As executive director of The Scenic Hudson Land Trust and director of the Land Preservation program at Scenic Hudson, Steve Rosenberg oversees the protection of Hudson Valley lands for public enjoyment.
He joined the organization in 1990 and since that time has led the group in safeguarding thousands of acres of land and has helped create or improve many of Scenic Hudson’s numerous parks and preserves along nearly 200 miles of the Hudson River. In addition, the program converts neglected urban waterfront sites into more publicly beneficial uses, preserves productive farmland and protects views from historic sites.
What motivated Scenic Hudson to get involved with food policy and to become a food policy advocate?
It’s a natural outgrowth of Scenic Hudson’s work to conserve family farms in the Hudson Valley. As an environmental advocacy and land conservation organization working at the regional scale, it became increasingly clear to us that this work is fundamental to creating secure food access for NYC and the region. NYC alone has almost one billion dollars a year of unmet demand for fresh, local food. There are more farms in the Hudson Valley supplying local food to NYC than from any other area. We have a responsibility to future generations to conserve this scarce resource that promotes so many public benefits. The pressures on the region’s farmland are tremendous, and once it’s gone, it can’t be replaced.
Can you briefly describe last year’s Scenic Hudson’s study and SH’s Foodshed Conservation Plan?
With support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, we developed a strategic conservation plan to protect the most important agricultural lands in the Hudson Valley. The plan, which was created through geographic information system analysis and can be replicated in other regions, establishes priority farmland areas based on soils, farm size and density of farms in particular areas. It also proposes a collaborative, public-private approach to conserving those lands, building on the programs and organizations already in place.
Can you update us on events since last year’s release of the Foodshed Conservation Plan?
Our focus has been on educating the public, advocates and officials about the fundamental concept that NYC’s access to fresh, local food is very much at risk unless we act now to conserve the regional farmland where it’s produced—and that there’s a plan and structure already in place for the key stakeholders, including New York City, to achieve that goal. We’re very excited about the positive reception. NYC Food Forum, a group of city-based policy groups including the NYC Food Policy Center, included conserving the regional foodshed in its list of policy priorities for the de Blasio Administration; Governor Cuomo recently announced the first request for proposals for state-funded farmland protection projects since 2008; city and state officials are speaking out about the importance of the issue; and we are hopeful that NYC policy makers will put the city at the front of the national food policy stage by taking direct action to conserve its foodshed.
Why is it so important to protect the farmland around NYC aside from the obvious reasons?
While it seems obvious to some, not everyone is focused on the issue. Much of the food systems discussion has barely touched on the cornerstone role that the farmland itself plays. If NYC or any other major metropolitan center wants secure access to fresh, local food, the farmland that’s nearby had better be intact. What do we get in return? Enhanced food security, greater resiliency, good food jobs, a robust food culture and a healthier environment. For NYC, it’s about understanding that conserving the most important farmland in the regional foodshed is necessary to secure access to the food it produces, just as conserving the land around the city’s upstate reservoirs is necessary for its residents to have clean water. The American Farmland Trust tells us that a disproportionately high percentage of our fruits and vegetables come from farmland on the urban fringe. With the population of the New York Metropolitan Area expected to increase by 3 million people by 2030, we can’t assume that food demand alone will protect this farmland—real estate pressure always trumps agriculture.
The UN Climate Summit is upcoming this September, can you connect food and climate and talk about the possible outcomes of this summit on a local NYC level?
For food and farming, the changing climate means global unpredictability, and in that environment it’s important to create a diverse food supply portfolio. Part of the long-term solution lies in reducing the number of miles food travels to get to our plates, decreasing carbon impacts. We also must take steps to create greater resiliency. NYC is well positioned to demonstrate leadership in this area, with so many of the building blocks already in place. To make progress, we need to create a more robust dialogue with farmers and those developing more sustainable farming practices and distribution channels. What is the one food policy change at the local (or state or federal) level that would have the greatest impact on health? Short term, make food policy a priority and grab the low-hanging fruit: invest in the food system fundamentals of enhanced access through public procurement, distribution system infrastructure and conserving the foodshed. Longer term, enhance the role of schools in the delivery system for fresh food, including providing direct food access to young people and creating a curriculum that integrates food into the study of science, economics and health as a pipeline for potential future employment.
What do you think are the opportunities for food advocacy in the de Blasio Administration?
The de Blasio Administration has gotten off to a great start by appointing Food Policy Director Barbara Turk and taking initial steps to support the regional food economy as one part of a strategy to address the food equity challenge some have called our “tale of two tables.” Right now, public interest in fresh, local food is huge, and there’s a unique opportunity to build a strong, three-legged stool to create “good food” jobs and expand food access by enhancing regional food procurement standards, investing in regional food distribution infrastructure and conserving the nearby farmland where that food comes from. This administration is well positioned to become a national, progressive food policy leader.
How does your organization think about the connections between hunger, food insecurity and obesity? What strategies do you suggest for better integrating the efforts to reduce these two food-related problems?
Scenic Hudson approaches it from the perspective of creating a sustainable regional food system, which ensures greater access to fresh, local food as a gateway to support public health, jobs, culture, security and resiliency. The city has dozens of food and hunger policy groups working on different elements of the problem. To create an equitable food system, it’s essential that these groups work as a team, in collaboration with the de Blasio administration, to build a sustainable regional food system. content content content content
What’s the last Food Policy Book or website you read: Dan Barber’s The Third Plate is as an intriguing look ahead at the evolving way we think about food, nature and culture. I enjoy reading Civil Eats. I look for posts that are about specific policy proposals, prescriptions for action.
Current Location: Live in Rhinebeck, office in Poughkeepsie.
Education: JD, George Washington University National Law Center; BA, History and Urban Studies, Northwestern University
Favorite Food: Whatever’s in season!