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Dianne Morales, Nonprofit Executive

In New York City, 1.2 million residents were food insecure prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that number has increased to around 2 million. How would you decrease poverty and end hunger in New York City?

It is important to understand that poverty is designed and hunger is a symptom of that design. We don’t have a resource issue; we have a vision and design issue. An integrated and holistic approach to food justice involves a reshaping of NYC policies that understands the role of large scale poverty reduction, secure housing, the reduction and eventual elimination of unemployment, and access to nutrition. It is why my Green Jobs, Green Food, Green Justice platform weaves security in employment, food and safety together. To decrease poverty, I would employ an intersectional strategic plan that addresses climate, food, health, and housing inequities. Poverty and hunger are persistent issues that are exacerbated by food security and emergency models that use underserved communities as dumping grounds for food bound for waste or surplus from an extractive economy. My administration would design a city budget that builds on community-led innovation and enterprise, and shifts policy and resources to community land trusts for urban ag production, community-based food hubs (including processing and packing facilities), and stronger ties to our regional food and watershed. These efforts would support job creation, business development, healthy food systems, and resilient communities -in particular in the most vulnerable communities of NYC. Food justice and sovereignty models support rural and hyper local ag production, self determined community food models – that is proven. Improved dissemination of existing funds out of emergency models and into these models would provide immediate solutions to food insecurity as well as support ways to dismantle persistent hunger and poverty.

What specific steps will you take to increase the participation of eligible New Yorkers in federally-funded programs such as SNAP and WIC?

Being on the ground as part of mutual aid efforts, I witnessed first hand how food access during this pandemic has been a challenge. And it’s not just about the food itself, but how to better connect with New Yorkers vital information. In my first 100 days, I’m launching NYC 5000, a five borough culturally-responsive intervention strategy to connect New Yorkers with the critical support they need in light of the pandemic and the poor vaccine roll-out that disproportionately impacted Black, Brown and immigrant communities. Part of this effort will include language access strategies to enable more of our neighbors to become aware and take advantage of city, state and federal aide programs, including SNAP and WIC. Other step I would take include:

  • Increase discretionary city funding to capacity building food justice organizations such as Just Food that provide technical assistance and SNAP/EBT training to nonprofits, community leaders, and farmers to become SNAP/EBT eligible. 
  • Replicate initiatives such as efforts in MA around increasing electronic redemption of SNAP/EBT, WIC, Healthbucks, FMNP, and other food based incentives on benefit cards at direct farm to consumer models such as CSAs, farmers markets, farm stands, and farm shares. 
  • Increase funding for free/ low cost SNAP/EBT wireless equipment to CSAs, Farmers Markets, and farmers. 
  • Increase funding for trainings and community mini grants to help cover operational costs for accepting SNAP/EBT at community food models 
  • Cross promotion of healthy food farmers markets, CSAs, food hubs, co-ops and ability to use/ redeem SNAP/EBT benefits at city agencies and their outreach offices.

How will you ensure the lived-experiences and expertise of communities of color are incorporated into the development and implementation of policies to build a more equitable food system? How will your policies approach the structural racism that exists in our food system?

My Green Jobs, Green Food and Green Justice plan ties areas often separated, yet inextricably connected. Informed by food justice activists, organizers and practitioners, it calls for the city to shift to a comprehensive and equitable food plan rooted in resiliency in climate, food, and enterprise. Some of my strategies include:

Amplifying strategies that we know work, like Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), farmers markets, cooperatives, community based food hubs and community land trusts; (Brooklyn Packers, Brooklyn Movement Center – Central Brooklyn Food Coop, Just Food)

Establishing an Office of Urban Agriculture run by actual urban farmers, not urban planners, and focused on empowering small and mid-sized farmers–especially Black and Brown growers;

Significantly Increase Funding to sustainable, community organizations–whose methods, practices and language have often been co-opted by larger non-profit organizations who provide immediate free food, but very little long term vision on eradicating poverty with sustaining infrastructure;

