just Food has helped local farmers by linking food producers to markets in New York City: “Just Food works to increase access to fresh, healthy food in NYC and to support the local farms and urban gardens that grow it.” The Just Food website states that families receive a weekly delivery of fresh food from a local farm, for a fee of $475 per season. It also mentions that CSAs are the least expensive way for consumers to purchase organic food. If one is involved in a CSA, they are required to pay fees up front. In return, they are provided with a box of organic fresh fruits and vegetables on a weekly basis.  One essentially gets the crops that are “in season” from the farmer. This activity directly supports local farmers, and also helps in the elimination of waste. Farmers know how much food they need to grow, and extra food is not left to spoil. There are currently over 80 CSA programs in New York City, with new farmers added to the list every year.

Food justice was an important topic addressed by Ms. Youngblood.  Food justice goals include mobilizing citizens to actively participate in food policy issues (food justice advocates), raising the profile of food and climate change issues, and even legalizing beekeeping in New York City. The role of bees as pollinators was brought to my attention.  These friendly insects protect biodiversity and pollination; they may help create crops that are more desirable and help in the production of flowers that are commonly seen in farmer’s markets.

It was interesting to hear of our diet’s contribution to global warming. Global industrial agriculture contributes to 13.5% (32% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions) of global warming. Transportation, methane emissions, fertilizer production, and food packaging all add up. For this reason, it makes more sense to invest in CSAs. Food is from local farmers, and therefore does not have to be transported large distances.

The second presentation made was by Liz Carlo. Founded in 1976, The GreenMarket Program, part of of GrowNYC, has a two-fold mission: to promote the use of organic foods from local farms, and to provide New Yorkers with nutritious locally grown food. GreenMarket started in a parking lot on 59th st and 2nd Avenue in Manhattan, and consisted of produce being sold by twelve farmers.  Today there are over 200 family farms participating in the program. GreenMarket features 49 markets, 19 of which are open year-round.

Everything that is sold by GreenMarket is grown, raised, and caught by the people living on family farms in New York. GreenMarket staff includes 25 year round personnel and 20 to 25 seasonal market managers.  The diverse crops grown by farmers are a main attraction at vending sites. The institution of all of these markets greatly helps combat food deserts, which are defined as neighborhoods with little or no access to the fresh fruits and vegetables needed in a healthy diet. Furthermore, these “deserts” have plenty of fast food locations, which helps increase chances of obesity and weight-related diseases.

The desire to combat food deserts is made clear by the fact that GreenMarket stands accept alternate forms of payments, such as EBT, WIC, and Health bucks. This ensures that people receiving financial aid from the government have the opportunity to access organic fruits and vegetables.

I found it interesting that the two speakers did not discuss the cost of the fresh produce more in depth. In particular, although I find the CSAs to be beneficial to local farmers, it is important to note that consumers must pay for their fresh fruits and vegetables ahead of time.  If someone is of low socioeconomic standing, it is hard to imagine that they will participate in programs if it means paying close to five hundred dollars, yet not being unsure of what produce they will ultimately receive.

The discussion of the health factors associated with eating fruits and vegetables was superfluous at times. I do not doubt that anyone is unaware of the health benefits of fresh produce. I believe that any decision to not participate in these programs is primarily economically based, and not based on ignorance of simple nutrition.  I can understand that there are food deserts in certain parts of New York City.  The lack of fresh produce in those areas is most likely correlated with the issue of resources. There are more fast food shops in areas of low socioeconomic standing. Because fast food/ junk food tends to be cheaper than organic fruits and vegetables, it makes sense that they will be purchased instead. Apart from this, I found both speakers to be very informative and passionate about their respective programs.

