Five Borough Farm

In All, cheryl, Environmental & Sustainability, UDIN (All), Urban Inspiration, USA & Canada by Cheryl Walker

Organization Name: Five Borough Farm

[Footnotes not included]

Introduction: Why Five Borough Farm?

In recent years, urban agriculture in New York City has grown rapidly. In addition to transforming the landscape of the city, urban farmers contribute to the economy, improve their leadership and job skills, promote good nutrition and better environmental practices, and contribute to the ecology, health and education of the city. At the same time, there is a lack of a holistic understanding of the activities involved in the sector. Urban agriculture encompasses not just urban farmers themselves but also nonprofits, foundations, city agencies, and private stakeholders who participate in varying functions.

This lack of data illustrating the concrete benefits of urban agriculture impedes effective and efficient collaboration between stakeholders, sectors, and government agencies. The Five Borough Farm (FBF) project seeks to fill this gap by documenting this activity and creating accessible tools that will allow for the continued recording of this data in order to aid in the growth of urban agriculture.

Five Borough Farm Project Proposal

FBF was proposed by the nonprofit Added Value in response to an open call for projects to improve public space in New York City issued by the Design Trust for Public Space (Design Trust) in 2009. Implementation was proposed in three phases

with three goals: 

  1. Survey and document New York City’s existing urban agricultural activity using photographs, maps, and infographics.
  2. Establish a shared framework and tools to enable farmers and gardeners to track urban agricultural activity and evaluate their social, health, economic, and ecological benefits.
  3. Develop policy recommendations that will help make urban agriculture a more permanent part of the city’s landscape and governance.

Initial and Central Risks

Working in urban farming entails some inherent risks. Given the high cost of land in NYC, urban farming is under constant economic pressure as other sectors vie for use of the land for other purposes like housing or business. There is also some struggle with communities that have a sense of ownership over their community gardens and may see urban farming as threatening their lifestyle.

There were also some factors that may have impeded the success of FBF. The data collected might not have resulted in illustrating the benefits of urban farming. Further, compilation of comprehensive data might not lead to changes in the behavior of current stakeholders, in particular policymakers who might be impeded by political pressures or other factors. Finally, funding is a crucial risk in this project. Design Trust only provided seed funding was provided, and the project was expected to raise supplementary funds independently.

Project Structure and Management

In presenting FBF online, Design Trust utilized some noticeable project management tools and vocabulary but maintained accessibility to those not familiar with the world of project management. In lieu of a project scope and deliverables, for example, the site presents sections like “Outcome,” “Background” and “Process.” At the same time, Design Trust has made a point to present “Key Milestones,” notes “Activities and Outputs,” and identifies “Project Team.”

FBF is divided into three disparate phases, and each phase was treated as a separate project.

This separation allowed for several key benefits. Each phase identified distinct outcomes and corresponding methodologies for achieving them. As a result, each had a different project team, project partners, funders, and participants that would best produce the outputs for that phase. Additionally, Design Trust recognized that each phase required different skills and abilities. The changing project team members and changing sponsors also incorporated different stakeholders, insuring the success of the project. This could have contributed to the funding of the project and kept public attention on the project, garnering wider support and building greater authority for the project. It may also have paved the way for participation from stakeholders.

Even with these distinctions, however, thorough attention was paid to maintaining linkages across the phases. Design Trust remained the project manager throughout all phases. Additionally, one member from Phase I moved to Phase II, and three members of Phase II moved to Phase III,

preserving some level of institutional memory and promoting cohesiveness throughout the multi-year FBF.

Successes & Challenges: Phase I and II

According to Design Trust, both Phase I and II met their goals and produced deliverables. The completion of Phase I in 2012 culminated in a publication that outlined the nation’s first urban agriculture metrics framework, which can be utilized locally and nationally and details ways of measuring the benefits of urban agriculture, as well as thirty policy recommendations.

Phase II was also completed in 2014 and resulted in the creation of a data collection toolkit and the launch of farmingconcrete.org, a centralized platform that allows urban farmers to record data and download aggregated data. Phase III is currently underway with no defined finish date.

Even though Phase I was a success, towards the end of the phase (2012), Hurricane Sandy’s arrival wreaked devastating havoc on urban farms in NYC and affected Phase I. An article by a local nonprofit employee noted:

Five Borough Farm project partner Added Value in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn was hard hit by Hurricane Sandy—this 2.75-acre urban farm was submerged by several feet of sea water, which ruined crops, possibly contaminated the soil and resulted in the loss of topsoil and beehives. Their office was also flooded. This article tells the story of how Added Value and other urban farms were impacted during the storm.

