Urban Farming Conference @ The Hort

This past Friday I was thrilled to be a part of the Horticultural Society of New York’s Urban Agriculture Conference. The panelists included Erika Brenner of Dekalb Farm, Annie Novak of Growing Chefs, Phyllis Odessey and EunYoung Sebazco of Randall’s Island Park, Britta Riley of Windowfarms, and Zach Pickens of Riverpark Farm. Camilla Hammer of Battery Urban Farm moderated. It was great to witness so much expertise and enthusiasm in one place at the same time.

One of the aspects of urban farming I’d been asked to talk about was the potential urban agriculture jobs in New York City. Not having seen such an estimate before, I offered a decidedly ballpark figure of about 11,000, based on information from two different sources.

First was Change on the Horizon: A Scan of the American Food System, a 2005 report from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. That report noted that:

Groups in both New York City and Chicago are also hoping to re-establish wholesale markets for locally raised produce to help fill a distributor gap for restaurants, caterers, grocers and other businesses interested in buying local; the New York group estimated the unmet demand for locally grown and processed products at $866 million per year….”

(The New York estimate came from a private conversation of report author Brian Halweil with Karen Karp of Karp Resources.)

Next I took a job multiplier estimate from NPR coverage of a USDA conference call:

“Every million dollars in sales through local markets supports thirteen jobs,” USDA’s Kathleen Merrigan said in a conference call with reporters. This compares to three jobs generated from every million dollars in sales by agricultural operations that don’t have a local or regional focus.

So: 866 million @ 13 jobs per million = 11,258

Now, using job multipliers is a tricky business, and I don’t claim any special expertise. But 11,000 for the New York metropolitan region doesn’t seem outlandish to me.

As far as estimates of the potential for urban farming in NYC outside of employment, Annie Novak pointed to the Urban Design Lab at Columbia University, which has a very detailed and recent report on The Potential for Urban Agriculture in New York City.

A number of people asked about where to find English-language information on urban farming in China. Some good places to start are:

Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) 

Food for the Cities Program of the FAO

International Development Research Centre (IDRC)

RUAF Foundation

Sustainable Cities Programme of UN Habitat

One of the non-NYC urban farmers I talked about was Pattie Baker of Atlanta.  You can learn more about her story in her book, Food for My Daughters.

Thanks again to George Pisegna and The Hort for working so hard to spread the word about urban farming, and to Erika, Annie, Phyllis, EunYoung, Britta, Zach, and Camilla for helping to make the Big Apple better, greener, and more delicious.

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