Cuomo Commits Critical Funds to Advance Regional Food Hub

Late last week, Governor Cuomo made what could be a game changing announcement for our regional food system.

Standing on the Hunt’s Point Peninsula in the South Bronx—the epicenter of food distribution for New York City and indeed much of the Northeast—Governor Cuomo announced that New York State is investing $15 million in the construction of a new Greenmarket Regional Food Hub. He also announced the release of a New York State-New York City food hubs task force report that identified the building of the new Regional Greenmarket as a top recommendation. 

Final details are still being ironed out. But based on recent plans, the roughly 120,000 square foot market would be located near the New Fulton Fish Market in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx. There would be both indoor and outdoor spaceincluding critical cold storage capacity. The final design will likely also provide space for light processing (washing, chopping, bagging of veggies, for example) of regional produce—increasing opportunities for institutional procurement.

“The new food hub will work with a range of small- and mid-sized farms, providing unprecedented access to New York City’s wholesale marketplace,” Governor Cuomo’s press release states, adding, “the food hub will facilitate the expansion of farmers’ markets and youth markets in underserved communities.”

Having advocated alongside a diverse coalition of partners for a Wholesale Farmers’ Market and mission driven food hub in this area for many years, NRDC is thrilled to see the Governor make this important commitment.

NRDC believes that building this first regional food hub in the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx may well be the single most important step New York can take to fix our broken regional food system.

Why? Stated simply, as things now stand, it is extremely difficult for regional farmers to sell their food into the massive New York metropolitan marketplace.

While some small and mid-sized farmers can sell their goods through popular “farm share” programs or retail farmers’ markets, 99% of the food sold in this country comes through wholesale channels. This means that, despite the enormous regional growing capacity, very little fresh, local food makes its way onto our stores, schools and homes. 

There are of course existing wholesale markets in the region, including perhaps the largest concentration of wholesale sellers in the nation on the Hunts Point peninsula—right where Governor Cuomo made his announcement. Indeed, the current Hunts Point Produce Market supplies 22 million people, or 7% of the US population, with fruit and vegetables every day.

But this Produce Market, along with many other traditional wholesale operations, largely shut out regional growers. For example, only a small percentage of the produce sold at the Hunts Point Produce Market is from New York farms. As a result, farmers are struggling economically and we are losing farmland at an alarming rate throughout the region.

Additionally, with a few exceptions, the current wholesale distribution models in New York City are not providing our most vulnerable communities with healthy, sustainable food. Walk into any bodega in the city’s disadvantaged neighborhoods and you can easily see how our existing wholesale food system is failing. And the results are devastating: like many other cities, obesity and diabetes rates are epidemic in New York, with a growing percentage of kids being diagnosed with food-related illness. In a sad irony, the residential neighborhood in Hunts Point is home to high proportion of adults with diabetes and obesity, in both cases higher than the citywide average.

The proposed, innovative Greenmarket food hub has the potential to address this distribution bottleneck by servicing and supporting small and mid-sized regional farmers—and getting more fresh healthy food into the city.

Of course, as NRDC and other stakeholders have emphasized, a single new wholesale farmers’ market in the Bronx cannot fully address New York City’s regional food distribution challenges—and that additional smaller community-based hubs are also important. Fortunately, the new state-city food hubs task force report released last week made exactly this point: “While an anchor food hub in the Bronx would serve as a nexus of connectivity between NYC and the regional food system, it cannot alone meet the City’s total demand for regional food distribution and economic opportunity. Neighborhood food hubs could streamline distribution and supply chain logistics, create local jobs, encourage entrepreneurship in the food sector, and support food access by increasing the availability of fresh, healthy food in New York.” 

It is absolutely critical that both the building of the new Greenmarket Food Hub in Hunts Point and any other new markets be advanced with full input from the local community and other key stakeholders. It is also important that these regional food centers are developed in a way to help drive local economic development so that everyone in our communities can afford to buy fresh local food.

We look forward to seeing the new Greenmarket Regional Food hub finally become a reality. And we look forward to working with officials, farmers, food revolutionaries and others to ensure that in the next few years we develop additional capacity of both city and rural food hubs to meet the growing demand for healthy and affordable New York State food.

About the Authors

Margaret Brown

Staff Attorney, New York program

Mark Izeman

Director, New York program and Senior Attorney

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