NYC Council Members Partner with BFC on School Food Reform

Brad Lander and Gale Brewer, City Council members from Park Slope and the Upper West Side recognize that there has been great progress when it comes to what our kids eat in school, but more needs to be done. writes about they’re desire to bring more change to school food and their partnership with the Brooklyn Food Coalition in making that a reality.

Milk Not Jails!

Written by Becca Kinsella for the Brooklyn Food Coalition

Lauren Melodia | Milk Not Jails

Lauren Melodia of Bedstuy, Brooklyn is not new to the food movement. Having spent the last seven years working in community gardens, as a staff member at local farmers markets and most recently managing a local farm share in Bedstuy, her collaboration with others to start the Milk Not Jails project may be seen as an extension of her previous experience. Lauren, in collaboration with others, started Milk Not Jails to simultaneously support local farmers and decrease rural upstate communities’ dependency on the prison system. The constituencies supported by the criminal justice system are the same as those supported by the agriculture system. Therefore, Milk Not Jails seeks to combine efforts and tackle both issues at the same time. Lauren explains, “for those that are politically active, we all want to get involved in one movement or one issue at a time, but everything is so interconnected. What we’re trying to do with Milk Not Jails is see how different movements can support each other.”

Milk Not Jails is grassroots campaign that has been volunteer run since it was founded in March 2010. The volunteers that comprise Milk Not Jails are urban and rural residents of New York state, food enthusiasts, prison families, farmers, and formerly incarcerated people. As mentioned, Milk Not Jails’ volunteers have two immediate goals for New York State. They would like to see communities invest in the agricultural economy in rural areas of New York. Milk Not Jails is concerned for the future of the food industry as it has been industrialized and continues to move further from a regional industry to a more global focused industry. The volunteers at Milk Not Jails believe that small farming and heritage processes are more sustainable than the global systems that exist but international policies make it more and more difficult for the small family farms or farms with animal friendly processes to survive. Secondly, Milk Not Jails aims to end the dependency on New York’s dysfunctional prison system. Lauren explains the dysfunction that exists in the criminal justice system, “there is no interest in crime prevention but rather an encouraged dependency on the system to serve as an economy for rural communities.”

Melodia with co-organizer Tychist Baker after being unlawfully arrested in Buffalo, NY

Despite being a young organization, Milk Not Jails has already seen many successes. Lauren notes that the campaign is built on relationships, both political and economical, that are mutually beneficial. In the past two years Milk Not Jails has gained the support of thirty criminal justice organizations, reached out to two hundred fifty farmers, and established rapport with individuals from both urban and rural areas. Lauren emphasizes that the key to establishing these relationships is coming up with a new and creative way to discuss issues that are not novel but rather have existed for some time without a means of discussing. Milk Not Jails is framing the importance of eating local or consuming from local farms in a very new way which is why being a part of networks such as the Brooklyn Food Coalition is so important to spreading the message in the

Milk Not Jail’s participation in the Brooklyn Food Conference will help educate the population in Brooklyn that is excited about eating fresh local produce. Brooklynites will learn about how consumption of these locally farmed goods will result in a movement against the dysfunctional policing that happens in their communities and will improve the food industry in their state. Milk Not Jails will be providing information from their table at the BFC about where residents can purchase locally sourced milk. For more information visit them online:

State Assemblyman Jim Brennan

State Assemblyman Jim Brennan

State Assemblyman Jim Brennan’s Park Slope storefront office is bustling. A concerned  citizen (with dog) shares a community complaint with a staffer in the front while Brennan talks with a constituent on the phone about the challenges of getting a speed bump installed. I’m here to talk with him about what the statehouse is doing (or not doing) to improve our food and water systems.

Brennan was the first political representative who contributed discretionary funds to support the big Brooklyn Food Conference in May.  He gets it. His own passion at the moment is to block fracking, the toxic extraction of gas, so it doesn’t destroy upstate lands, including areas not far from NYC’s watershed.  He’ll be talking about that effort at the Brooklyn Food Conference and I will write a separate column about that part of our conversation.

But he is a true policy wonk with wide interests and knowledge, so we also talk about strengthening the link between upstate farms and city markets of all types, including farmers markets and coops.

“Obviously within 50 miles of the NYC metro area there’s been tremendous loss of farmland,” Brennan said “Land trusts, land preservation banks, support for protecting farming is strong.” Local governments have acted on their own by adopting a 2% transaction tax on the sale of land to fund trusts to purchase forest, open space and farmland.  But the state can do more to support the economics of farming by limiting property taxes, provide loans, helping manage pests and developing markets, he argues.

This last item is where NYC comes in.

“I also view this as an important economic development tool throughout the city, giving people better access to good food, bringing in local farmers,” he said. “It’s important for job creation and sustainability for the environment as a whole.”

Brennan isn’t just talking about local farmers markets. He means huge wholesale hubs like Hunts Point where farmers meet retailers. But , he explains, “Hunts Point is a regional and national market.  The food is not necessarily on its way to NYC.”

“NYC needs substantial additional [outlets for local distribution].  Brooklyn has a small number of wholesale markets, [the city-owned Moore St. market in Williamsburg and a small one in Sunset Park. A market in East NY closed down].  So farmers in Long Island, New Jersey, and upstate NY need government to fund additional facilities so you can get produce in at a wholesale level, so more wholesale and retail markets can be developed. Your weekend farmers’ markets are great but you need additional institutions to strengthen the farmer-consumer connection.”

The city and state governments realize this. But sufficient funds and wherewithal have yet to be brought to bear.

“Everyone’s paying lip service these days. Let’s hope in the next year or two we have money to do more.”

But improving distribution isn’t enough to achieve the environmental goal of shortening the journey from farm to table. In NY, NJ and Connecticut, much of the farming is “specialized and probably not sufficient to feed the 30 million people in the tristate area.  Pennsylvania is maybe closer to self sufficiency.”

Brennan had plenty of kind words for Food Coalition activists and their broad vision.

“What the Food Coalition is doing is generating substantial public interest and concern about the direction of society,” he said. “ And state and local policymakers have taken notice.”  - Abby Scher

Abby Scher
[email protected]
I’m on twitter @abbyscher

Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools!

On Wednesday March 21st at the United Community Centers in the East NY neighborhood, the Brooklyn Food Coalition organized a very successful Townhall Meeting on changing the school food system, with students, parents, community leaders, local council members and DOE representatives all present.

Students and parents gave testimonials on the kind of food currently served in their schools and how they’d like to see more of a variety of food, including fruits and vegetables, for themselves and others.