Transportation Alternatives and Solar One
| May 12, 2010 | 6:57 pm | Community Voices #4: Transportation/Infrastructure | Comments closed

The first presenter for this Community Voices Event was Wiley Norvell from Transportation Alternatives (TA).  What this organization calls for are complete streets, which includes equal protection for walkers, bikers, cars, and public transit. Their goal is to keep the city moving and focus on moving more than just car traffic, but to adapt a more comprehensive view of New York City’s crowded streets and incorporate street design to increase the efficiency of other forms of transportation. The design of these complete streets includes separate lanes for cars, public transit, bicycles, and pedestrian refuges and plazas. Wiley explained that the city they got the inspiration from was Copenhagen, the capital city of Denmark, which is considered one of the world’s most environmentally friendly cities. Their green bicycle routes and green ways have encouraged 36% of their citizens to commute to work by bicycle.

Next, he gave us a time line of events in terms of how the city has improved its streets by altering street infrastructure to encourage cycling and walking and move away from the city’s long-term culture of automobile transportation. In 2003, 8th Avenue was filled with congested car traffic carrying northbound traffic on the West Side of Manhattan. In 2006, bike lanes were created and bicyclers were protected from traffic. Not to mention, cycling became the fastest way to travel uptown. In 2009, pedestrian refuges were added to help make it easier for citizens to cross the street in two safe segments rather than rush quickly down the wide avenue, which creates wide opportunities for pedestrian injuries. The simple installment of bike lanes and pedestrian refuges alone has increased cycling by 57% and decreased injuries and crashes by 50% and 41% respectively. As a secondary effect, $3 million dollars of medical bills have been saved because of the decrease in accidents. Wiley explained to us that each accident costs about $100,000 due to the cost of emergency responders, healthcare costs, and liability costs.

The second example was 42nd street, Times Square. As one of New York’s most iconic areas of tourism and commercial business, this location is the perfect location for accidents to happen because of its inefficient street infrastructure. Just this year, 2010, a pedestrian plaza was created, eliminating the congestion of cars and allowing people to sit and relax in the center of Times Square without being surrounded by automobile exhaust. Though this created a problem for many drivers in the area, injuries have decreased by 63% and pedestrian traffic has increased by 11%. Overall, according to the people, the project has achieved a 76% approval rate.

Finally, the project that TA is currently trying to achieve is select bus service for 1st and 2nd Avenue. Wiley described these avenues as the “basket case of NYC transportation”. If you’ve ever been a passenger on the infamous M15 bus, you would know that it takes incredibly long to travel up and downtown by bus. That is why they want to separate the avenue into lanes: one for buses, another for lanes, bike lanes (physically separated from traffic), and pedestrian refuges in the middle of the street. Wiley strongly expressed the need for “shrinkage” which is a modal shift away from driving. Our city is too focused on the use of cars but Transportation Alternatives is trying decrease the use of automobiles because they burn too many fossil fuels and exacerbate air pollution. Encouraging the use of bicycles, public transportation and walking promotes a healthier, cleaner future for the people of New York City.

The second presenter was Chris Neidl from Solar One, a relatively new organization dedicated to advocating the use of renewable energy. Their goal is to have 30% of the city’s energy be powered by renewable sources by 2015, making us the second most energy efficient city, second to Rhode Island. Their second goal is to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 80% by the year 2050. To get people to invest in renewable energy, they need to be provided financial incentives. Neidl explains that there are rebates, tax credits, and renewable energy payments (REPs), also known as feed-in tariffs, that can be redeemed in exchange for selling energy back in the grid. REPs allow people with renewable technology to sell their energy to the utility grid.

The project he is working on is called the Empire State Renewable Energy Project, which provides a 20 year contract for people who want to sell the electricity generated by their renewable technologies for a profit. The payments vary by the types of clean technology. Solar power comes first, followed by wind, natural gas and lastly hydropower. The costs of REPs are spread out among rate payers and they will decline as more people sell into the grid. Neidl suggests that this project helps provide long term stability because the price that you sell it at in the beginning is fixed for the 20 years that you are entitled in that contract. This makes it a low risk investment because in the long run, you can gain back all that you spent on the technology as well as profit from it. He proposes a whole 11.6 billion in savings for the city, and that’s not including health benefits.