Provide technical assistance for regional growers to compete for larger procurement contracts and other sourcing opportunities–and provide resources to organizations like Just Food that are invested in equitable distribution to smaller community models and organizations

We need a NYC version of the Green New Deal that includes a workforce pipeline into urban gardening, sustainability and renewable energy; also align opportunities for MWBEs. In its current power structure, this office could leverage its intra-agency capacity to support urban ag and food policy on a deeper level in the city. I believe the Office of Food Policy can be expanded, but bigger consideration is the level of power within the office. Food continues to be addressed in city government as a siloed issue. It is intersectional and also needs to be connected to our city’s climate resiliency. Under my administration, the Food Policy Director would be someone with food and social justice experience and have a team of people with experience in urban planning, food justice, and solidarity economy, policy, and food systems–very different from the current Director who has mainly emergency food experience and a fractured racial equity lens- which has led the city into the disenfranchising food plan executed during COVID. 

Moving from food emergency to food equity would also mean working closely with CBOs and seeing them as the main drivers of citywide efforts. As mayor, I would invest $25 million to food innovation and sustainability programs in communities of color.

Brown entrepreneurs seeking to enter the urban agriculture

And we need to create ownership models for NYCHA residents, which not only enables them to drive how vacant lots in their areas are designated, but also enables more solidarity economies including cooperatives and quality green spaces

How do you plan to invest in long-term food sovereignty in NYC that moves away from the current investment in Emergency Food as a response to systemic and long term food insecurity?

Whereas other candidates have focused on continued focus on emergency relief, I am focused on how to disrupt the cycle of poverty, the complicity of our systems exacerbating the haves and the never had, and moving towards a sustainable green ecosystem. As outlined in the prior question, the reason why it’s important to hire a Mayor with an equity lens is because such a leader uses the data and invites those most impacted to the table. No solution around justice–including food justice–can happen without the communities currently living with, and addressing, the issues. This co-governance model is essential if we’re serious about food equity.

Approximately 230 million meals are served annually by our NYC agencies. The Good Food Purchasing Program, which is currently in the early stages of implementation here in NYC, uses the enormous strength of our City’s food procurement power to improve the local and regional food systems in the areas of workers’ rights, environmental sustainability, local economies, nutrition, animal welfare, and meaningfully infuse racial equity and transparency practices into the food system. We want to understand your commitment to maximizing the impact of the Good Food Purchasing Program in your administration. Can you speak to the resources that you would harness to make this happen?

The implementation of GFP standards and enforcing metrics met within City agencies is a constructive step forward increasing equity within the NYC food system. I do believe in the power of GFP practices; however, it will struggle to be fully implemented in NYC without genuine engagement of food justice, labor justice, and other regional stakeholders. Genuine food economy infrastructure and logistics such as community based food hubs, processing facilities, commercial shared kitchens, and greenhouses in urban spaces, and better value chains between rural partners are needed. Urban ag policy that supports new innovative and cooperative land stewardship of city own land and enterprise is also needed. We cannot predominantly support or rely on the private sector to build urban infrastructure. They focus on just rooftop gardens and hydroponics which are high cost, heavy infrastructure, limited bounty, and limited opportunities for communities of color. Improved policies between city and state to support urban enterprise and profit made on city owned land is also needed to genuinely promote land stewardship, revenue generation, in particular to communities of color or low income. Black and Brown communities will continue to get left out of green jobs and be pushed out of their neighborhoods by gentrification without better urban ag and food policy in the city. It is why my Green Jobs, Green Food, Green Justice effort revolves around people-powered, community-centered leadership and I hope to deepen GFP’s alignment with the public, more than the private.

It is important for students to have access to food that fuels them and helps them succeed in school. Students deserve school meals that are a respected, valued part of the school day as well as a wide range of food options, including Halal, Kosher, and options for people with extreme allergies. How important is school food to you? What would you do to improve the school meal quality, experience, and options?

