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August 2012

Local Demand, Meet Local Supply

 
Local goods are in high demand, and a wholesale market in the Bronx just for regional producers would help farms thrive and make this fresh, delicious food cheaper and more widely available in the City.

Buying crisp apples and juicy peaches directly from the farmer who grew them, minutes away from your apartment, is a pleasure shared by many New Yorkers.

The more than 50 bustling farmers’ markets across the City are proof that demand for locally produced goods is going nowhere but up. In fact, a State-funded study found that institutions, schools, and residents would buy $900 million more local edibles than they already do.

Despite this demand, many local farmers can’t increase production—or survive at all—if they can only sell at farmers’ markets, a head of lettuce or a pint of blueberries at a time. Without bulk buyers, it’s simply not financially feasible to expand, and farmland in New York State is disappearing at the alarming rate of 70 acres a day.

The best way to help local supply meet demand? A wholesale farmers’ market in the Hunts Point Cooperative Market in the South Bronx. Governor Cuomo made a pitch for it in his 2011 State of the State Address, and our grant of $100,000 to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) will help make it happen.

Twenty-two million people eat fruit and vegetables distributed through Hunts Point, but only 4 percent of food sold there is grown in New York. The City and State have an opportunity to open a wholesale farmers’ market exclusively for regional producers as part of the overall $350 million modernization plan for the aging distribution terminal.

“A wholesale market could substantially increase the flow of local produce into the City. Our school system alone—which serves 800,000 meals per day—could be the type of major repeat buyer that could make such a wholesale market successful,” says Mark Izeman, director of the NRDC’s New York Urban Program. He goes on to describe why dependable buyers are important. “As one example, we are now working with a farmer who raises grass-fed beef in the Catskill region. He could scale up his production if he knows far enough in advance that he has buyers lined up, as it takes at least a season for him to graze the cattle that have been ordered.”

Operated by GrowNYC, the wholesale market would also make local foods more affordable. Not only can farmers tap into a larger economy of scale, but it’s cheaper for a farmer to deliver a truck load of carrots than to spend all day selling them at Union Square, and the savings is passed along to the bulk buyers.

Providing for the impoverished Hunts Point community is also a priority for the project. “With so much produce coming through the neighborhood, it’s unacceptable that residents have a scarcity of supermarkets selling fresh, affordable fruits and vegetables,” says Pat Jenny, program director at The Trust. “Part of the grant will be spent figuring out ways of bringing some of this healthy, local food to the surrounding community.”

A $75,000 grant to the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation will train community leaders to advocate for healthy and sustainable national food and farming policies across the country.

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