Right now, renewable energy costs are lowering because of innovation, scale, and experience. We are inventing better technologies, diminishing the size of these technologies, and improving on each one as we found out what works and what doesn’t. The thing that Neidl stressed the most from his presentation what that our city needs policy change, and lots of it. Without the influence of legislation and policy makers to push for energy efficiency, no investments will be made for REPs.

I enjoyed both the presentations and I felt that I learned a lot about how our city could make changes to its infrastructure to be more energy efficient. Personally I liked Wiley’s presentation more because I feel like it is something we can see having results. This is already evident with Times Square, as I have seen it transform from a bustling area of people and automobile traffic, it has now become a more spacious and pleasant place for pedestrians to walk and tourists to look around. Chris’ presentation sounds promising but I don’t think it convinces a lot of people to invest immediately. I think it easier to convince people to ride bikes than to tell them to invest a large sum of money into renewable technology now to be paid back after many years.

Community Voices: Transportation/Infrastructure (Mariya Dvoretskaya)

By attending Community Voices #4, centered around transportation and infrastructure, I was able to see what community oriented organizations are and how they carry out their visions. This seminar began with a look at an organization that has been very successful in working on New York City’s alternative transportation system. Wiley Norvell was the presenting spokesperson for Transportation Alternatives, appropriately starting off his presentation with a description of Transportation Alternatives’ mission, which is to advocate for bicycling, walking, and public transportation as alternatives for the cars that have taken over the city. According to Wiley Norvell, at this time, 90% of New York City streets are used for cars. In a city that deserves to be explored and traversed by foot, this lack of consideration for pedestrians is unacceptable. Thus, Transportation Alternatives aims to transform the city little by little so that it’s streets are designed to a standard of a small child on a bike, as opposed to what they are currently designed around, which is cars.

One of the projects that Transportation Alternatives was involved in advocating for was the transformation of Times Square to include a pedestrian-oriented plaza centered inside the overcrowded and car-friendly tourist trap. This project included redesigning Times Square to cut down on the traffic problem and to make a more pedestrian-friendly space while cutting down on injuries in the area. This project has been very successful with a 74% approval rate and injuries have decreased by 63%. The plaza in Times Square took some getting used to aesthetically since it was a open space in the middle of an area teeming with cars, but it has proven to be a publicly accepted plan.
Currently, Transportation Alternatives is working on improving the access to alternative forms of transportation on First and Second Avenues. These two avenues are brimming with cars and buses, including the M15 which is the busiest bus route in the country. The reason for this circumstance is the inconvenient location of these two avenues with respect to the subway system. Transportation Alternatives has designed a plan which would include a separate bus lane, a physically protected bike lane, and ample street space for pedestrians.

The other speaker at this seminar was Chris Neidl from Solar One, a group which advocates for the use and expansion of solar energy. He explained how behind the United States is in terms of developing solar energy and his group’s goal to make New York a solar leader in this country. Mr. Neidl informed us that Germany is the top producer of solar energy and the programs it uses to create incentives for the use of solar. The incentive is economical and is known as REPs. Solar One is pushing for similar policies to be and incentives to be put in place in New York and eventually across the United States in order to increase our use of alternative energy sources.

This seminar was informative in its insight into the methods of community groups. It certainly became evident that it is very difficult to advocate for anything because of the need for creative solutions which appeal to as many groups of people as possible. Also, it is necessary to fight the government in order to go from vision to realization.

Reaching “Hard to Reach” Communities (Alternative Hunter Talk)
| May 4, 2010 | 10:29 am | Community Voices #4: Transportation/Infrastructure | Comments closed

I attended a presentation entitled Reaching “Hard to Reach” Communities: Working with Immigrant Religious Institutions on Wednesday April 28th. The question that the presenter sought to address was: How do we look at religious institutions in service planning/ policy making?

