Wednesday, September 05, 2007

"It Ain't Easy Being Green"

In today's NY Sun the paper reports on a conference at the New School that is looking to develop ways to get produce from the state's family farms to the urban tables in NYC. As the paper says; "At a forum scheduled to be held today at the New School, local and state elected officials and family farm supporters will discuss ways bolster farmers and ensure their products make their way to New York City markets."

The idea, one of the key initiatives launched by Speaker Quinn, is to promote healthier eating in communities that are experiencing the worst of the city's epidemic of obesity. As she told the Sun: "Some neighborhoods simply don't have the resources at their disposal to maintain a healthy lifestyle," Ms. Quinn said. "When we increase access to green markets, we not only provide another outlet for family farms to sell their product, we also get locally grown produce on the tables of the people that need them the most."

While we see this approach as well meaning, we believe that it is based on a fundamental misconception. It isn't that inner city families lack the resources, after all, the farmer's markets aren't giving away their produce, are they? It's that there is a lack of awareness about healthy diets and living that dampens the demand for the produce the Speaker rightfully wants these folks to eat.

If the demand was there, the local stores-the supermarkets, and even the bodegas-would be stocking their shelves with as much fresh fruit and vegetables as the neighborhoods could want. In the absence of this awareness and concomitant demand, the injection of greenmarkets into some of these areas will hurt local stores something, as mayoral hopeful John Catsimatidis points out, that is not in the interest of local economies. Here's how the Sun puts it: "Supermarket mogul John Catsimatidis, who is planning to run for mayor, said his grocery store chain, Gristedes, likes to support local farmers whenever possible, but added that it's not in the city's interest to focus on farming.

The right approach in our view is to encourage a partnership between farmers and store owners, with the city acting as a catalyst for increasing awareness and demand. This is the essence of what the "Healthy Bodega" initiative seeks to do; and is what the Health Corps also wants to accomplish as part of a collaborative effort to address the city's serious health crisis. This is the kind of collaboration that, if properly done, will spur local economic development while at the same time increasing healthier eating.