This could have delayed the completion of the first phase, given that Added Value was the proposer and key collaborator of Phase I. It could have also caused the need for additional funding and resources. Finally, a delay in the first phase could have made progression to future phases impossible and impeded the goal of the entire project. On the other hand, another source notes that urban farms became extremely important in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and filled a crucial infrastructure need as plots helped to absorb stormwater, decreasing flooding into rivers and public waters.

This may have illustrated one of the many benefits of urban farming to policymakers.

While only the results of the project are available to the public, there are many points at which FBF might have been challenged beyond external influences. What seems to have led to its success is Design Trust’s ability as project managers who successfully defined the project, managed staff, and incorporated stakeholders.

With the goal of FBF to eventually bolster urban agriculture, each of the three phases included both goals (outcomes) and steps (outputs). While the goals were broad and ambitious, steps translated these goals into concrete attainable work packages. Due to ambitious goals, FBF could have easily suffered from scope creep throughout its implementation if the focus drifted to outcomes rather than outputs. Design Trust seems to have been aware of this as its website promotes the following practices:

For ambitious projects, try to distinguish between anticipated short- and long-term outcomes. Your goals may be lofty but by being realistic about what can be accomplished in a first phase you can begin work more quickly and develop more focused engagement with stakeholders.

Design Trust’s ability to simultaneously encourage ambition and maintain feasibility illustrates their awareness of the possibility of scope creep and suggests they were able to prevent its occurrence during the first two phases.

Another staffing decision that could have proved challenging was staffing. However, Design trust has a practice of recruiting fellows who are “top professionals from the private-sector who join the project team and lead the research, design and planning work.”

Because fellows elect and are chosen to be part of projects, they have high commitment to the success of the project. Additionally, labeling the staff a “team” suggests that there may have been a sense of fostering a great group attitude among team members.

Along with the challenges project managers could have faced, FBF might also have been challenged by the ability to sustain funding inherent to nonprofit endeavors. The project may also have incorporated reports to its funders: the Rockefeller Foundation, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Merck Family Fund, and the NYC Department of Affairs. Reporting might have been a source of frustration depending on preferences of the funders.

Another challenge the project might have faced was the expensive and time consuming nature of involving multiple stakeholders through conducting interviews, site visits, workshops and seeking input. Such assessments required fellows to spend significant amounts of time conducting them and may have required additional transportation and event planning costs unplanned for in the budget. If fellows were working part-time, this could prove extremely difficult regardless of the staff members’ commitment to the project.

To date, FBF has resulted in some tangible successes. More generally, through site visits, interviews and workshops as well as the overwhelming involvement of stakeholders throughout the data aggregation process, FBF has managed to achieve its goals of significant involvement while simultaneously gaining much-needed exposure through advertisement. Moreover, some farmers have testified that the toolkit produced has aided them significantly in their practice of urban farming by allowing them to more effectively track their activities and expenditures.

One tangible result is Senator Kristen Gillibrand’s solicitation of Design Trust’s input regarding support for agriculture.

Additionally, the online Farming Concrete platform has produced noticeable results, recording data from 257 farms and gardens around the US and even in other parts of the world.

At the same time, FBF continues to face some uncertainties. With Phase III still underway there is still insecurity about whether the outcomes identified by FBF will be achieved. One uncertainty is the sustainability of the project in the long term and whether the toolkit and the Farming Concrete website will continue to be used by urban farmers. Moreover, even with the encouraging solicitation of Senator Gillibrand, the collected data remains subject to traditional political pressures in its future use by policymakers. In a data-driven project, use of the data produced remains a tentative outcome.

Conclusion

FBF is a project that attempts to utilize data to formalize an industry that is highly informal. The hope is that data will enable urban farmers to become more powerful stakeholders. The resulting policies will allow for an overall more unified support from stakeholders, support that is crucial to keeping urban farming alive and necessary for the movement to ultimately grow, multiplying the benefits it already provides to New York City. The project has been successful thus far due to diligent project management, adequate funding, a dedicated staff, and the involvement of many stakeholders through funding and collaboration. While there are uncertainties about the outcome of the project due to its ongoing status as it is in the midst of its third and final phase, there have been noticeable successes that point to the possibility of overall success for the project.

