The Politics of NYC’s Urban Farming: The City Notices Urban Agriculture

On December 11th, 2017, the New York City Council unanimously passed the city’s first-ever urban agriculture policy bill (Int. No. 1661-A: A Local Law in relation to requiring the department of city planning, department of small business services, and the department of parks and recreation to develop urban agriculture website). The bill calls for a digital network that would collect information about urban agriculture across the five boroughs through a website. The goal of the bill is to create a comprehensive database of existing urban agriculture organizations and businesses and provide guidance to those who are interested in becoming involved in urban farming.

City-dwellers have a long history of growing food in small community gardens throughout New York City. Community groups have even transformed sizeable plots of city land into working farms in Red Hook and Battery Park and large-scale commercial operations have emerged such as Brooklyn Grange and Gotham Greens. Additionally, a contingent of local entrepreneurs, including Edenworks, Smallhold, and Farm.One have begun to carve out a niche for high-tech agriculture by developing hydroponic, aeroponic and aquaponic systems for growing food.

The urban ag website bill (Int. No. 1661-A) is the second attempt by Council Member Rafael Espinal of District 37 to get city agencies involved in urban farming. “Int. No. 1661-A is only a first step in my undivided commitment to growing this vital sector,” Council Member Espinal wrote in an email. “I look forward to working with all stakeholders to develop more influential policy in the near future.”

The first bill, Int. No. 1661, (A Local Law in relation to developing a comprehensive urban agriculture plan), was sponsored by Council Member Espinal along with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, proposed that the city write a comprehensive urban agriculture plan that would clarify the regulatory status of the industry and develop a policy agenda aimed at making it easier for urban farmers, especially budding businesses, to operate in what can be a complicated, regulation-laden, NYC business environment. For example, New York City’s current zoning resolution has not been substantially updated since 1961 and is lacking clear definitions for the many uses and practices of urban agriculture, such as “urban farm,” “rooftop farm,” “indoor farm,” “vertical farm,” “aeroponics,” “hydroponics,” and “aquaponics.”

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