It sure seems like Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to leave behind a healthier and safer New York City. Since taking office, he’s made the food and hospitality industry a focus both in respect to workers’ rights as well as access to healthier and more affordable food with his investment in the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center in the South Bronx. His latest move came on September 29 when the mayor and senior advisor Gabrielle Fialkoff announced their latest initiative called “Building Healthy Communities” or BHC.
According to Fialkoff, the public-private partnership lead by the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Partnerships and the Fund for Public Health will focus on goals including “increasing opportunities for physical activity, expanding access to healthy and affordable food and making improvements to public safety.” Fialkoff assures that these goals work together symbiotically, noting that “engaged communities are safer communities.”
The program’s roots are in community building within New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) complexes, which will host urban farms, farmers markets and health classes. The farm plots will serve as a low- or no-cost food source to residents and create jobs for youth who will staff the program with the help of Green City Force, an Americorps program for young adults living in the city’s public housing.
Program leaders will do everything from build gardens to tend, harvest and sale the fruits and vegetables of their labors. The markets set up in the NYCHA buildings will act as a co-op for residents who, in exchange for produce, can either volunteer their time or bring compost food. By creating more and accessible markets, the program also aims to increase use of Health Bucks: a program devised to increase use of SNAP benefits at farmers markets around the city by giving an additional $2 for every $5 spent on fruits and vegetables.
The program focuses on neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs including East Harlem, Brownsville, Canarsie, Mott Haven, Hunts Point, Morrisania, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Central Harlem, Corona, Flushing, Mariners Harbor and Stapleton. Three farms are already in operation in Canarsie, Brownsville and East Harlem with plans to build two more this year. The initiative intends to build at least one farm as the program expands and analyzes its impact on both health and safety. You can read more about BHC here.