Meet Barbara Turk: the Mayor's Director of Food Policy at the Just Food Conference

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Just Food is thrilled to welcome Barbara Turk, the Mayor's Director of Food Policy as a presenter at the annual Just Food Conference on March 15th. 

Barbara, along with other leaders in city government will share their experience, goals and challenges in working to build equity in the planning, implementation and impact of their work on the panel, "Building Equity in City Government." 

Just Food’s annual conference brings together over 700 community organizers, local food advocates, CSA members, students, and food professionals. This year, many of the workshops and panels will focus on addressing equity and structural racism in our food system. Attendees will have the opportunity to discover some of the amazing work being done in the food movement in NYC and learn how they can get involved. 

Learn more about the Mayor's Office for Food Policy's goals to advance equity in our City's food system in our Q&A with Barbara Turk. 

Q: What are the goals of the Mayor's Office for Food Policy?

A: We have three broad goals. First, that everyone in New York City has enough to eat. Second, that all New Yorkers are eating nutritious and good food. Third, that food in the city comes from a just, sustainable, and resilient food system.


Q: What role do community-led food projects (such as community gardens, urban farms, farmers markets, CSAs, buying clubs, food coops, etc) play in creating a just food system? What role does the Office of Food Policy have in supporting this work?

A: Local residents will come up with different perspectives on the problems we need to be solving. Local communities will come up with solutions that don’t occur to people in government. This is why community-led projects are so important.

While it is true that the percentage of meals eaten by New Yorkers that come from farm stands, markets, CSAs and so on is very small, we recognize that these spaces and actions provide multiple benefits and foster ripples of broader health knowledge and practice in communities. My Office’s job is to make sure that this work and these benefits are visible and supported. I look for opportunities to do this. Last year, the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City included open spaces as a priority, and this was an opportunity to make sure the work of NYCHA’s gardening program and of GreenThumb are part of the city’s vision for open spaces. We are setting goals for this initiative that include resource support for gardens and farms.


Q: It is evident that in this new Administration, many city agencies are working to advance equity in their work. What gains have been made, or what potential do you see, for this work to impact economic, racial and other inequities in our city's food system?

 

A: We are deeply concerned about racial disparities in health outcomes throughout the city. The City’s Health Commissioner, Dr. Mary Bassett, is a tremendous leader in the national effort to end this injustice. The City has tools at its disposal to move the food systems toward equity. For example, New York City buys enough food annually to serve a total 245 million meals to children in child care, schools and youth programs; to seniors; to people in hospitals; to people incarcerated in jails and detention centers; and to adults and families in homeless shelters. We know the people eating these meals are people most likely to be suffering from malnutrition in the form of obesity, and/or relying on this food for a lot of the nutrition and calories they get in a day. The Department of Education alone spends $160 million a year on food. The City can use that kind of buying power to actually change what farmers are growing and manufacturers are making so that it meets our standards. We’ve done some of that, and we’re looking to do more.

 

Q: Why were you first interested in running the Mayor's Office of Food Policy and what is one thing that has surprised you since starting your post almost a year ago?

A: I’m committed to the Mayor’s equity agenda. The City has two separate and unequal economies, and the activities of food distribution, retail, and consumption are part of that. Kathy Goldman, a living treasure, has been working on food security since the early 1970s, and she was the first person to ask if I would be up for this challenge. I am delighted to be working with Deputy Mayor Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, who is a wise and fearless leader.

Every day I meet people who are doing great work, who are coming up with promising ways of solving problems in the food system. The energy, the intelligence, the commitment, is very inspiring. I have a lot of hope.

 
Q: How big is the Mayor's Office for Food Policy? When and how should people contact you?

I have a Senior Policy Advisor, Molly Hartman. The best way to contact us is to send an email. We try to respond within 24 hours.

Barbara Turk: bturk@cityhall.nyc.gov
Molly Hartman: mhartman@hhspartner.nyc.gov

 

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In September 2014, NYC Mayor's Food Policy Director Barbara Turk toured the Hattie Carthan Community Farmers Market and discussed food policy with market manager Yonnette Fleming, youth apprentices and Just Food staff.