According to the presenter, religious institutions reach deeply into immigrant communities, show compassion, and care for community’s well being, however they are grossly under utilized.

The focus of the talk was primarily on the Chinese immigrant community in New York City, therefore the study covered Christian and Buddhist religious institutions. The approach taken was using HIV and AIDS as a lens of understanding core issues focused on Chinese immigrant religious organizations.

The presenter’s study design was as follows:
– Census and telepohone survey of Chinese religious institutions.
– Walk through neighborhoods heavily populated by Chinese.
His results were: 200 organizations, Buddhist accounted for 29%, Christian accounted for 60.5% and the remaining 10.5% was other (Daoist/ Taoist institutions).
The presenter conducted 94 surveys to obtain data on the percentage of these organizations that were involved in health related issues (i.e. providing blood pressure tests, health screenings, informational pamphlets). His conclusion was that Christian organizations participated more heavily in health related issues. He also asked the question of whether or not all these institutions believed that HIV/ AIDS discussions should be an aspect of their health discussions. Around 80% of all institutions said there should be involvement but only 11% of Buddhist and 30% of Christian organizations were actually doing it. He speculated on why there was such minimal participation and arrived at the following hypothesis: Discussion of HIV
– raises questions of gender inequality
– is connected to homosexuality and thus gives homosexuality a negative connotation. Some quotations he gathered were: “homosexuality is not favored by god…shameful” – Christian; “not natural” – Buddhist.
– raises questions of socioeconomic diversity
– it high lights racial stigmas : church going people have a harsh few on non-traditional Chinese and fear their safety at church with blacks and Hispanics around

The presenter concludes by stating that religious organizations can serve as a liaison between people and the community therefore a partnerships between policy makers and religious institutions may better ensure that the needs of the community are met.

Community Voices: Transportation and Energy Conservation
| April 25, 2010 | 6:27 pm | Community Voices #4: Transportation/Infrastructure | Comments closed

For this seminar’s Macaulay Event of “Community Voices,” I attended the fourth lecture about Transportation and Energy Conservation. I was very impressed by both lectures as both speakers were very engaging and gave very clear and interesting presentations. Both were concerned with improving New York City: The primary goals were to make it a happier environment for its residents and visitors, to make it a greener city with more concern for the impact on the natural environment, and to transform New York into one of the leading cities in efficiency and environmental awareness.

Wiley Norvell, a representative of the company called “Transportation Alternatives”, gave the first lecture. This company is dedicated to reducing automobile transport and increasing transportation via more public buses, more biking routes, and more walking pathways. This goal hopes to reduce the pollution and energy waste given off from excessive car use, to reduce traffic and travel times within the city, and to encourage healthier and more enjoyable routes for pedestrians and bikers.  Wiley explained that New York is designed around car transportation, and that in order to make the city safer for its pedestrians many of its streets must be redesigned around pedestrian satisfaction. The primary goal being pursued by this company at the moment is to increase the bike lanes in the city. This would cause many more residents to travel to work and school via bikes as they will no longer have to bike among the dangerous heavy traffic of cars. This is also very economical as it will decrease peoples expenses on gas, the city’s expenses on accidents, and on the long run will lessen the pollution of the environment and all the consequences that come with it. Another goal that Wiley spoke about was increasing the amount of pedestrian space, which is seen so often in European cities and yet rarely in New York. More areas will be blocked off from traffic and instead transformed into pedestrian walkways such as the new pedestrian street in Times Square. The third and last plan spoken about in the presentation is creating separate bus and bike lanes on Third Avenue, which is supposed to take effect by October 2010. This will reduce the car lanes but will significantly decrease travel times via the m15 busses, which are the only route of public transportation available along the Eastern avenues.

