New York City residents are fortunate to have access to locally sourced produce and dairy products from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Our home state, however, is making a substantial push to encourage government agencies at all levels to buy local—a move that will provide New Yorkers healthier food options and city agencies greater cost savings.
I firmly believe that knowing where your food comes from and how it is grown is an important part of healthy living. Three years ago, as a City Council member, I organized a tour of Upstate farms to urge New York City procurement administrators to buy local. Sergio Paneque, then in charge of purchasing for the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, was completely sold on the idea. After all, New York State’s largest produce items are apples, onions, carrots, potatoes, and yogurt—foods New Yorkers consume in large quantities.
Now, as Chief Procurement Officer for the State of New York, Sergio is an even stronger advocate of the local produce pipeline. As a guest at my office’s August 12 farm tour of Orange County, he shared news about an upcoming RFP in which the state will explore new ways of sourcing food. Hoping to “reengineer the supply chain,” the state is seeking to maximize the root-cellar goods that its farmers excel at producing.
My office chose Orange County as our tour destination because it produces 60% of the local vegetables, fruit, and dairy consumed in New York City—much of it distributed through Hunts Point in the Bronx, the world’s largest wholesale produce market. We visited Dagele Brothers Produce and J. Glebocki Farms, two major providers of vegetables; Porpiglia Farms, a major fruit orchard; and Back to the Future dairy farm.
With 642 farms, Orange County is an agricultural mecca; over 16% of its land is farmed. It’s rich and fertile muck soil—known locally as “black dirt”—boasts 36 acres of onion crops (producing half the state’s supply) as well as pumpkins, sweet corn, radishes, and lettuce.
“Artichokes to zucchini” is the way Maire Ullrich of the Cornell Cooperative Extension Orange County described the county’s food variety during our tour. Its 300 acres of cilantro are directly targeted to New York City markets; one grower, in fact, has 50 acres of the herb.
Farming in Orange County is a $400 million industry, with a good chunk coming from the county’s six packing houses. The “hold back,” according to Bob Weybright of the Cornell Cooperative Extension Orange County, is a shortage of seasonal labor. Although specialized equipment is available to harvest most crops, the diversity at each farm makes such equipment unfeasible. Consequently, most crops are picked by hand.
Still, farms like Dagele Brothers, J. Glebocki, and Porpiglia are price-competitive. Owner Frank Dagele explained during our tour that 85% of his farm’s yield is sold to big chains like Stop & Shop, with four to five tractor trailers of radishes, beets, carrots, onions, and cilantro shipping out each day.
Porpiglia, one of the state’s largest orchards, supplies apples to Walmart and Hannaford. Of the 400,000 bushels it produces annually, 150,000 are sold to New York City. It has just installed an impressive, custom-built piece of machinery to sort, wash, wax, and store apples in optimal environment, handling each piece like an egg so as not to bruise.
Ruth Luis of the Orange County Procurement Office explained during the tour that buying local produce saved a 300-bed nursing home in Orange County $20,000 in one year. Seniors got the benefit of healthy, nutritious food (“They’re crazy about beets!”), and the county was ecstatic to keep revenue local.
Since our last farm tour, Dagele and Porpiglia successfully bid on and won a contract with the New York City Department of Corrections to supply over $250,000 in fruits and vegetables. Glebocki is participating in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) workplace delivery program, whereby once a week for the June-November growing season, they deliver CSA shares to New Yorkers’ place of employment.
Though our farm tour showed clearly that the relationship between New York State farmers and city consumers is strong, there’s much more we can be doing at the institution level to get all city residents fresh and healthy food at a cost savings to the city while helping to keep Orange County agriculture thriving.
It was pointed out during our tour that New York State’s output of 30 million apples a year is dwarfed by Washington State’s 150 million. It was also pointed out that those 150 million apples are being grown a continent away from the Big Apple.
As Phil Giltner, Deputy Commissioner of the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, advised, “There’s no reason Washington State apples should be served at a New York State institution.”