By Steve Rosenberg
Fresh, local food – it can't come from just anywhere. Hudson Valley farmland is one of the most fundamental ingredients in meeting New York City's growing interest in fresh, local food. Yet the region's farms that supply food to the city face mounting pressure from scattershot development, global market forces, and the costs young farmers face when trying to get started. It's simply impossible to maintain our local food traditions and culture without saving our region's productive farmland.
Scenic Hudson, an environmental organization and land trust based in Poughkeepsie, has released a groundbreaking blueprint for securing the region's most important agricultural lands. "Securing Fresh, Local Food for New York City and the Hudson Valley: A Foodshed Conservation Plan for the Region" is the first plan of its kind to develop a comprehensive, data-driven methodology to conserve a metropolitan area's foodshed.
Funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the plan identifies and prioritizes unprotected Hudson Valley farmland within 150 miles of New York City, enabling stakeholders to conserve those lands that will make the biggest difference in meeting demands for local food. It identifies almost 5,000 unprotected farms totaling about 650,000 acres, with 614 of them spanning 163,673 acres ranking the highest for conservation. Protecting those highest priority farms will cost +/- $720 million.
The Plan urges New York City to invest in protecting its foodshed, just as it is conserving its watershed. It also seeks to increase support from private philanthropy, which has not traditionally invested in conserving the city's foodshed like it has parks and open space, to augment already stretched publicly funded programs.
Scenic Hudson undertook the study after recognizing the need for a strategic initiative to conserve farmland in the 11-county Hudson Valley region. More farms from the valley supply food to GrowNYC Greenmarkets than from any other area. And the 2010 "Foodworks" report by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn estimates unmet annual demand for regionally produced food at more than $600 million.
Farmland protection efforts to date have saved more than 80,000 acres (including 12,000 acres that Scenic Hudson has preserved working with 76 farm families), but this represents just 11 percent of the region's 730,000 acres of farmland.
The plan not only communicates the urgency of conserving the highest-priority farms, but ensures the greatest possible benefits from their protection. Placing conservation easements on farmland can make it more affordable for the next generation of farmers, which is critical since an estimated 70 percent of farms will change hands in the next 20 years.
Among those who have commended the plan are Slow Food USA Executive Director Richard McCarthy (listen to an interview: at wamc.org), noted author Michael Pollan, nutrition expert Marion Nestle, and New York City Coalition Against Hunger Executive Director Joel Berg.
The study could be replicated in other areas of New York City's foodshed and in other regions across the country. Land Trust Alliance President Rand Wentworth stated, "This innovative plan is a model that cities nationwide can use to ensure that our precious farmland will be here to stay."
We have a unique and exciting opportunity to harness growing public interest in fresh, local food to ensure that we have the most basic ingredient to keep our local food culture intact. Now is the time to act!
Steve Rosenberg is the senior vice president of Scenic Hudson and executive director of The Scenic Hudson Land Trust.