Food and water in New York City

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Watershed Protection and Local Food[edit]

New York City government officials, labor organizers, non-profits, community advocacy groups, and residents have fostered a strong relationship with rural farmers to develop New York City's local food shed. The process of linking sustainable, rural agriculture with New York City’s urban markets has been largely built upon the fact that New York City's water supply comes from New York State, in the protected Catskill Mountains watershed.[1] As a result of the watershed's integrity and undisturbed natural water filtration process, New York is one of only four major cities in the United States with drinking water pure enough not to require purification by water treatment plants.[2]

With the largest surface storage and supply complex in the world, New York City's water supply system yields 1.2 billion US gallons (4,500,000 m3) of water daily, with most of this water originating upstate. This water is not filtered, since a filtration system would require $6 billion in construction, and $300 million in annual maintenance. Instead, New York City's watershed is protected by severe New York City Department of Environmental Protection restrictions that prevent pathogens and nutrients from entering the water supply. These restrictions limit industrial development and restrict agricultural runoff. The implementation of such stringent regulations, however, threatened New York State farmers with utter devastation.[3]

To protect the water supply from runoff and promote regional agriculture, rural and urban New Yorkers developed an alliance called the New York City Watershed Whole Farm Program, which promotes sustainable agriculture in New York State. Farmers upstate, with financial assistance from the city, work to reduce pathogen, nutrient, sediment, and pesticide runoff. Meanwhile, New York City’s urban population serves as a local market for upstate farmers, particularly through Greenmarket [1] Farmers' markets, founded in 1976 by the Council on the Environment of New York City.

The program provides regional small family farmers with opportunities to sell their fruits, vegetables and other farm products at open-air markets in the city. The most famous is the Union Square Greenmarket, held Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays between 8 AM and 6 PM year round. 250,000 customers a week purchase 1,000 varieties of fruits and vegetables at the market.[4]

International Model[edit]

Because of the way in which urban and rural New Yorkers have cooperated to create a healthy, protected ecosystem that brings healthy, local food and clean water to a large urban population, New York City has become an international food systems model. With its headquarters in New York City, the United Nations has offered New Yorkers a chance to showcase their food system on the international stage, with New York farmers, workers, retailers, and NGOs acting as important representatives to the UN's Commission on Sustainable Development. New York hosted the UN's City and Farm Linkages Showcase in May 2008 to impress international leaders with New York State's project that links urban markets with rural farms to revitalize regional, sustainable agriculture.[5]

Supermarket Crisis[edit]

Like many other cities in the United States, New York City faces a supermarket shortage that is closely linked to health epidemics. At the request of the Mayor’s office, the Department of City Planning studied supermarket need in the City. As a result, in April 2008, the Department found a widespread shortage of supermarkets. This shortage still causes a lack of healthy, fair-priced food options for many New Yorkers who live in a food desert. Food access issues are partly responsible for the facts that diabetes now affects over 700,000 people in New York City, over 1.1 million New Yorkers are obese, and another 2 million are overweight.[6]

Health problems are especially prevalent in minority communities, and statistics indicate a racial dimension to the crisis: supermarkets in Harlem are 30 percent less common than on the Upper East Side, and while 20 percent of Upper East Side bodegas carried leafy green vegetables, only 3 percent of those in Harlem could say the same.[7] Three million New Yorkers live in neighborhoods with high need for grocery stores and supermarkets. Neighborhoods such as Central and Spanish Harlem and Washington Heights in Manhattan; Bushwick, East New York and Sunset Park in Brooklyn; Corona, Jamaica and Far Rockaway in Queens; areas of the South Bronx, Williamsbridge/Wakefield and portions of Pelham Parkway in the Bronx; and St. George and Stapleton in Staten Island show the greatest need for full-line supermarkets.[8]

In February, 2008, Speaker Christine Quinn of the City Council announced the creation of a Statewide Supermarket Commission that will identify State and local policy solutions to encourage new supermarket development and to prevent supermarkets from closing. The Commission is led by the Food Trust and the Food Bank for New York City, in partnership with the City’s Food Policy Coordinator and the Food Industry Alliance.[7] Simultaneously, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500, which represents grocery store workers, is working to create healthy food options for all New Yorkers through supermarkets, community-supported agriculture, urban agriculture, and farmers' markets.

Green Carts[edit]

As part of an ongoing effort to increase access to healthy foods, the city has created 1,000 new permits for street vendors who exclusively sell fresh fruits and vegetables. These vegetables must be raw and whole.[9] These permits can be used only in neighborhoods where 15% or more of the population reported having consumed zero servings of fruits or vegetables in the previous 24 hours.[7]

School Lunches[edit]

New York City provides 42,069 meals a day to children through the school lunch program. Currently, most of the fruit served in New York City schools is local. A project to bring New York State apples to New York City school cafeterias has also increased fruit consumption among school children, and much policy work currently focuses on the task of bringing more local food to school lunches to give children healthier, fresher meals while strengthening regional agricultural economy.[10]


  1. ^ "Current Reservoir Levels". New York City Department of Environmental Protection. Retrieved 2007-06-04. 
  2. ^ Miele, Joel A., Sr (November 20, 1998). "Maintaining Water Quality that Satisfies Customers: New York City Watershed Agricultural Program". International Water Supply Symposium Tokyo 1998. New York City Department of Environmental Protection. Retrieved 2006-11-17. ; "New York City 2005 Drinking Water Supply and Quality Report" (PDF). New York City Department of Environmental Protection. 2005. Retrieved 2006-07-17. 
  3. ^ UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs
  4. ^ "Greenmarket Facts". Retrieved 2007-08-04. 
  5. ^ International Partners for Sustainable Agriculture
  6. ^ "Going to Market: New York City's Neighborhood Grocery Store and Supermarket Shortage
  7. ^ a b c The New York City Council
  8. ^ Socioeconomic & Housing - Going to Market: New York City’s Neighborhood Grocery Store and Supermarket Shortage
  9. ^ NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
  10. ^ Severson, Kim (2007-10-17). "Local Carrots With a Side of Red Tape". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-02.