This Bronx Distribution Hub Could Help Local Farmers Reach More Tables

This Bronx Distribution Hub Could Help Local Farmers Reach More Tables

This Bronx Distribution Hub Could Help Local Farmers Reach More Tables

GrowNYC's Marcel Van Ooyen is working to launch a 75,000-square-foot food distribution hub in Hunts Point

By Cara Eisenpress

Van Ooyen wants to serve local and midsize farmers in the state.

The popularity of farm-to-table eating has created demand in the city for a local farmers’ wholesale market. Gov. Andrew Cuomo in August committed $20 million to fund a 75,000-square-foot food-distribution hub in Hunts Point and chose GrowNYC to develop and operate it. The 40-year-old nonprofit runs farmers’ markets and community gardens as well as recycling, composting and education programs. The Bronx distribution hub is the biggest project Marcel Van Ooyen has taken on in his 10 years as GrowNYC’s head. He said he hopes it will open in early 2019.

What's the purpose of the hub, and how will it work?

The hub will source, aggregate and distribute locally grown produce to food-access programs and like-minded restaurants and retail outlets. We anticipate well over 100 farmers will benefit. Farmers who grow for the wholesale markets will deliver large quantities to us. We'll break it up and distribute to public and private buyers. We'll have additional space for farmers to store food, and eventually light processing.

Why build it?

Ninety-eight percent of what we eat comes through wholesale channels. The current hub for local farmers is only 5,000 square feet, so we will replace it to serve more of them.

The limiting factors to supporting local, midsize farmers are having the infrastructure for them to drop produce off and us to deliver it and to be able to pay them a real return on what they're growing. It's difficult for these farmers to compete with the huge farms in California.

So how do you pay farmers a real return?

We let them set the price. By being a nonprofit and not trying to make any money other than [to cover] our operating costs, GrowNYC is able to even the playing field.

How do you get fresh, local food to underserved New Yorkers?

We worked with the Department of Health to create Healthy Bucks, a food stamp incentive program that has become a national model. Through our programs, like Youthmarket, we can distribute in areas that haven't been traditionally served. The same kale that is going into Gramercy Tavern is at a farm stand run by teens in Brownsville, Brooklyn, on the same day.

Is the obsession with farm-to-table more than a trend?

It's the last frontier for environmentalism. We spend millions of dollars protecting the watershed around New York City and building the infrastructure to keep water clean and safe and deliver it to everyone at a reasonable price. We spend a lot of time regulating the air. But food is something we've left to private industry.

Is there enough local food to serve restaurants that say their food is local?

Consumers have to be skeptical and ask. We need to make sure that people are living up to their promises. With more local wholesale, the issue of "faux-cal" may disappear because there's access to that product on a consistent basis.

What does the White House's environmental position mean for the city?

Cities have been the innovators in fighting global climate change. As a citywide organization, we provide an outlet to create change in communities even if they can't get it on a federal level. You're not going to be worried about Trump's tweets while you're shopping in a Greenmarket. Hopefully, you're thinking good thoughts. 

 Van Ooyen wants to serve local and midsize farmers in the state

Van Ooyen wants to serve local and midsize farmers in the state

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