Note: This interview serves as an addendum to the Center’s previous interview with Qiana in April 2023.
Qiana Mickie is the first-ever Executive Director of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Urban Agriculture, which was established in September 2022. In this role, she manages administrative efforts “to support, strengthen, and expand the city’s network of community gardens and urban farms, in alignment with Mayor [Eric] Adams’ vision for a healthier, more sustainable, and more equitable city.” Prior to joining the Mayor’s Office, she served as the Executive Director of Just Food, a NYC nonprofit whose mission is to uplift New Yorkers who have been marginalized by an unjust food system.
Food Policy Center: Thanks for doing another interview with us! You stated in your last interview that the mission of the Mayor’s Office of Urban Agriculture is “to lead the city’s efforts to increase access to and the production of locally-grown fresh food, minimize our contributions to the climate crisis, and spur economic activity through agriculture.” What has the office been able to accomplish in its first year of operation to advance toward these goals? What are the initiative(s) of which you are most proud and hopeful?
Qiana Mickie: I would say our reimagining of the Farm to School program here in NYC is one of the initiatives we are most proud of, and one that is concretely moving the needle on advancing our city toward these goals. Connecting local BIPOC farmers/producers to NYC school kids. Which results in greater access to fresh, healthy, culturally relevant food in NYC schools, while also strengthening our local food pipeline and providing economic opportunities to these local farmers, is win win win. We are also very proud of the minority and women-owned business (M/WBE) training and certification workshop series we are conducting in partnership with NYC Small Business Services. We have high hopes for a land use feasibility study and an innovative licensing initiative that would result in newly activated land for urban agriculture activities and businesses. Lastly, we are excited about carbon sequestration experiments currently being conducted with soil amendments. We hope to support experiments like this in the future, and, in our subsequent reports, to quantify the various ways that urban agriculture is mitigating climate effects in NYC. I should also mention that, on a legislative level, this office introduced a Farm Bill marker bill in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Adriano Espaillat, and our team was instrumental in amending the language in a bill introduced in the NYS Assembly that would relieve community gardens of onerous water fees.
FPC: How is the city government looking at agriculture differently now than it did before the office was established? Have there been any noticeable actions supporting local agriculture initiated by other areas of government?
QM: I think that, under the leadership of Mayor Adams, there is a new spirit and energy directed toward urban agriculture. As you may know, the Mayor has been a strong proponent of urban agriculture for years, dating back to his tenure as Brooklyn Borough President. I am sensing that people, from those in city offices and agencies to community stakeholders, are aware that we have a real window of opportunity here to advance an impactful agenda for urban agriculture. Additionally, NY state Ag & Markets Commissioner Richard Ball has been very helpful and supportive of our endeavors. And, significantly, USDA has been prioritizing urban agriculture with funding opportunities, a new local Federal Security Agency (FSA) office with an attendant Urban County Committee, as well as a new Federal Advisory Committee for Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production, which met for the first time last year.
FPC: A report on the city’s first comprehensive urban agriculture study was just released. What do you think is the most important takeaway from this report? How should other governmental offices use the information to guide their own work?
QM: I would say the most important takeaway is that this report is just the first step, chiefly answering the mandates for our office. We hope it is a clear accounting of the work we have done and of our accomplishments in the office’s first year, and that city agencies, offices, and stakeholders will see opportunities to collaborate with us in advancing Mayor Adams’s vision for urban agriculture in NYC. As you’ll notice in reading the report, we have already had some very fruitful collaborations.
FPC: What feedback have you received from the general public about the office’s work and mission? What have you seen to resonate most with residents of our city?
QM: I am grateful that the vast majority of the feedback so far has been very positive. Land access, fresh food access, and land security are all issues that are resonating with people. Balancing livability with affordability is very important to New Yorkers right now, I think.
FPC: At the recent Big Apple Crunch event, you had the chance to speak to elementary school children about their thoughts and wishes for local agriculture in NYC. (You must have gotten some great quotes from that!) What do you find valuable about getting unbiased, non-political opinions from youth? What else can you do to make sure you get feedback from a representative sample of New Yorkers, including marginalized or underrepresented populations?
QM: It is critical to get feedback from New Yorkers, particularly from marginalized and underrepresented communities. I am very proud of the fact that, in the first year, our office has maintained a strong focus on community and stakeholder engagement. We consider that to be a top priority for this office. I am continually inspired by young people and try to get their opinions as often as I can. We will continue to broaden our outreach to communities across NYC. As mentioned, our mandated urban agriculture report is live on our website as of this week. We encourage people to read it and weigh in, and to follow us on social media platforms: @NYCUrbanAg
FPC: What do you hope the Office of Urban Agriculture will accomplish over the next year? What about in the next five years?
QM: In the next year, we will begin to build out the foundational systems for collecting comprehensive urban agriculture data on everything from school gardens to food production to economic activity, which we will be including in future reports. We will also be launching our Farm to School NYC program and featuring agricultural learning spaces such as the Learning Garden in Bergen Beach, Brooklyn.
In addition, we will be continuing our strong focus on community and stakeholder engagement, and we hope to have the Urban Agriculture Advisory Board fully constituted and convening regularly, as mandated by Local Law 123-2021.
Finally, within the next year we hope to launch our feasibility study for putting underutilized city-owned land to work, initially focusing on East New York first.
In 5 years, the mandated deadline for the next Urban Agriculture Report, we hope to have shown great progress in the following areas:
- Help for start-up and existing NYC-based urban agriculture businesses and demonstrating significant growth in this nascent industry
- M/WBE certifications for small to midsize farmers/producers in order to increase the M/WBE vendor pool in the NYC food and agricultural sectors and to demonstrate progress in connecting these small businesses with city contracts
- Collecting comprehensive data on urban agriculture in the above mentioned areas and more, and presenting it in real time via a city-hosted dashboard
- Ensuring that every NYC public school student – in every neighborhood, in every borough – has access to a school garden and agriculture education, potentially leading to career tracks in agriculture
- Enabling and facilitating access to under-utilized city-owned land for urban agriculture activities and businesses through innovative licensing agreements we are now in the process of developing
- Quantifying and increasing the impact urban agriculture practices can have on alleviating climate effects, such as mitigating stormwater runoff by creating community gardens and rain gardens, reducing the Urban Heat Island effect with green spaces, and reducing emissions with carbon sequestration through soil amendments
Grew up in: The Bronx
City or town you call home: Harlem
Job title: Executive Director, NYC Mayor’s Office of Urban Agriculture
Background and education: Food systems and equity leader, former nonprofit Executive Director, community advocate. I’ve learned through countless volunteer hours, farm visits, and policy/advocacy sessions, but I also went to Hampton University (B.A.) and received my Food Hub Management Certification at the University of Vermont.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Challenging
Food policy hero: Lydia Villanueva, Executive Director of CASA del Llanos
Your breakfast this morning: Hawthorne Valley maple yogurt, granola, and local honey
Favorite food: Tomatoes ripen on the vine
Favorite last meal on Earth: Mac and cheese made from scratch
Favorite food hangout: Ceremonia Bakeshop
Food policy social media must follow: @NYCUrbanAg, @grocery.nerd