Takeaways from Food Almanac 2013: Forecasting the Year Ahead in Food and Farm Policy and Politics

by Amanda Berhaupt-Glickstein

photo credit: Laurie Rhodes


Mary Cleaver, founder and owner of The Cleaver Company, welcomed Food Systems Network members and guests to the 3rd annual Food Almanac event.  This years event was held at the beautifully rustic, Brooklyn Winery and was chock full of food activists, farm experts, Teen Battle Chef graduates, and foodies.  An esteemed panel explored issues facing New York City and New York State in the coming year.  Themes of the night ranged from farm labor and immigration, funding for agricultural research centers, climate change, land distribution, and the role of government.


To start the evening, FSNYC member Ed Yowell introduced keynote speaker, Robert Morgenthau.  Mr. Morgenthau is a multitalented food ally as he is the proprietor of Fishkill Farms, Special Counsel to the American Farmland Trust, and was previously District Attorney in New York County.  Although his experience is expansive, Mr. Morganthau was particularly passionate about two pending issues related to food, farming and agriculture in New York State.  For the past 150 years, the Cornell University Cooperative Extension (CCE) has supported local agriculture and artisans through agricultural research.  Research through the CCE has investigated insects, and created apple and grape varieties.  The work of CCE is important to NYS, its farmers, and eaters.  The Geneva Experiment Station and the Hudson Valley Laboratory are two CCE facilities vulnerable to significant funding cuts, which would limit agriculture research and the competitiveness of NYS farmers.  Mr. Morgenthau also spoke about immigration policy, a second matter that greatly affects NYS farmers.  As a farmer he stressed that he, and most other farmers, depend on immigrant labor.  With nearly 400,000 annual deportations, farmers have fewer available workers, which can be catastrophic to production and farm viability.  To prevent funding cuts to CCE stations around NYS and demand immigration reform that takes farmers into account, Mr. Morganthau urged audience members to contact their legislators.


Next on the menu was the 2013 Food Almanac Panel, which was moderated by the three-time James Beard award winner, and WNYC show host, Leonard Lopate.  Mr. Lopate reiterated the purpose of the evening’s panel and then turned to the five, talented and dynamic panelists for introductions. 


Gabrielle Blavatsky is a Policy and Research Associate at Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving access to fresh food for historically underserved communities.  Before Wholesome Wave, Gabrielle was a researcher in the office Council Speaker Christine Quinn and led the research team in the FoodWorks initiative, which aims to create jobs, protect the environment, and improve public health.


Kathleen Frith is the President of Glynwood, whose mission is to save farms in the Northeast by working with communities to foster farm-friendly decisions and infrastructure.  Kathleen is also on the advisory board for Harvard’s School of Public Health.  Kathleen was also the Managing Director at the Center for Health and the Global Health at Harvard Medical School.


The Director of the NYC Greenmarket program, Michael Hurwitz is experienced in creating opportunities for small, local farmers to sell goods directly to consumers, and creating access for New Yorkers throughout the five boroughs to fresh, local food.  Prior to joining the GrowNYC movement, Michael cofounded and was co-director of Added Value and Herban Solutions, a nonprofit organization working with youth in Red Hook, Brooklyn to operate an urban farm, and educate local students.


Annie Novak wears many hats!  She is the Co-founder and Director of Eagle Street Farms in Brooklyn, the Founder and Director of Growing Chefs, and the Manager of The Edible Academy at the New York Botanical Gardens.  Each of her endeavors focuses on teaching youth about how to grow and cook healthy, fresh food.  In her spare time, Annie blogs about her experiences and writes for the Atlantic.


Steve Rosenburg is the Senior Vice President for Scenic Hudson, which is one of the first organizations to launch the environmental movement.  Scenic Hudson is dedicated to protecting the Hudson River and the surrounding land through preservation projects, including park creation and farmland conservation.  Steve is also the Executive Director of Scenic Hudson Land Trust, which is the land acquisition division of Scenic Hudson.  


Leonard began the discussion by asking about climate change.  Hurricane Sandy created an urgency to address climate change in New York City and New York State, and made clear the relationship between humans and their environment.  Whether sea level rise or the frequency of super storms, panelists were concerned about the impact of climate change on urban and rural farms.  Ground-level farms were flooded in Red Hook, Brooklyn, as were farmlands that line the Hudson River.  Considering the larger climate change picture, Annie offered that a 1° change would decrease grain production, which has implications for the global economy and food security. 


The environment conversation shifted to hydrofracking and possible repercussions it may have on farmers and their products.  Michael posed some common questions heard: “should farm products from land sold to hydrofracking companies be allowed to sell their products in Greenmarkets”; “what are the food safety issues”?  While some panelists felt there was too little available information about the consequences of hydrofracking, others believed hydrofracking brought up the larger issue of energy consumption.  Maybe the real issue is how we use energy in general and in our food system, as opposed to the source of our energy?  


Steve proposed two alternative, future situations.  In one instance, we use energy efficiently and create a sustainable food system.  In second scenario, the landscape continues to be fragmented, making farmland more expensive.


Brushing the issue of disappearing farm labor, Leonard brought up the aging farmer.  The average age of farmers in the US is 55 years old.  Kathleen offered that while efforts exist to reduce hurdles for new farmers, more training is needed for new farmers to teach them about farming enterprises that will generate income.  Others suggested that the aging farmer might not be the problem since there is plenty of interest in farming among young adults but rather the issue is the loss of farmland, and land distribution.  


There is a lack of government intervention and leadership in land distribution, but there is movement.  Two days before the Food Almanac event, two farm and food-conscious organizations, Chefs for Marcellus and Food and Water Watch, delivered a letter signed by 150 of New York’s top chefs urging Governor Cuomo to ban hydrofracking in NYS.  

Panelists agreed there is a need for a regional food system.  Steve emphasized a need for distribution and processing plants to support farms serving the NYC area.  Since farms in the Hudson Valley, Long Island, New Jersey, and Connecticut are typically small (≤ 150 acres), family run operations, they would benefit the most.  Steve believes the federal and state governments need to provide more leadership in land distribution.  


Panelists agreed that Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign is a great example of advertising the connection between food and health.  However, most felt the relationship needs to be taken one step further to include the relationship with the food system, since it is at the core of food availability.  The food movement must advocate the importance of the food system and food shed, and promote them as long-term resources.


So what can local food activists do?  Among others, volunteer at rooftop farms like Eagle Street Farms or Brooklyn Grange, donate money and time to agriculture and education efforts like GrowNYC or the Food Bank, and contact legislators about the Farm Bill and funding for the Cornell University Cooperative Extension.  Steve offered some words to take home: if there is no land, there are no farms, and if there are no farms, there is no food.


Amanda Berhaupt-Glickstein is a FSNYC member, Registered Dietitian, and doctoral student in Nutritional Sciences at Rutgers University with a focus on food and nutrition policy.