The Economic Impact of the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center

by Charles Platkin, PhD, JD, MPH

Testimony to the New York City Council: New York City Council Committee on Economic Development:  File #: T2019-5358

Testimony of Charles Platkin, Ph.D., J.D., M.P.H., Distinguished Lecturer, Hunter College, CUNY; Executive Director, Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center

Title of hearing: Oversight – The Economic Impact of the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019, at 1:00 P.M. in the 16th Floor Committee Room, 250 Broadway, New York, NY

Good afternoon and thank you to Chairperson Vallone and the members of the Committee on Economic Development for the opportunity to submit written and an abbreviated and summarized oral testimony regarding the Economic Impact of the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center.

My name is Charles Platkin, and I am providing this testimony on behalf of the Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center, of which I am the executive director. The Center works with policymakers, community organizations, advocates and the public to create healthier, more sustainable food environments. We thank the City Council and the Speaker’s office for their support.

Let me start by saying that the Hunts Point Distribution Center (the “Distribution Center”) in the Bronx is extremely valuable, because it allows for tremendous economies of scale for New York City’s food suppliers. It is comprised of three independent cooperative markets: the Hunts Point Cooperative Meat Market, the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market and the New Fulton Fish Market, each of which sublets space to various private distributors and vendors. As a result, the Distribution Center represents the interests of more than 155 public and private wholesalers, distributors, and manufacturers and their approximately 8,500 employees.[1],[2],[3] It’s estimated that 4.5 billion pounds of food pass through the Distribution Center annually, generating more than 3 billion dollars in sales.[4] According to the Rebuild by Design Proposal, the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center distributes food to 22 million residents in the region, generates a $5 billion annual economy, and provides 20,000 jobs, including the 8,500 above-mentioned unionized positions within the Distribution Center itself.[5]

Many of the following facts and figures may already have been mentioned, but I would like to include them for the record:

As of 2016:

  • Approximately 19 billion pounds of food are distributed throughout New York City each year from approximately 42,000 separate point-of-sale outlets
  • More than 50 percent of the last-mile food distribution into New York City begins within the five boroughs
  • 46 percent of the food distributed through New York City is refrigerated or frozen, with shorter shelf-life and specific infrastructure requirements

Having a wholesale food distribution center in New York City is critical to our strong urban food system. The Hunts Point Distribution Center model allows for affordability due to reduced shipping costs and the competitive pricing of goods, which, in turn, can create lower food costs for the consumer. According to the Five Borough Food Flow Report by the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency and the NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC), clustering of food businesses is beneficial to distributors and manufacturers because of cost efficiencies when receiving shipments and increased revenue, since customers can shop at several nearby manufacturers and distributors during the same trip.[6] The high cost of rent in New York City for these distributors is typically offset by lowering the cost of transportation that would be incurred if they were located outside the five boroughs. Furthermore, the location of Hunts Point Distribution Center gives distributors access to a very large employee and customer base.[7]

However, the current model and vulnerabilities of Hunts Point have cause for concerns, including but not limited to the risk of natural and man-made disasters, threats from other markets (such as the Philadelphia Wholesale Market), direct distribution from major supermarket chains, upcoming lease renewals, and a lack of transparency regarding Hunts Point operations. Additionally, the uncertainty of future rent increases and lease changes may cause some vendors to consider relocating and/or planning expansions elsewhere in the region.

Vulnerability to Natural and Man-Made Disasters

New York is one of the 10 cities most vulnerable to rising sea levels, and flooding could increase from two to 15 times its current frequency and intensity, according to the New York Academy of Sciences.[8] Hunts Point demonstrates a number of coastal vulnerabilities. According to the NYCEDC, “Building-level power outages are a significant and shared threat to residents and businesses.”[9] The New York City Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency warns that, according to the Preliminary Work maps produced by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, close to 28 percent, or 93 acres of the 329-acre site are located within a 100-year flood plain, meaning that there is a one percent or greater chance of flooding in any given year. Furthermore, experiencing one 100-year flood does not decrease the chance of a second 100-year flood occurring that same year or in any year that follows.[10] The Mayor’s Report, OneNYC 2050, specifically warns that “without added protection, much of, if not all, of… Hunts Point… could be flooded during storms.”[11]

The Meat and Fish Markets are housed in a particularly vulnerable part of Hunts Point, with a high likelihood that they could see between one and three feet of inundation by 2050, leading to significant food losses.[12] In addition, a power outage caused by a natural disaster could cause Hunts Point to lose refrigeration for an extended period of time, causing a significant amount of food to spoil.[13] Problems at the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center would have the greatest impact on independent businesses like small grocery stores and bodegas in underserved communities, starting with those closest to the Distribution Center.[14],[15]