Appendix A: Stakeholders

A. Urban Farmers and Gardeners: Individuals who produce food for personal or community consumption.

B. Support Organizations: Non-governmental organizations that: provide technical assistance and training for farmers and gardeners, offer funding and resources for programs and site improvements, conduct advocacy and policy work, offer environmental education services, advocate and facilitate systems to increase the quantity of food grown, marketed, and distributed in the city, and organize networking and outreach events for urban farmers and gardeners.

C. Funders: Private foundations that support urban agriculture and/or urban food systems programs by providing technical assistance and funding for specific programs, capacity building, and serving as a liaison to other funders.

  • More than a dozen foundations
  • Increased interest from philanthropic community

D. Government Officials: Federal, state, and local government agencies that provide equipment and supplies, from lumber to compost; contract with urban agriculture organizations that provide programs and technical assistance; or directly offer technical assistance, logistical support, and construction and maintenance help.

Federal Agencies

  1. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) funds urban agriculture research and program development.
  2. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds the GreenThumb program, a division of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, through its disbursement of community development block grants
  3. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides programs and technical assistance to transform land with contaminated soils into safe sites for growing food.

New York State Agencies

  • The Department of Agriculture and Markets works to grow the state’s food and agriculture industry. The agency supports programs to assist community gardens, enable low-income New Yorkers to purchase food from farmers markets, increase market demand for New York State food, and build the infrastructure needed by agricultural producers throughout the state. Its district office in Brooklyn supports the development of urban agriculture.
  • Cornell Cooperative Extension, funded through a federal, state, and local government partnership provides training in horticulture and ecology.
  • Department of Environmental Conservation and the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation have provided funding for urban agriculture.

New York City Agencies

  • The Department of Parks & Recreation (Parks) runs GreenThumb, a program that licenses the community gardens located on city property, offers technical assistance, suppliers a number of different material resources, and provides labor to help clear vacant lots for new gardens.
  • The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) has a program manager and several staff who focus on supporting an extensive community gardening program with some 600 gardens on Housing Authority sites, including 245 that produce food.
  • The Department of Education hosts an estimated 289 gardens on school property. The department’s SchoolFood division, in cooperation with the nonprofit organization GrowNYC, supports the Garden to School Cafe program, which uses produce grown in school gardens in school lunches.
  • Several other city agencies, including the Departments of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), Education, Transportation (DOT), and Corrections control city property on which individuals are growing food.
  • The Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability is involved in strategic planning that includes open space and food production.
  • The Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) is responsible for all city-owned properties. Local Law 48 requires DCAS to publish a list of all city-owned properties that are suitable for urban agriculture.
  • The Food Policy Coordinator is responsible for improving food quality served by agencies and access to healthy food throughout New York City.
  • The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is responsible for increasing the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables in underserved neighborhoods and encouraging New Yorkers to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables.
  • The Department of Sanitation (DSNY) funds community-based composting programs and has offered leaf and yard waste compost to gardens and farms. DSNY also provides assistance clearing vacant lots that are being turned into community gardens.
  • The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which runs the city’s water and sewer infrastructure, has adopted a green infrastructure plan that provides financial support to increase permeable surfaces, including community and rooftop gardens, that stem the flow of stormwater into the city’s sewage system, including community and rooftop gardens.
  • The Department of City Planning (DCP) addresses the land use rules that govern where urban gardens, farms, markets, and other facilities can be located.
  • The Department of Buildings (DOB) issues building permits for installations such as green roofs.
  • The New York City School Construction Authority, which builds and renovates schools, has been involved in building greenhouses and other growing facilities on school property.

New York City Elected Officials: Council Members and the Mayor are involved in enacting and carrying out urban agriculture policies, such as the initiatives outlined in the City Council Speaker’s FoodWorks 2010 policy plan, including the specific local laws and resolutions that put those proposed initiatives into practice. The Borough Presidents and City Council members also have discretionary funds that they use to provide operating funds to urban agriculture programs and capital funds for garden and farm infrastructure. Finally, the City Council has oversight responsibilities to ensure that programs are carried out effectively and that proposed program budgets are adequate.

Appendix B: Phase I and II Milestones

Phase 1 Milestones (from http://www.designtrust.org/projects/five-borough-farm)

1. Jury selects project (JULY 2009)

Added Value executive director Ian Marvy presents his proposal to “quantify and demonstrate the social, environmental, and economic impacts of urban agriculture as public space” to the Design Trust project selection jury.    