The second presentation was given by a representative of the Solar One Company and focused on the Renewable Energy Payment Project. This company is concerned with reducing the use of highly polluting energy sources and replacing them with more efficient, cheaper, and more renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power.  The representative spoke about New York’s high wind capacity and that this should be the primary renewable energy source NYC should focus on using. A main problem, however, in using this type of energy source, is that it is very expensive to begin installing. Despite these preliminary costs, however, on the long run using this energy source will be cheaper both for residents and for the health of the environment. In order to begin this change, SolarOne has created a plan to create financial incentives for people to invest in these projects called Renwable Energy Payments. This plan is based on a system where NYC residents will invest in this new technology, and will be paid back with interest after a few years of the installation. Renewable Energy Payments have proven to be very successful and economical in other areas around the world and the United States where they have been implemented.

Both representatives who presented at the event often referred to New York, and other cities in the United States, as falling behind in the race towards greener energy use and urban planning. They thus both stressed the importance of their initiatives to keep up with the rest of the leading cities in technological and energy use advances, as well as investing in environmentally friendly urban planning. I was glad to see that there is so much effort going on in our city concerned with the long-term health of our environment and in working to improve the future of our cities and benefits of its residents.

Community Voices #4

This common event focused on the development and current state of urban agriculture in New York City. The speakers for two grass roots community organizations, Just Food (Abby Youngblood) and GreenMarket (Liz Carlo), presented a comprehensive overview of the issues and successes surrounding the sustainable food movement, including: access to healthy and locally grown food,  farmers markets and community food education.

Abby started off her presentation with a background of obesity patterns and trends in the United States for the last few decades. The data showed plainly that: America is getting fat. The population is becoming increasingly overweight, especially in the South. Needless to say, the lack of healthy diets and poor eating habits can lead to serious public health issues. Decreasing life expectancy for children is one of them, not to mention diet-related diseases, such as cancer and diabetes. In a study, a survey was conducted in all five boroughs that asked its residents: “Have you eaten a full serving of fruits and vegetables today?” For those areas that had the highest numbers of residents who answered “No”, the rate of obesity was also the highest. Abby argues that there is a correlation between eating fresh fruits and vegetables and diet-related diseases.

To combat this explosion of the obesity epidemic, she joined Just Food, which is a not-for-profit organization that tries to increase the city’s consumption of healthy, locally-grown produce. It not only gives neighborhoods and communities the opportunity to access fresh food, but it also financially supports family farms. Abby brought up two major issues: [1] food deserts and [2] decreasing farmland.

Food deserts are basically neighborhoods that have little to no access to foods needed to maintain a healthy diet. Most of the food is served by fast food restaurants that are easily accessible and cheap. Imagine a street full of McDonald’s, Burger Kings, Dunkin Donuts, Dominoes, Wendy’s and KFC. This may very well be a child’s idea of paradise, but these kinds of high-calorie, low-nutrition, cheap food have loads of preservatives and unhealthy ingredients. Just Food tries to make progress in food deserts by introducing city farms and food education. In city farms, people who already know about garden-grown food participate in free and public workshops where they can teach others. Most people think raising animals are restricted to rural farming, but I learned that it’s legal to raise hens in the city for egg produce. Also, in community-based markets, farmers can sell the produce they grow directly to city residents.

In terms of farmland, the numbers are decreasing. However, we need farms in New York. They’re beneficial to the environment, public health and it offers jobs. What I found interesting are Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSA). It’s a partnership between groups in the community and a variety of farmers (dairy, produce, etc.), where the buyers directly support the farmers. It’s like a magazine subscription; you pay a fee upfront and then you receive your magazine every week–the only catch is that you don’t know what you’re going to receive. Every week, you go to the distribution site and receive your mystery bag of in-season food. According to first-person accounts, the flavors are much richer than store-bought ones. This program really piqued my interest; I’d like to try out CSA in the future.

