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Urban Agriculture in the USA

The United States is at least a decade ahead of Canada in terms of urban agriculture and food systems development for vulnerable population groups. Although some Canadian Cities have grassroots organizations making minimal attempts, and some other cities have started making investments, impacts aren't happening because Canadian policies and policy-making processes have generally excluded vulnerable population groups from participating. 

In New York City, it started with Mayor Bloomberg

Here’s an excerpt from a Forbes Magazine article published on Nov. 21, 2017; Cities Are Growing More Powerful, And That May Be Good For You.

When billionaire businessman and philanthropist Mike Bloomberg first became Mayor of New York City (NYC), the 2nd most populated city in the world, he was asked whether extra security was needed at the United States Conference on Mayors in NYC. Bloomberg responded, "I told them I didn't think any of the mayors would be that dangerous." Well, during his 12-year term as Mayor of NYC, he found the opposite: a mayor can actually do quite a lot to help prevent death and suffering. He introduced a number of public health initiatives such as banning trans fats from restaurants, requiring restaurant chains to post calorie counts for their food items, and banning smoking in bars and restaurants...

As Bloomberg related, during his term as Mayor "the life expectancy of New Yorkers increased by three years and became two years longer than the national average." These experiences helped him realize that Mayors of large cities could play major roles in preventing and controlling non-communicable diseases (NCDs) around the world.

Mike Bloomberg

Policies addressing the three primary targets—retail access, nutrition content, and food support—are generally coordinated through the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy, which the Bloomberg administration established in 2006, appointing the Food Policy Coordinator as the office lead. This office brought together anti-obesity and anti-hunger policies and stakeholders for the first time and allowed for city agencies to take a broader perspective on food policy. The Mayor’s Office of Food Policy also brought departmental programs that Mayor Bloomberg created earlier under a broader food policy umbrella. Since 2006, the city government modified or expanded these programs layered a host of new programs onto the food policy landscape. - Innovations in NYC Health & Human Services Policy.

The Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Food Policy Program has committed over $435 million to help public health advocates and experts promote healthier diets through policy change. - A Bloomberg charity

Under Mike Bloomberg, New York City’s welfare rolls fell 25 percent, and nearly 900,000 people moved from welfare to work. - Bloomberg's website

Legislative Advocacy Success

The Office of Urban Agriculture

New York City has played the leading role in charting the path of new urban food governance in the United States. 

Ex NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg trail-blazed The New York City Mayor's Office of Food Policy in 2006, creating the foundation for food systems planning everywhere, all because he had a vision for a better life for New Yorkers.

In 2022, The NYC City Council wanted to establish a New York City Office of Urban Agriculture and in this two-minute YouTube clip, Gabrielle Blavatsky, the Policy Director at a non-profit called Equity Advocates, explains how they were able to effectively advocate for equitable change at the 
legislative level to implement new food policies within the city. To watch the full one-hour video, you can watch it on YouTube here.

The Office of Urban Agriculture is responsible for developing and implementing climate-based urban agriculture and food system strategies in the city.  New York City has leveraged their governing power to promote more equitable health outcomes for its city’s most vulnerable population groups. They've demonstrated that urban food governance can alleviate food insecurity within low-income households, as well as prevent the onset of diet-related chronic diseases.  Their methods are effective because they don’t just monitor food insecurity, they've focused on food access policies. They know that food systems can reduce or exacerbate food access inequities at different stages of urbanization and as a result, they've prioritized policies that improve equity.  Those who bear the heaviest burden of inequitable food environments have unique insights into what needs to change, and you can expect these insights to be dramatically different than insights from those without Lived Experience. And thanks to Bloomberg's actions back in 2006, millions continue to reap the benefits.

The Inaugural HHS 'Food Is Medicine' Summit 2024

On January 31, 2024, the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) partnered with the Office of Intergovernmental & External Affairs to host the inaugural HHS Food Is Medicine Summit 2024 in Washington, D.C. It was a full-day event for policymakers, advocates, and researchers to engage in conversation about why ‘food is medicine’ is important, what actions are being taken to promote this concept, and what stakeholders can do to bolster this work. 

Here are some snippets taken from Part 1 of the Summit,  that we'd like to highlight: 

Spending Per Capita On Healthcare Outcomes

29 secs.

Elizabeth Yee is the Executive Vice President of Programs at The Rockefeller Foundation, and in this snippet from Part 1 of the summit’s published video, she speaks about the US having the lowest life expectancy rate but spending the highest per capita on healthcare outcomes.

