The greenmarkets in New York City are bustling this time of year. With tomatoes, corn, squash and so much more all bursting out of the ground, there’s no better season to buy locally grown produce.
For many farmers in the state, though, getting their vegetables to New York City customers is quite difficult. Take, a farmer in New York’s Washington County, just under four hours away. In order to get product to NYC customers, the farm would have to drive to the city and then snake through city traffic to each restaurant or wholesale buyer, before making the trip back. That’s more than a full day’s work.
For many customers, too, buying this food is often out of reach. Greenmarket tomatoes go for upwards of $3.50 per pound sometimes. They’re cheaper at the supermarket, shipped in from California.
A new project hopes to change that. The organization behind many of NYC’s greenmarkets is leading the construction of a massive new distribution facility for locally produced food in the Bronx. It hopes to break ground this fall.
The project will house a refrigerated warehouse and allow GrowNYC to relocate its wholesale operation, Greenmarket Co., allowing the organization to dramatically increase the quantity of local food that can be brought into New York City while potentially making it more competitive with food coming through traditional supply channels.
At roughly 20,000 square feet of warehouse facility in Hunt’s Point, it will be a massive change for an operation that is currently working out of 5,000 square feet in the neighborhood. The organization currently delivers roughly 2.4 million pounds of food annually; it anticipates that the new facility will allow it to handle 18 million pounds annually. It will also allow Greenmarket Co. to expand the types of products that it offers with new space for dairy and meat storage.
The Greenmarket Co. facility will only take one-third of the 70,000 square-foot warehouse, though. Two-thirds of the hub will house space for food processing, other storage or distribution businesses or retail vendors, though those tenants have yet to be selected.
“Food distribution is a volume business. Having more space means we are able to operate more efficiently. We will see economies of scale that will lower cost of doing business. We can pass that on,” says Olivia Blanchflower, director of wholesale and distribution at GrowNYC.
Trapani Farms produces apples and fruit just outside of Poughkeepsie. They used to sell to terminal markets in the Bronx and Brooklyn—New York City’s old-school wholesale farmers markets. Now, Greenmarket Co. buys their grapes on a weekly basis. Scott Trapani says an expanded local food hub facility could mean expanded production on their farm, if the Greenmarket Co. buys their produce.
“If the business is there in the future, moving forward we could try to get some more acreage in the ground.”
In addition to commercial wholesale distribution, Grow NYC works to increase access to produce in lower income neighborhoods and communities the city.
It distributes to food pantries and non-profit organizations and operates the Fresh Food Box program, a weekly share of produce, packed by GrowNYC, that is designed to be shared among several families. It also runs the Youthmarket program: farmers markets in lower income neighborhoods, staffed by young people. The produce sold there is aggregated at the Greenmarket Co. warehouse. The hub is the backbone of these operations and will allow them to expand.
“When the produce line increases, we’re hoping to work with more institutions, hospitals, universities, things like that,” Blanchflower says.
The hub project was announced in 2016 by the governor’s office and was the direct outgrowth of a task force that studied the needs of farmers, producers and consumers with the goal of building a regional food hub.
The state committed $15 million in funding at the outset and since then, the GrowNYC has been working to secure additional sources of funding.
Capital investment is coming from the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), as well as from the City Council, federal sources and the office of the Bronx borough president.
A site is now selected— 298 Halleck Street in Hunts Point. It is a city-owned piece of property directly adjacent to the city’s wholesale produce market and several large-scale food processors. Siting the facility there is important because it is along existing truck routes. It will give growers who might be delivering produce to other wholesale buyers a convenient stop and will allow Greenmarket Co.’s delivery trucks easy access to the city
GrowNYC, in partnership with NYCEDC, will lease the property from the city.
Correction: The article originally stated the new warehouse space for GrowNYC would be 23,000 square ft. It will be 20,000 sq. ft.