Since thousands of distributors serve tens of thousands of outlets, the food system is not likely to be impacted significantly by a disruption to a single distributor; however, the centralized system can pose major infrastructure risks to the food distribution system in the case of a disaster. A system-wide disruption to the food supply would be particularly problematic in underserved, food-challenged communities. “Consumers face additional vulnerabilities if they are low-income, lack mobility, face geographic isolation or have limited choices of where to purchase food on a daily basis.”[16] These everyday challenges to accessing healthy and affordable food can worsen if there are disruptions further up the food-supply chain.

Despite these potential problems, there is no preparedness strategy for the entirety of Hunts Point, so individual businesses and the three cooperative markets are left to develop their own plans. Leaving it up to the individual businesses and the cooperative markets is not a sound practice and does not ensure a uniform resilience plan when natural disasters occur. Many of the individual businesses have no emergency plan for a flood or power outage beyond evacuating staff and calling 911.[17] The city urgently needs to come up with a solution to protect our local food system in case of a disaster, natural or man-made.

While Hunts Point was left mostly unscathed by Hurricane Sandy, largely due to the fact that it was low tide in the Long Island Sound when the hurricane hit, the lack of dire consequences from Sandy should not be a reason for complacency. During the aftermath of Sandy, even though the area was left largely unaffected, distribution was impacted by fuel-supply shortages and truck-based freight delays because of single-occupancy vehicle restrictions.[18] To avoid even more serious problems in the future, the City has verbally agreed to “hardening” the Distribution Center, which entails “strengthening essential systems (electrical, mechanical, fuel, communication, life-safety) to withstand floodwaters, operate during storm surge or return to service rapidly after floodwaters subside.”[19]

After research and review, including asking questions surrounding preparedness during a panel discussion at the Center, we have not seen any discussion or protection against an act of terrorism targeted at the Hunts Point Distribution Center. Based on the significant economic impact such an attack and subsequent wholesale food distribution would have on the New York City economy, this kind of threat should be discussed amongst policymakers and stakeholders and planned for with reassurances given to the public.

Coastal Resiliency Plans

The NYCEDC implemented the Hunts Point Resiliency Project in 2015, hosting community meetings to engage with residents and stakeholders in order to assess these potential risks.[20] The federal government awarded $20 million, with the city of New York allocating an additional $25 million, to fund a Hunts Point Resiliency pilot project. [21]The EDC agreed on two projects to address flood-risk reduction and energy resilience, which they deem as the highest priority. The first includes a pilot project that will implement solar + storage at two schools in Hunts Point to store energy in case of an emergency and reduce overall energy use from the grid.[22] The Rebuild by Design report presents the second plan to tackle resiliency, by hardening and developing a tri-generation microgrid that would ensure back-up power during an emergency outage to the Distribution Center. Additionally, the microgrid will provide year-round energy benefits by supplying electricity and chilled water to the Produce Market and hot water to the Meat Market. The EDC’s $71 million microgrid plan has a completion date of March 2022.[23] In terms of hardening, the Distribution Center believes that to-date only a verbal commitment has been made.

All of these plans have potential to minimize vulnerability of the Distribution Center; however, the Meat Market is still operating without even a minimum of backup generators, more than three years after the City Council approved a $3.5 million plan to install generators.[24],[25] According to a representative from the Hunts Point Produce Market, the Produce Market does not have the capability to set up and rely on modern generators for backup power.[26]

The Following are Additional Notes and Recommendations

1. Need For Greater Transparency Among All Related To The Hunts Point Distribution Center. The city of New York, through the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), is the landlord for the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center and its three independent cooperative markets. NYCEDC also leases additional space directly to several large vendors including Baldor, Anheuser-Busch, Krasdale Foods and Dairyland.

However, information about leases, subleases, market rents, waitlists for space and tax breaks are not currently publicly available. The city should be more transparent with this information so the public is familiar with their vendors and holds them to a high standard, given that they control a large part of the city’s food supply. The public, community organizations, journalists and academic institutions need more information regarding Hunts Point to make more informed recommendations on the city’s food supply and the future of the Distribution Center. The Center has done extensive research with community advocates, academics, food policy experts and others involved in the food system, all of whom agree that the Hunts Point Distribution Center needs to be more transparent.