Canada isn’t much better, being among the highest spenders on healthcare with the worst healthcare value provided. This means, that among the 10 comparable healthcare countries measured, Canada is one of the best at making healthcare investment decisions with the most ineffective healthcare outcomes. Canada also ranked first for longest wait times. 

1 min, 52 secs.

Vince Hall is the Chief Government Relations Officer at Feeding America, and he also spoke at the summit. In this snippet, Vince speaks to a really neat program they’ve started doing about providing food-insecure out-patients with prescription food boxes when they leave the hospital.

Instacart Health

‘Instacart Health’ is basically Canada’s version of ‘The Good Food Box’ program; so it only offers fruits and vegetables, but it’s delivered weekly, by Instacart, through the ‘Good Food at Home’ program, and it’s in partnership with ‘Feeding America’. (Please note, some of ‘The Good Food Box programs’ in Canada offer produce boxes weekly as well, such as the one in Victoria, B.C.). 

59 secs.

Dani Dudeck is the Chief Corporate Affairs Officer for Insacart in the US and here’s a condensed snippet of Dani speaking at the summit, about ‘Instacart Health’.

Instacart Health
Instacart Health Care Carts
Instacart Health

1 min, 10 secs.

Offering food options that people will consume is a form of food accessibility. Dani Dudeck speaks to the importance of providing food preferences.

Food Systems Planning in Indiana

Evidence-Based Research in Food Systems Planning

Dr. Virginia Pleasant is the Co-Executive Director of the North West Indiana (NWI) Indiana Food Council, and has a phD in American Studies/Anthropology from Purdue University. In April 2021, she spoke at a webinar titled; 'Building Up Local Food Systems through the Lens of Equity'. Here are two great excerpts worth taking a listen to. 

1 min, 40 secs.

Dr. Virginia Pleasant guides her food systems planning on evidence-based research in the form of 'state-wide listening sessions'. 

1 min, 05 secs.

Dr. Virginia Pleasant speaks to her own government-funded role of 'Value Chain Co-ordinator' to create and execute food systems in her region. 

Growing Food Where People Live

In the United States, more public housing authorities are recognizing the value of gardens for residents to grow food. Here are a few examples of public housing initiatives creating space for residents to grow food where they live:

In Seattle, Washington, many of the public housing buildings managed by the King County Housing Authority have facilitated residents growing food through container gardens, raised beds, indoor gardens, and individual plots in community gardens. Notably, a resident-built garden at Wayland Arms earned an Award of Merit from the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials.

In Denver, Colorado, the Denver Housing Authority partners with Denver Urban Gardens to establish community gardens for public housing residents. For example, the Tapiz Community Garden has been run by the residents of two public housing buildings since 2012.

New York City Housing Authority’s “Garden and Greening Program” supports over 700 gardens and connects residents with technical assistance from GreenThumb, which provides free seeds and bulbs to resident gardeners, gardening instruction, and additional support. NYCHA’s long history of gardening competitions demonstrates the commitment of the housing authority to supporting tenant gardens over the past 50 years.

Growing Hope Garden

Growing Hope Gardens is an organization in Los Angeles who implement and grow regenerative, organic food gardens and farms with residents of homeless shelters and affordable housing, to function as a place for accessing food, healing, skill training and work development. 

Instacart Health
Carolyn Day

Interestingly, Growing Hope Gardens was founded in 2019 by a woman named Carolyn Day, who experienced homelessness in her youth. She came from the trenches of poverty and is now helping to drive resilient cities. 

Equitable Cities Allow Policy Changes


Vermont Farmers' Market has community gardens in the heart of downtown Rutland: 

Vermont Farmers' Market Community Gardens

The Vermont Housing & Conservation Board published a resource called ‘Integrating Food Access & Affordable Housing’ and it also highlights the importance of public housing authorities to provide leadership and a reliable support system so gardens can be sustainable. 

Community Gardens
Vermont Farmers' Market Community Gardens


In Needham, Massachusetts, a local non-profit campaign called ‘Project FEW, the Fight to End [food] Waste’ was launched in 2021 and involves building community gardens on various properties, including three public housing properties. They also provided the resources, tools and education to teach tenants about composting at their property and using the compost for gardening.

Needham Community Farm Gardening Classes
Needham Community Farm Gardening Classes
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