By Kitty Merrill
A broad coalition of farming, conservation and environmental organizations applauded the State Assembly this week for unanimously passing legislation that will strengthen the state's local-food economy and protect New York farms. The senate passed a companion bill earlier this month.
The Food Metrics Bill (S.4061/A.5102), sponsored by Sen. Patty Ritchie and Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, as well as local Assemblyman Fred Thiele, would require state agencies to establish a robust food purchasing, tracking and reporting system that will provide baseline data about money being spent on food and the geographic source of such food. The bill also lays the groundwork to encourage state institutions to buy more food grown on farms in New York.
"As a sponsor of the bill and one who represents the most productive agricultural county in the state, I am pleased that the State Assembly has given final passage to the food metrics bill," said Thiele.
"This legislation will promote New York State agriculture and encourage the purchase of locally grown food products. If agriculture is to remain sustainable, our efforts must begin at home. We have spent millions in Suffolk to preserve farmland. However, if we are also to preserve the local farmer, we must insure that agriculture is economically viable. This is an important step in that direction. I urge the Governor to sign the bill."
He was not alone in the urging.
"The Assembly has made an important statement today by encouraging state agencies to buy food grown in New York – and gathering the information necessary to see if it's really happening," said David Haight, American Farmland Trust's New York State Director, in a release from the coalition last Thursday. "We hope that Governor Cuomo will sign this legislation and use the state's purchasing power to support local farmers and feed more healthy food to millions of New Yorkers."
"Today's Assembly passage of the Food Metrics Bill is a tremendous win for New York farms, for our state's agricultural economy as well as for sustainable food," said New York League of Conservation Voters President Marcia Bystryn added. "We look forward to Gov. Andrew Cuomo signing this bill into law."
"This bill is an important first step in establishing New York as a leader on local and sustainable food purchasing," said Mark A. Izeman, Director of the New York Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). "This legislation lays the groundwork for setting concrete purchasing targets and incorporating sustainability criteria that could further boost green economic growth, preserve threatened farmland, and improve the health of New Yorkers."
"New York should use its purchasing power to purchase local foods, helping local farmers and food processors. It will help create more jobs in the local food economy. An impressive range of farm, environmental, public health and anti-hunger organizations support this legislation. We want to thank Assembly member People-Stokes and Senator Ritchie for their leadership. We look forward to Governor Cuomo signing it," said Mark Dunlea, Executive Director of the Hunger Action Network of NYS.
"Local food is a win-win for everyone involved because it keeps farmers farming and reduces transportation impacts which harm the environment," said Katherine Nadeau, Water & Natural Resources Director of Environmental Advocates of New York.
New York currently has no reliable data on the amount of food it purchases in and out-of-state. Lacking a baseline for measurement, it's difficult to increase the consumption of local foods, a step which would aid New York's struggling agriculture industry. The benefits of buying local are numerous – it preserves disappearing farmland, can be a boon to the local economy and it provides New Yorkers with fresher, healthier food.
The Food Metrics Bill mandates that state agencies establish a tracking and reporting program for all food they're buying. It requires the Office of General Services and the Department of Agriculture and Markets to set guidelines for state agencies on increasing their purchase of local foods. Successful bidders on state food contracts would also have to provide the type, dollar value, and geographic origin of all their food to the procuring agency.