The Story Behind the microfoodhub Project
From Food Justice to Community Development
The "micro food hub" Concept
In 2015, a group of New York grassroots community leaders gave proposed a set of recommendations to the New York State Food Hub Task Force, outlining the direction the state should take in developing a socially and racially just food system that especially considers for the wellbeing of residents in underserved communities. The micro food hub concept was outlined in the document:
Invest in micro food hubs*. We recommend not replicating or investing in Hunts Point Terminal Market without rectifying existing inequities and vulnerabilities. We are concerned that Hunts Point controls such a large percentage of food in our region yet also misses the immediate community. Having such a centralized locale for so much of our food in NY is not only dangerous, but it has proven to be of little to no benefit to the surrounding community residents in the immediate community of South Bronx. Residents still face low wages and poor food quality choices in their own neighborhood where Hunts Point Terminal Market occupies. Additionally, the danger in having so much of our food concentrated in one region proved vulnerable and dangerous as we saw with Hurricane Sandy. Any major disasters blocking our access to one location, makes for a vulnerable system. Investing in or replicating a flawed model via Hunts Point without any corrections would be a great injustice.
Micro food hubs, instead, help to serve as an economic development strategy in communities with high unemployment rates. As we work to shift power within the food system, we see an urgent need for community owned centers of food production and distribution, empowering communities who have been politically and economically disenfranchised.
To support micro hubs, we recommend including dedicating fiscal resources for a census of community gardeners, who are urban farmers and include urban farmers in an updated and expanded count a là Five Borough Farm/Farming Concrete (please see https://farmingconcrete.org/mill/) in order to demonstrate the micro food hubs’ potential of NYC based urban agriculture; and, eventually, they must be included in the next USDA/NASS Census for the same reason.
Finally, for micro hubs, we recommend investing in commercial kitchens and related facilities, including washing stations, food processing and storage facilities, marketing, and distribution in addition to support for agricultural food production
Food Hubs can provide a great opportunity for emerging community based Black and Latino small business entrepreneurs. We suggest improving the connection for these businesses to existing infrastructure in our communities such as commercial kitchens, incubators, and processing centers. Many of these resources go untapped or underutilized by communities of color because they are either unaware of their existence in their communities by the lack of transparency of entry points, applications, and eligibility process or the actual process is not inclusive. This improvement to the local based value chain could increase value added production within communities of color, create jobs, and strengthen the hyper local food system and local economy.
Ensure community based organizations involved include those led by people of color. There is a vibrant network in Brooklyn, Bronx and Harlem working to ensure our regional food system reaches communities in which our food system often exploits, negates or ignores. The action planning should therefore support and strengthen existing community controlled food security work led by communities of color. Funding should be allocated towards increasing the capacity of organizations led by communities of color to be able to fully participate and partner in sustaining a thriving local food economy.
Where we are today
Based on the outlined concepts, a group of graduate students at Pratt Institute’s Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment worked closely with Ray Figueroa, President of the New York City Community Garden Coalition to further the endeavor and founded the microfoodhub project in 2018. The use of digital tools and citizen science have since been incorproated into the project idea to promote subsistent urban food growing as well as STEM education around the theme of food growing in communities. You can learn more about the community learning and food growing digital platform here.