Liz continued the presentation by speaking about GreenMarket, which is an extended program of GrowNYC that follows a similar mission as Just Food–“open-air farmers markets program in the country connects local farmers with city residents”. I always thought there was only the green market at Union Square, but there are many smaller and locally-owned ones scattered throughout the five boroughs. In fact, there are 49 markets in total. I was surprised by the amount of resources that is made available for city residents, but knowledge about them is so limited.

Overall, I thought this event was very informative and enjoyable. It really opened my eyes to importance of educating New Yorkers about healthy food through public involvement. While there are many physical, financial and knowledge hurdles we still have to overcome, I believe these two organizations serve as prime examples of community activism. The Macaulay Honors College is actually hosting a Garden Party on April 24th with hopes of teaching students the planting and growing process of vegetables.

Community Voices # 4

Community Voices # 4: Urban Farming and Agriculture

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The community voices common event I attended featured two guest speakers: Abby Youngblood from Just Food and Liz Carlo from the Greenmarket Program. Both speakers discussed their program’s mission of making healthy, fresh local produce available to all New Yorkers. Their presentations were informative as well as interesting because the agricultural issues they discussed directly impact the lives of New Yorkers daily.

 According to their representative, Just Food is a small, non-profit organization that addresses challenges in the food system in New York City. This company works with many programs to increase access to fresh foods from local farms into soup kitchens and food pantries and support local farmers. Another challenge that this company strives to overcome is the decreasing farmland availability. Two acres of farmland are lost every minute. The necessity for farms is increasing drastically because farms serve many purposes. Some of the benefits of farms are environmental and public health improvement, economic development and job attainment for farmers, local food processors and distributors. Just Food also operates to mobilize citizens to actively participate in agricultural policy issues.

Some of the programs that Just Food works with are (1) The City Farm, (2) Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), (3) Fresh Food For All, (4) Community Food Education and (5) Food Justice. The City Farm program grows food in the neighborhood as opposed to obtaining it from other places by the “training of trainers” process in which people who know how to grow food are taught to share their knowledge with others. Workshops are held in food preservation, canning, medicinal herb and seed growing, composting, raising crops, raising chickens legally in New York, building chicken coops and obtaining eggs, selling farm goods grown in personal markets and more. CSA is a partnership between a group of people in a city and a group of farmers who are paid upfront for weekly, freshly produced, organic, in-season crops. This program directly supports local farmers and helps them stay in business by planning better so as not to create waste or under produce. Fresh Food For All, Community Food Education and Food Justice increase financial and physical access to local produce as well as enhance knowledge of the availability of these goods.

The second representative from the Greenmarket Program, a program of GrowNYC, explained that their creation of 49 greenmarkets around New York City was a direct result of the belief that all of New York City is a food desert. This program possesses a dual mission in providing New Yorkers with access to fresh local foods while also conserving farmland. The Farmer Development Project, a plan undertaken by the Greenmarket Program, supplies socially disadvantaged groups with a farmer that mentors them on equipment obtainment and lectures about the art of raising crops so as to allow the mentees to sell at the market and improve their economic standing through the farming business.

Some of the most intriguing aspects of these presentations were the discussion of the obesity epidemic, food deserts and the statistics of the programs up-to-date success.  For the first time in thirty years, the life expectancy age for children has declined due to diseases linked to obesity. According to the Center for Disease Control Study, one in three (one in two for African American and Latino) children are expected to develop Type II Diabetes. Some of the reasons for this epidemic are convenience and low-cost of unhealthy, processed, inorganic foods, technological advances that decreased people’s mobility and the unavailability of fresh foods in local neighborhoods. About 300 million people in the United States are currently living in food deserts, neighborhoods with limited access to fresh, healthy foods but are served by plenty of fast food restaurants. The two companies represented at this event aspire to improve these statistics. The City Farm Program sponsored by Just Food has grown 170,00 pounds over crops over the course of only one year. The Greenmarket Program was created in the 1970’s and continues to grow until this day.