2. Define scope (SEPTEMBER 2009)

Together with Added Value, we determine the project budget, schedule, and scope.

3. Assemble team (MARCH 2010)

We assemble an interdisciplinary team of Fellows, including experts in food policy, sustainable design, and public health evaluation, as well as a graphic designer and fine art photographer.    

4. Interview practitioners (APRIL 2010)

The Fellows begin their research by visiting community gardens and urban farms across the five boroughs of NYC and interviewing practitioners.

5. Form Advisory Committee (JULY 2010)

We form an Advisory Committee of farmers, gardeners, funders and policy experts to guide the project.

6. Hold stakeholder workshop (DECEMBER 2010)

More than 90 farmers, gardeners, food policy experts and funders gather together for a participatory workshop about urban agriculture in NYC.   

7. Conduct research (MARCH 2011)

The team continues its research in the fields of food policy, public health evaluation, and sustainable design.

8. Synthesize (APRIL 2012)

The team works together to synthesize the research and make the final policy and metrics recommendations to support and expand urban agriculture in NYC.

9. Produce publication (JUNE 2012)

After many months of work, the publication–written, edited, and designed by Design Trust Fellows and staff–finally goes to print!

10. Test online data portal (MAY 2012)

We release a beta version of our online data collection tool which enables farmers & gardeners to input basic data, track their progress, and produce reports.

11. Release findings (JULY 2012)

On the rooftop of the NYC Parks Department headquarters in Central Park, we celebrate the release of “Five Borough Farm: Seeding the Future of Urban Agriculture in NYC.”

12. Begin Phase II (SEPTEMBER 2012)

We determine that a second phase of work is needed to implement the key policy and metrics recommendations we developed in the first phase.

Phase II Milestones (from http://www.designtrust.org/projects/five-borough-farm-ii/)

1. Launch Phase II (SEPTEMBER 2012)

We form a partnership with the NYC Department of the Parks & Recreation for this new phase of the project.

2. Define scope (OCTOBER 2012)

Together with our Partner, we determine the scope, schedule, and budget for the project.

3. Assemble team (NOVEMBER 2012)

We select a new team of Fellows for this second phase:

4. Create Task Force (JANUARY 2013)

The urban agriculture task force meets quarterly to discuss topics like land use and availability, funding, job training, and compost.    

5. Build team of beta-testers (MARCH 2013)

Approximately 30 farmers and gardeners from across the five boroughs of NYC commit to collecting data.     

6. Gather community input (MAY 2013)

Gardeners and farmers discuss the types of things they want to measure in their gardens.

7. Testing (JUNE 2013)

The  Outreach Fellows distribute the draft data collection toolkit and the necessary equipment to 30 gardens around NYC.     

8. Synthesize (SEPTEMBER 2013)

The team and staff work to synthesize the research, findings, and feedback from farmers and gardeners.

9. Peer review (OCTOBER 2013)

The core group of farmers and gardeners field testing the data toolkit reconvenes in October, six months after the first workshop, to provide feedback about the toolkit.

10. Produce deliverables (DECEMBER 2013)

The project team finalizes their recommendations and begins working on the final project publication.

11. Release findings (MARCH 2014)

The project publication, Five Borough Farm II: Growing the Benefits of Urban Agriculture in New York City, is released at the NYC Parks Department headquarters in Central Park.

12. Begin Phase III (APRIL 2014)

The third and final phase of our Five Borough Farm project will increase the amount of data available on urban agriculture in NYC and identify sustainable funding models for farmers and gardeners to continue their work.

Appendix C: Screenshot of Design Trust Website (from http://designtrust.org/projects/five-borough-farm/overview)

Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 8.00.39 PM

Appendix D: Project Team

Project Team

 

Appendix E: Metrics Framework (from http://www.designtrust.org/media/files/5BF_Metrics_Framework_POSTER_8x11.pdf)

Metrics Framework

Appendix F: List of Recommendations (from http://www.designtrust.org/projects/five-borough-farm/)

Recommendations

Appendix G: Farming Concrete Toolkit – Mill depicting a count of data that has been recorded thus far (from http://farmingconcrete.org/mill)

Mill

Appendix H: Farming Concrete Toolkit – Barn depicting map of data that has been recorded thus far (from http://farmingconcrete.org/barn)

Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 8.28.36 AM

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