This page looks at issues related to the food system in NY, which includes everything in the chain of agricultural production from agricultural suppliers to farmers to consumers. Click on a question to see the answer. Clicking on an image will open a larger version.
Could NY agriculture feed NY?
It will take a few images to answer this question. First, we need to have a sense of where the people are.
Second we need to have a sense of where the agricultural lands are, and how those relate to the population distribution. In the image below, population is represented by circles sized according to population. The circles are located above areas identified as either Urbanized Areas (labeled) or Urban Clusters, terms used by the US Census. Only 2.3% of the population lives outside of these areas.
Last, we need to connect the agricultural lands to the population in order to determine whether the distribution and amount of ag lands in NY State could provide enough food to feed the large population of the state. Luckily, this work has already been done. In 2009, a group led by Christian Peters, then at Cornell and now an Assistant Professor at Tufts University, developed a model to determine whether the population centers in NY State could conceivably obtain all of their food from the surrounding farmland. Being a model, there are some simplifications, but all in all their work provides an excellent answer to our question.
The map below shows that cities outside of the NYC Metro region and the Hudson Valley could meet their food needs from local farmland. However, the NYC Metro region only receives 2.2% of its food need due to its distance from most of the farmland in the state. Because the majority of the population in NY State resides in this region, this means that, in this model, NY agriculture could meet approximately 34% of the food needs of the residents of the state. For more information, the original paper is highly recommended (citation in the image).
Could urban agriculture feed NYC?
Having answered the previous question, the answer to this question is straightforward- No. However, because some would make the claim that supporting agriculture in cities is more important than supporting agriculture in rural areas, we will look at some evidence.
In the 2009 paper referenced in the answer above, Peters et al. noted that, according to their model: "NYC has an enormous population,and even if it received all the available NYS production potential, it would meet just 55% of its total food needs."
According to a 2012 report from the Urban Design Lab at Columbia University, it would take 232,000 acres to grow just the locally-producible fruits and vegetables that residents of New York City eat on yearly basis. For comparison, the entire five boroughs of NYC occupy 195,000 acres. The same report identified less than 5,000 acres of vacant land and 3,079 acres of rooftops in the city that could be used for agriculture.
A second example: Residents of NYC eat 574 million pounds of potatoes per year. At an average yield of 20 tons per acre, growing just NYC's potatoes would require more than 14,000 acres of farmland.
The logical conclusion to these statistics, and many others in the Columbia report, is that anyone interested in re-localizing food production for NYC to any significant degree must recognize that the answer lies to the north, in the millions of acres of farmland found in rural NY State. New York City needs New York's farmers, and New York's farmers need New York City!
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