School food is an important aspect of food justice. 52.9% of NYC’s K-12 public school youth receive free or reduced nourishment. Dignity in food is essential to ensuring our most vulnerable aren’t discriminated against simply because they are poor. Furthermore, children with food allergies, religious considerations or disabilities should not have to worry whether or not they can eat properly while trying to learn. One major move I’d make is to move away from corporate food supply chains and invest in local food experts, chefs and culturally relevant nutritionists. In addition to seeing themselves reflected in their places of learning, this shift helps us empower local businesses–crucial in the midst of the current pandemic. As the only candidate with a commitment to address education equity within my first 100 days, I’d ensure food justice is included in policy discussions with young people, family members and community leaders. Finally, urban ag is a field that should be integrated in our school curriculum and career options–which is part of my Green Jobs, Green Food, Green Justice pipeline strategy. 

What would you do to improve the quality and nutritional value of institutional meals provided by City agencies (e.g. school food, senior meals, etc.)?

Specific actions I’d take include:

Support culturally relevant nutrition education training and menu planning for school food coordinators and procurement officials;

Increase DOE Farm to School cafe program to include procuring from hyperlocal farmers/growers as well as BIPOC farmers/producers in the region; 

Hire a food systems consultant with racial and regional lens to support better integration of GFP practices and cultural relevant measures in the procurement process;

Create smaller bid opportunities for support procurement of culturally relevant and seasonal items in our region;

No longer make this a behind the scenes decision, and move from a paternalistic model to one about dignity and sovereignty by engaging those who receive institutional meals.

How will you work to better support and expand the capacity of non-profit community-based organizations and their staff who are serving meals to older adults through the Department for the Aging, including Senior Center and home-delivered meal providers? (For context, in normal times, these chronically underfunded systems serve roughly 20,000 and 30,000 older adults respectively, and could be better utilized to expand their reach.)

In three ways: Fund. Collaborate. Build:

More funding to support organizations to fill in the gaps around healthy, fresh food such as logistics partners and underutilized restaurant labor force. 

Encourage collaborations with mutual aid efforts to pivot their labor and capacity to support ongoing initiatives and services. 

Invest in a care economy model, building workforce pipelines to reach more of our neighbors and better support elder care professionals, serve seniors and homebound New Yorkers with empathetic care.

What would you do to ensure food workers are treated equitably?

Food workers have been some of the most impacted individuals throughout the pandemic, and were subject to poor working conditions and protections long before. Food workers have been on the front-lines and have been functioning as the backbone of our city. It is time that we treat them with the dignity and respect that they deserve.

Support for undocumented workers and ensuring access to relief funds from the city for those who do not qualify for state/federal resources;

Healthcare for all;

Guaranteed minimum income; 

Support for worker owned cooperatives;

Support for unionization;

Increased presence and inclusion in policymaking spaces.

How would you fortify and expand community-driven efforts towards an equitable, sustainable and resilient food system?

There are community members who are already doing the work of finding and contributing to long-term solutions to food inequities. I have proposed allocating $25 million to help aid the existing community efforts to build sustainable food sovereignty. This money would specifically go toward supporting communities of color with food production, processing, and distribution. By supporting these existing initiatives within communities directly, we would be able to forge a system that gets at the root cause, rather than one that actually creates more reliance on charity – furthering the problem.

Resources must be allocated to:

Capacity building organization that provide technical assistance and food and economic justice organizations with proven history and community relationships

Support of cooperative businesses – i.e. worker cooperatives, producer cooperatives within the food and ag sector

Build community based food hubs in each borough such as shared community kitchen spaces that are affordable

What did you have for breakfast this morning?

Hawthorne Valley Farm Maple Yogurt, She Wolf Bakery bread, Back to the Future eggs, and veggies from Nolasco Farm – all from the local farmers market.

One word you would use to describe the food system?


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