On February 23, 2017, the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute held a forum bringing together representatives from research and academia, non-profit community serving organizations, and the New York City Housing Authority to discuss that agency’s current and potential food innovations. These programs and ideas apply creative and diverse solutions to integrate resident engagement with social and economic development as well as increase access to healthy food. The focus areas of this work are currently urban farms, healthy food entrepreneurship, and access to healthy food retail. The forum was moderated by the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute’s deputy director, Craig Willingham.

During the forum, Christine Caruso, Assistant Professor at Eastern Connecticut State University discussed her qualitative study of the Food Environment around NYCHA’s Queens Bridge Houses, which used in-depth interviews to bring to light the ways that food environments function as a determinant of community nutrition. Caruso’s study found the quality of food in Queens Bridge to be poor as well as expensive, leaving residents feeling vulnerable and exploited, particularly so in light of the lack of alternative food retailers.

Andrea Mata discusses Farms at NYCHA at the CUNY Urban Food Policy Forum on NYCHA food policy innovations on February 23, 2017.

Shanna Castillo, Director of Resident Economic Empowerment & Sustainability at NYCHA discussed her work with NYCHA Food Business Pathways, a free, comprehensive, and competitive program that works directly with NYCHA residents to translate their culinary skills into entrepreneurship ventures, becoming ‘NYCHApreneurs’. Through a ten week curriculum, individuals with culinary skills are given training, licensing, and technical assistance to launch their own catering business.

Howard Husock, Vice President for Research and Publications at the Manhattan Institute discussed findings from his report looking at development opportunities at NYCHA properties called Turning Food Deserts into Oases. Husock suggested that the $17 billion backlog in capital repairs might be addressed in part through market solutions to bringing healthy food to NYCHA communities. With fifty-five percent of NYCHA housing settlements in areas underserved by grocers, creating healthy and accessible food environments for these communities is paramount for those interested in increasing access to healthy food.

Andrea Mata, Senior Manager for Community Health Initiatives at the New York City Housing Authority discussed her work with the Farms at NYCHA project. Prudence Thomas, Health and Nutrition Director, and Bill Fink, Associate Executive Director for Development and External Affairs, SCAN-NY, discussed “Cafe Express,” a NYCHA resident-run healthy food pop-up cafe.

Thomas provided insight into this venture which provides NYCHA residents with the skills and support to design and run a cafe, providing them a forum to build a community that would advocate for issues of concern to them.

Cafe Express, a resident-run pop-up care located at Lehman Village in East Harlem.

The speakers discussed possible solutions to the disparities in food access faced by NYCHA residents, such as to support and expand participatory budgeting, first developed in 1989 in Brazil and used in over 1,500 cities worldwide.

We look forward to continuing a dialog on creating and strengthening opportunities around food for and by NYCHA residents.