A Regional Food-shed Direct Marketing of Local and Small Scale Farm Production: The New York City Green Markets
Many in the class will be familiar with the recent growth of farmers markets and other forms of direct marketing in which farmers sell more directly to consumers to capture a greater percentage of the final purchase price. This includes mail-order grass-fed beef from South Dakota, organic farms and other small farms selling at open-air markets in any given small and medium city, and medium to large scale farms that produce for multiple restaurant accounts in large cities. The New York City greenmarkets (Fig. 1.2.10) are an excellent and long-standing example of this trend, starting with a few street corner vegetable markets and growing into an important hub of the Grow NYC sustainability movement in New York. The Grow NYC website Greenmarket Farmers Markets documents that over 30,000 acres of farmland as well as small fishing operations near New York City form a ‘food-shed’ (analogous to a watershed feeding to a larger water body) that has made important inroads towards greater access to locally or regionally produced food with more sustainable practices, including participation in food assistance programs that strive to provide greater access to lower income New Yorkers. Greenmarkets thus provide a growing, if small, proportion of New York City’s food supply.
Figure 1.2.10.: A New York City Greenmarket, similar to food direct marketing examples across the United States, Europe, and other regions. Credit: Mat McDermott (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Vegetable and livestock producers in that participate in New York City greenmarkets are in many ways sustaining and building on the legacy of small truck farms that for generations utilized fertile farmland surrounding many eastern cities (think of the sometimes mysterious identity of New Jersey as the ‘Garden State’). Today these farms generally have land-sizes of 5 to 50 acres, much smaller than the farm sizes of Midwestern grain farms or California industrial vegetable production. They are comparatively diverse farms in terms of combining many different products (including eggs and meat) that can be sold for relatively advantageous prices together in a farmers market. Farms like those in the Hudson Valley North of New York City utilize flat, deep soils adjacent to river floodplains that are excellent for long-term production of crops if they are well cared for. These farms are also able to recycle relatively abundant urban wastes from dense urban and suburban populations (e.g. green wastes, manure from neighboring small livestock farms, city and county composting programs) that are used to keep soils extremely productive by global terms. In fact, some of these farms may face some the same problems of nutrient excesses presented in the case above on Pennsylvania dairy farming systems. They also are able to grow crops for the sole purpose of adding organic matter to the soil and covering the soil in the winter (cover crops) that help to keep soil quality high. Produce and animal products are trucked directly to green market sites in New York City or to pick-up points for subscription-based Community-supported agriculture programs.