2. Invest in Hunts Point, Be Competitive and Keep All Markets. In 2011, the Produce Market’s negotiating committee agreed to a three-year lease extension while they negotiated a long-term agreement with the city. At the time, it was reported that a group of 47 businesses had formed their own cooperative within the market and were considering a move to New Jersey, citing both poor conditions at Hunts Point and the fact that they believed the city was taking them for granted.[27] Both these concerns were to be addressed as part of the lease negotiations.

In January 2013, the market’s merchants rejected a 10-year deal to remain in Hunts Point, in part because they did not feel that the city had addressed their most critical issue, which was, as Matthew D’Arrigo, Vice President of the Hunts Point Distribution Center told The Packer in March 2013, “the future role the Business Integrity Commission will take in regulating our market.” The Business Integrity Commission is a somewhat obscure city agency that the market has previously accused of overstepping its authority.[28],[29]

In December 2013, however, before the three-year lease extension ran out, Deputy Mayor Robert Steel announced another seven-year extension to keep the market at its current location until at least 2021. That agreement also preserved the option to sign a new 10-year lease that would now begin at the end of the 7-year extension (in 2021).[30]

Moving the produce market and distribution center to another location nearby would be entirely possible. But, given the additional transportation costs, New Yorkers would probably see a rise in food prices and would suffer from a loss of employment. The city must face a decision: to keep the Center in the Bronx and invest millions of dollars in revitalizing its infrastructure or simply allow it to move. In March 2015, Mayor de Blasio announced a plan to invest $150 million in revitalizing Hunts Point over the course of 12 years, “fortifying a vital aspect of our infrastructure: our food supply.” This seems to be critical to the growth of Hunts Point and sustaining the markets.[31]

Market Competition: The Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market opened in June 2011, following a model similar to that of the Hunts Point Produce Market. It too houses hundreds of producers and distributors that go back generations. The Philadelphia Market is the world’s largest fully-enclosed, fully-refrigerated wholesale produce terminal, and because of its proximity to New York City, and its modern facilities it has already begun to encroach on business at Hunts Point.[32][33]

Direct distribution from major supermarket chains is another threat to the current Hunts Point Distribution Center model. Whole Foods, for example, sources from its own distribution center in Cheshire, Connecticut, and also receives direct deliveries from other producers. It is also speculated that Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods will strengthen Amazon’s delivery service, Amazon Fresh, and give the company a larger share of retail food sales nationwide. To stay competitive and keep the market infrastructure strong, the city needs to invest in modernizing Hunts Point to ensure that our food supply and distribution remain in New York City.

3. Backup Generators Right Now. Currently, none of the Hunts Point markets have backup generators.[34] All three markets should have immediate emergency backup generators. As I’m sure this committee is aware, the City Council approved $3.5 million for the Hunts Point Cooperative Meat Market, which distributes more than one-third of the city’s meat, to receive generators. However, it’s been more than three years and still there are still no generators. And unfortunately, according to a representative from the Hunts Point Produce Market, the Produce Market does not have the capability to set up and rely on modern generators for backup power, however, this claim needs to be explored further. The city should investigate renting temporary emergency generators for the entire Distribution Center until there is a permanent solution. The Distribution Center in Hunts Point needs power protection immediately to preserve and protect New York City’s largest source of food.

4. More Projects Like The GrowNYC Greenmarket Co. Food Hub. Exploring the possibility of building community gardens and instituting urban gardening projects built above the floodplain in Hunts Point could encourage self-sufficiency and food sovereignty. Perhaps the city could allocate funding for a vertical hydroponic and greenhouse food production center. These urban agriculture ventures should be explored as a way to protect our food and to create a more sustainable food system with fewer environmental hazards.

5. Reporting on Advancement and Allocated Funds. There should be city oversight and a website dedicated to keeping track of the many different funds that have been earmarked for revitalization of the Hunts Point Distribution Center. This would include resiliency projects, revitalization efforts, community improvements and integration, and transportation modifications.

6. Support a Barge Terminal To Service Hunts Point Distribution Center. In New York City, 90 percent of freight is moved by truck, resulting in more than 30,000 trucks passing over the George Washington Bridge daily, with some of the highest concentrations of truck congestion around Hunts Point.[35] In 2017, New York City suffered $862 million in lost economic activity due to truck congestion and delays, a cost estimated to increase to $1.1 billion by 2045.[36] In an effort to combat congestion-related pollution and costs, Freight NYC released a Request for Proposals (RFP) last summer as part of their plan to develop a barge terminal.[37]

The terminal would reduce New York City’s over-reliance on trucks, and invest in more environmentally-friendly means of transportation. The RFP indicates that, in addition to reducing air pollution and road traffic, the plan would create nearly 5,000 jobs and strengthen the city’s freight distribution system while transporting goods in a more energy-efficient way. The RFP notes that one ton of freight can be moved over 500 miles on one gallon of fuel by water, compared to just about 60 miles on one gallon of fuel by truck. NYCEDC President and CEO, James Patchett, commented that “New York became the global capital of commerce because of [the] waterways; by reinvesting in this vital asset and moving more freight by barge, we are creating 21st century maritime jobs and ensuring goods reach New Yorkers faster.”

