2024 Urban Agriculture Changemaker: Qiana Mickie

by NYC Food Policy Editor

You can’t have food without agriculture, a fact Qiana Mickie knows very well. Qiana was tapped to run the inaugural office of the Mayor’s Office of Urban Agriculture almost two years ago. A dedicated public servant, she is also a frequent panelists locally and keynoter nationally. She has served as an expert for our Food Policy for Breakfast series on the topic of Urban Ag, as she understands the importance in finding alignment and establishing common ground throughout our state, regionally, across the US, and even internationally, a connector of dots between upstate farmers and downstate markets. Qiana is our Changemaker of Urban Agriculture.

Under Qiana’s leadership, the office aims to advance urban agriculture and equity to actively address climate, health, and food disparities in the city’s natural and built environment. By collaborating with interagency leaders as well as the breadth of urban agriculture stakeholders, Qiana has developed innovative initiatives to foster healthy, culturally relevant food production, educational trainings, and economic development opportunities for farmers and producers in the city. In the first year of her tenure, Qiana has developed initiatives such as reimagining Farm to School in NYC, building an M/WBE pipeline for small and socially disadvantaged businesses, and bolstering land security for community gardeners. She recently released NYC’s first urban agriculture report and action plan.

Qiana is also the Founding Principal of QJM Multiprise and the former Executive Director of Just Food. For over 12 years, Qiana has also worked on local, state, federal, and international policy on issues such as food sovereignty, land stewardship, and health. Qiana has a B.S. in Marketing from Hampton University and received her Food Hub Management certification from the University of Vermont. She serves on the USDA Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production Federal Advisory Committee, International Council of Urgency, and the Coordination Committee of the Civil Society Mechanism (CSM) for the United Nations.

We were delighted to be able to spend time with Qiana Mickie to discuss her experiences and her vision as a pioneer in urban agriculture.

Since your appointment as the inaugural Director of the Mayor’s Office on Urban Agriculture, how has the city’s relationship with agriculture developed? What surprised you most?
Since establishing the Office of Urban Agriculture, I get the opportunity to amplify that urban agriculture is a critical component of climate justice and explore ways to better integrate nature-based solutions into other interagency city planning and policies. I continue to be surprised when people share their personal connection and passion of urban agriculture with me.

What have some of the biggest challenges been over the past year for MOUA? What, in turn, have some of the biggest wins been?
The biggest challenges for MOUA are also the pivots to some of our biggest wins. Establishing an office from the ground up was a challenge, but being able to be create and launch new initiatives such as Re-Imagining Farm to School and agrivoltaics was a win. The Re-imagining Farm to School initiative, in collaboration with NYC Public Schools, provides direct agriculture education experiences for students to learn from urban growers about culturally relevant and locally grown food in both the classroom and in gardens/farms within their community. Funding innovative initiatives like this is a perennial challenge, but we were able to secure state and federal funding for this work. Another pilot we have in the works is urban agrivoltaics, which involves the co-location of solar panels and food production on rooftops in order to expand both solar adoption and fresh food access in NYC. MOUA also worked with federal elected officials to develop the city’s first urban agriculture marker bill, the Growing Opportunities in Innovative Farming Act, which was introduced in both houses of the U.S. Congress. It has been a catalyst to discuss with electeds across the country a measure that can improve access to federal funding for small-scale urban growers/producers during a critical Farm Bill season.

As Director, what Urban Ag programs are you most excited about, and most proud of?
As a Director, I am both and excited and proud that many of the goals and actions we shared in our first Urban Agriculture report are coming to fruition and we continue to find ways to deepen our work with not just longstanding urban ag stakeholders, but also other New Yorkers who are finding their way into the vibrant urban agriculture city landscape. While food production and access is important, it’s also important that all New Yorkers-from students to elders- see themselves as climate stewards and their connections to the land for healing and respite as well as fresh food sources becomes stronger.

What do you think is overlooked most often when discussing the foodscape of New York?
What’s often overlooked in the foodscape of New York is diverse bounty of seasonal and culturally relevant crops that are grown within our five boroughs. Also, the unheralded land stewards, farmers, and small businesses that ensure food is grown from seed and to our plates. There’s a hyperlocal multiplier effect of food, health, and economics I think is not discussed or supported to its potential scale … yet.

What is one word you’d use to describe our food system? Complicated
Who is your food policy hero? Lydia Villanueva, Director/Founder of CASA del Llano, Inc in Texas
What was your breakfast this morning? Hawthorne Valley yogurt and granola
What is your favorite food? Comfort food made with love and wisdom
What is your favorite last meal on earth? My Aunt Florence’s potato salad, fried chicken, and greens from the garden
What is your favorite food hangout? Khan-Tong in Woodside, Queens
Who are your food policy social media must-follows? @equitableeats @grocerynerd @rivergardenbx

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