Monday, January 01, 2007

Farmer's Markets in NYC

As we perused the New York City Council website we came across the Speaker's "Farmer's Market Initiative," a list of greenmarkets in neighborhoods all over the city. There are, according to the Council's list currently 78 of these vendor locations. Quite often, they are allowed to violate city zoning laws and locate directly in residential neighborhoods; in spite of the fact that they are bonafide commercial businesses.

Now you may recall that we had questioned the Speaker's desire to expand these operations and, in addition, subsidize them with the machinery to accept food stamps. This initiative is being honchoed by Marcel Von Ooyen, until recently the policy chief to the former speaker Gifford Miller. As if Marcel didn't have enough on his plate with his new mandate to spearhead the Office of Recycling.

The problem here is that Marcel, who hasn't worked a day in any part of the food business, has no real understanding of the economics of food wholesaling and retailing. He calls certain areas of the city "food deserts" and thinks that by subsidizing greenmarkets in these areas he's doing poor folks a favor.

Quite the opposite. By undermining the existing retail food outlets through subsidized competition this kind of a policy makes it more unlikely that the targeted neighborhoods will be serviced by quality supermarkets. Every time you question mavens like Marcel, however, they simply deny that this is unfair competition.

What this is without question is an assault on small businesses who are never the focus of any positive attention from council policy makers. There is simply zero understanding that city tax and regulatory policy is making it difficult for local food stores to prosper. And when it is suggested that the local stores get a break to enhance their productivity-such as with the installation of food waste disposers-the cry of, "Why should we subsidize the private sector?" rings loudly throughout City Hall.

Greenmarkets and peddlers are the same phenomenon with different costumes. When the glaring unfairness of this romanticizing of upstate farmers is put to an end maybe then we can craft an equitable policy to get better access to healthier foods in the city's poorer neighborhoods.