7. Decentralization, Semi De-centralization, Or A Full Upgrade Of Hunts Point Food Distribution Center. In 2017, 15 separate weather and climate disasters (costing approximately $15 billion) hit the U.S., making it the most expensive hurricane season in American history.[38] This makes the city of New York’s choice even more complicated: invest millions in revitalizing Hunts Point, with the potential for spending millions more to repair damages from a natural disaster in a high-risk area, or break New York City’s major food hub into smaller, more modern, and less susceptible facilities throughout the five boroughs. Since 60 percent of the city’s produce and about half of the city’s meat and fish pass through Hunts Point, one disaster could seriously complicate the supply of fruits and vegetables, fish and meat in New York City.[39] Given these high percentages, there is too much economic risk for one centralized food hub to provide most of New York City with food.

Decentralization of the Distribution Center would minimize the great economic and food security risk of losing such a large percentage of the region’s food supply if disaster hit, as well as curtail the direct impact of distribution truck traffic on Hunts Point residents from the overwhelming influx and outflow of trucks on a daily basis. If decentralization is not attainable, a full infrastructure upgrade of the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center is needed to minimize its vulnerability to future disasters and to address the environmental, health and economic impacts on the Hunts Point community.

8. Integration Of The Hunts Point Community With The Hunts Point Food Distribution Center

Despite being the center of New York City’s food supply, the Distribution Center is located in the poorest congressional district in the United States. The neighborhood suffers adversely from high rates of food insecurity and some of the highest rates of diabetes and obesity in the city. Even with all the food that travels through the Distribution Center, residents of Hunts Point still have minimal access to fresh food in their neighborhood. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rebuild by Design competition has proposed a permanent, six-day a week farmers’ market near the Distribution Center to “provide a public face and retail portal to the wholesale cooperative markets.”

To promote economic development in the Hunts Point area, non-profit organizations including the Bronx Environmental Stewardship Academy and SmartRoofs provide green job training to local residents to develop skills that can be utilized for resiliency projects at the Distribution Center. Local businesses such as the Casa Redimix Concrete Corporation, which has the capacity to produce precast elements for flood protection,  can also be integrated into construction and resiliency projects at the Hunts Point Distribution Center.

The 15,000 trucks that make the trip to and from the Distribution Center daily contribute to the significant air pollution in the Hunts Point area. According to the New York City Panel on Climate Change 2019 Report, the rate of hospitalizations for asthma in adults in Hunts Point is twice the city-wide average.[40] To combat the heavy pollution from truck traffic, the South Bronx Greenway development program was built to provide a protected path along the busy truck route. The Greenway also attempts to improve the quality of life for residents by adding new bikeways, parks, and a safe connection between the waterfront parks and residential areas. The Hunts Point Clean Trucks Program aims to decrease air pollution by replacing or retrofitting older, polluting diesel trucks with 2010 and newer EPA emission-compliant vehicles. The program has replaced or retrofitted more than 500 trucks to date, cutting back on dangerous truck emissions in the Hunts Point Area.

We at the Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center recognize the deep-rooted economic importance of the Hunts Point Distribution Center and stand ready to help in any way we can.

For more information about the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center, visit our website at or email Dr. Charles Platkin at

Thank you again for the opportunity to provide oral and written testimony.

Reference List:

[1]“Hunts Point Lifelines.” Rebuild By Design, PennDesign/OLIN, 6 Apr. 2014,

[2]Gonen, Yoav. “No Flooding Protections In Store for City’s Largest Food Hub” The City, 8 Nov. 2019,

[3] “Hunts Point Peninsula.” New York City Economic Development Corporation, Accessed Nov. 18, 2019.

[4] “Hunts Point Peninsula.” New York City Economic Development Corporation, Accessed Nov. 18, 2019.

[5]“Hunts Point Lifelines.” Rebuild By Design, PennDesign/OLIN, 6 Apr. 2014,

[6] “Five Borough Food Flow.” 2016. Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency and the NYC Economic Development Corporation, Accessed Nov. 18, 2019.

[7] “Five Borough Food Flow.” 2016. Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency and the NYC Economic Development Corporation,  Accessed Nov. 18, 2019.

