Michael Bloomberg’s controversial public health campaigns against Big Tobacco, Big Food, and Big Gulps gave late night comics a lot of fodder, but you can’t mock the metrics. The former New York City Mayor’s policies saved lives and money. And when New Yorkers try new solutions to old problems, every one else watches.

The city is a hotbed of innovative collaborations between government, philanthropy and the private sector. And when these public-private partnerships achieve their goals, the ripple effect is massive. Read more

Ordering food on the Internet can offer a reprieve from the drudgery of the grocery store. A few quick clicks and you have ingredients for dinner without getting in a car or lugging bags of food on a bus or train. But while it may seem like online services allow groceries to magically appear at our doorsteps, there are, in fact, still quite a few warehouses, refrigerators, and trucks involved. Read more

Last Thursday, New York City announced what could be far-reaching guidelines on city food sourcing. The administration has created a plan to promote spending on sustainable local and regional food, with a focus on food procurement from New York State suppliers, to encourage consumption of fresh, seasonal food and to bolster local economies. Only a handful of regional governments have passed similar plans, including San Francisco (San Francisco, why must you always beat us with your progressive city-wide policies?) and Toronto, although many local food policy councils have recommended similar initiatives.

NYC is second only to the U.S. military in institutional food spending. The city spends billions of dollars on food–for schools, city hospitals, prisons and hundreds of other government agencies. Ultimately, this spending equals amazing purchasing power and the ability to positively impact the way food is grown, processed and distributed in New York State. Read more

There has ostensibly been a dialogue among New York City legislators around food, as seen through Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s Food Works resolution, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio’s (at the moment dormant) NYC Foodprint legislation, and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s Blueprint for Sustainable Food System initiative. But there has yet to be a watershed policy that explicitly acknowledges and addresses the connection between “cool foods” and reducing the effects of climate change. Read more

As a long-time regular of Angelica Kitchen restaurant in New York City, I’ve come to consider it a “second kitchen,” a place I feel good about supporting because it shares the values I keep in my own kitchen: High quality ingredients that provide a fair income to farmers who are working to protect the environment–and which provide nutrition without sacrificing any of the flavor–all for the reasonable cost afforded by buying direct.

And I am not alone. Since it opened its door in 1976, Angelica Kitchen has cultivated a loyal following, and their sustainable business model–maintained without serving alcohol (you can BYOB)–is a case study for success outside of the mainstream restaurant industry. Angelica’s is also one of the most popular vegetarian restaurants in New York City, precisely because it attracts a clientele that includes many non-vegetarians. In honor of Vegetarian Awareness Month, I spoke with owner Leslie McEachern–who is being awarded for her long-time advocacy of small, local farms by the Northeast Organic Farming Association this month–about running a restaurant built on relationships. Read more

This Saturday, New York City will be the first participant in a series of international conversations surrounding food and the city. The event is organized by The Foodprint Project, a collaboration between Nicola Twilley and Sarah Rich, a founder of Civil Eats. Their objective is to use food as a lens to study local connections between food and geography, food and social behavior, and food and our future.

Taking their cue from the research of Kathe Newman, who theorized that a spatial analysis of cupcake proliferation could also reveal the flow of capital investment in cities, Twilley and Rich hope to navigate through and uncover New York City’s changing socio-economic patterns by inviting panelists and curious New Yorkers to engage in a discussion centered on the city’s foodscape. Read more

I’m always amazed by the number of folks who think that most of Central Park is some kind of natural habitat of indigenous plants, a pristine terrain onto which we plunked our bike paths, boathouses and pretzel vendors.

In reality, nearly every square inch of Central Park was painstakingly landscaped back in the mid-nineteenth century to the specifications of Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux. A massive public works project, it required some 20,000 workers to subvert existing swamps and blow up bluffs to create a soothing pastoral landscape in the English romantic tradition.

Oh, and there was the little matter of evicting the Irish pig farmers and German gardeners who’d built shantytowns on the land. And destroying Seneca Village, the “first significant community of African American property owners on Manhattan”. The five acre settlement, which included three churches and a school, was seized through eminent domain and demolished.

All this, so that cooped-up city dwellers could get their fix of “nature”. Our civilized way of life is so removed from the natural world that Central Park’s manicured, manipulated acres are as close to a bit of wilderness as we can hope to get within the borough of Manhattan.

But you can catch a glimpse of what Manhattan was really like before we invaded it and tamed it by watching the fascinating video that architect/educator Fritz Haeg’s created in collaboration with The Mannahatta Project. The video documents Haeg’s Lenape Edible Estate installation, which was designed to “provide a view back to the lives of the native Lenape people, how they lived off the land 400 years ago” on the island that was then called Mannahatta. Read more

On Sunday, September 13, New Amsterdam Market will inaugurate its first season of monthly, one-day markets in New York City. New Amsterdam Market is a non-profit organization dedicated to reinventing the indoor public market as a civic institution, in the City of New York. The market inauguration will coincide with New York City’s celebration of Harbor Day, which this year honors the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s voyage to the New World. New Amsterdam Market and its diverse vendors will join the Harbor Day festivities by representing the agricultural bounty of the lands visited by Hudson in 1609. Farmers, producers, and purveyors will sell fresh seasonal produce, meats and dairy, wild-gathered greens, breads, cheeses and cured meats, fruits, wine, and cider all from the Northeast, and with a special emphasis on the Hudson Valley. Read more

Cities, now the home to half of the world’s growing population, are poised to redefine how we produce and supply our food. Food is now a social movement, with a particularly urban flavor. Living in southern Vermont for the past year after living in New York City for nearly a decade, I learned that in New York City it is easier to purchase a diet of regionally produced foods than in the food producing regions themselves because of the structure of our food supply chains. Cities are where people are demanding more farmers’ markets and community supported agriculture groups. Cities are where there is a local agriculture craze. But I fear that the politics of “local foods” as the antidote to the ills of “Big Ag” obscures other solutions as well as alienates people who may otherwise be for changes in the structure of agriculture. Read more

Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of lending a hand as a volunteer at Rooftop Farms in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The name says it all: it is a 6000 square foot urban vegetable farm on the roof of an industrial building, growing rows inter-cropped with lettuces, tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, kale and much more, which they sell directly to restaurants and at a farm stand inside the building every Sunday from 9am – 4pm.

Annie Novak and Ben Flanner are the farming minds behind the project. Both are passionate about how food gets to our table (Novak works with farmer with Kira Kenney of Evolutionary Organics at the Greenmarket, and works as the Children’s Gardening Program Coordinator at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. Flanner is new to farming but seems to get a kick out of hawking produce). Chris and Lisa Goode of Goode Green, a green roofing company, found the roof and funded Rooftop Farms as a test. With this project, the team hopes to determine what is possible in terms of scale for growing on rooftops in the city. Read more