[8]Horton, Radley, et al. “New York City Panel on Climate Change 2015 Report Chapter 1: Climate Observations and Projections.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, vol. 1336, no. 1, 16 Feb. 2015. The New York Academy of Sciences, doi:

[9] “Hunts Point Resiliency: Public Meeting October 19, 2016.” New York City Economic Development Corporation, Accessed Nov. 18, 2019.

[10] “NYC’s Risk Landscape: A Guide to Hazard Mitigation.” 2014. NYC Emergency Management and the NYC Department of City Planning,  Accessed Nov. 28, 2019.

[11] “OneNYC 2050. Building A Strong and Fair City” 2019. NYC Mayor’s Office, Accessed Nov. 18, 2019.

[12] “Hunts Point Resiliency.” New York City Economic Development Corporation, Accessed Nov. 18, 2019.

[13] “A Stronger, More Resilient New York.” 2013. NYC Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency, Accessed Nov. 18, 2019.

[14] “Five Borough Food Flow.” 2016. Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency and the NYC Economic Development Corporation, Accessed Nov. 18, 2019.

[15]Brand, David. “Spared by Sandy, City’s Waterfront Food Hub Prepares for Future Disasters.” City Limits, 27 Oct. 2017,

[16]“Five Borough Food Flow.” 2016. Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency and the NYC Economic Development Corporation, Accessed Nov. 18, 2019.

[17] Brand, David. “Spared by Sandy, City’s Waterfront Food Hub Prepares for Future Disasters.” City Limits, 27 Oct. 2017.

[18]“NYC Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency.” The City of New York, 11, June 2013,

[19] “Hunts Point Resiliency.” New York City Economic Development Corporation Accessed Nov. 18, 2019.

[20] Hunts Point Resiliency. Medium. Accessed Nov. 20, 2019.

[21] “Hunts Point Lifelines.” Rebuild By Design, PennDesign/OLIN, 6 Apr. 2014,

[22] Hunts Point Resiliency.” New York City Economic Development Corporation, Access October 19, 2019.

[23] Gonan, Yoav. “Power Players Leave Hunts Point Meat Market Lacking Electric Backup.” The City. 19 Oct, 2019,

[24]Gonen, Yoav. “Power Players Leave Hunts Point Meat Market Lacking Electric Backup.” The City. 15 Nov. 2019,

[25]Gonen, Yoav. “Power Players Leave Hunts Point Meat Market Lacking Electric Backup.” The City. 15 Nov. 2019,

[26] Nijhuis, Austin and Zeuli, Kimberly. “The Resilience of America’s Urban Food Systems: Evidence From Five Cities.” The Rockefeller Foundation, January 2017,

[27] Fickenscher, Lisa. “Hunts Point Market Signs 3-Year Lease Extension.” Crain’s New York Business. 01 June 2011,

[28] Powell, Michael. “A Watchdog That Isn’t Watched.” The New York Times.  22 Apr. 2013.,

[29] Bagli, Charles. “Hunts Point Market Deal Runs Into a New Obstacle.” The New York Times. 05 Sept 2012,

[30] Platkin, Charles. “Hunts Point Distribution Center: A Report with a Spotlight on the Produce Market.” 10 Jan 2018,

[31] “Mayor de Blasio Delivers Remarks at Association for a Better New York.” The Official Website of the City of New York. 05, March 2015, Accessed Nov. 19, 2019.

[32] Distefano, Joseph. “PhillyDeals: Phila. Wholesale Produce Market is bearing fruit.” The Philadelphia Inquirer. 06 June 2014,

[33] Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market. PhilaPort, Accessed Nov. 18, 2019.

[34] Hunts Point Microgrid, NY Prize Stage 1 Feasibility Study, NYSERDA Agreement #: 64712

[35] “Freight NYC Goods for the Good of the City.” New York City Economic Development Corporation, Accessed Nov. 18, 2019

[36] “Freight NYC Goods for the Good of the City.” New York City Economic Development Corporation, Accessed Nov. 18, 2019.

[37] “NYCEDC Seeks Operator to Develop New Marine Terminal on the Hunts Point Peninsula”. New York City Economic Development Corporation,

[38]OneNYC 2050 Building a Strong and Fair City: Volume 1 of 9. The City of New York, 2019,

[39]“NYC Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency.” The City of New York, 11, June 2013,

[40] Rosenzweig, Cynthia and Solecki, William. Advancing Tools and Methods for Flexible Adaptation Pathways and Science Policy Integration. The New York Academy of Sciences. March 2019.

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