GrowNYC: Inputs Irrelevant in Food Distribution

Pedicab NYC Logistics

At the Infrastructure Forum at the 2013 Farm to City Expo at the Javits Center on 4 March 2013, GrowNYC Executive Director Marcel Van Ooyen, when asked about whether New York State food distribution via rail, barge, LSLEVs, and freight trikes might make sense to support as opposed to the current food distribution methods involving exclusively fossil-fuel-laden tractor-trailer, box truck, and megahighway infrastructure, Mr. Van Ooven said, “The only touchpoints that matter in food (distribution) are freshness and price.”


To wit: Mr Van Ooyen declared that “freshness and price” in the context of food distribution (I assume, as opposed to entire food systems – it wasn’t clear) not only come before process, inputs, systems, supply chains, labor practices, modes, ownership, farmers, taste, pollution emissions, energy sourcing, materials, et cetera; they are, apparently, the only touchpoints that matter.

For full transparency, Revolution Rickshaws presented the full panel covering infrastructure with the following precise question:

“Almost all the infrastructure today is built for and favors heavily international trade including food.  NYS is blessed with locally harvested infrastructure including rivers, bays, canals, lakes, and rails. Do you see value to moving more distribution to barges, rail, low speed light electric vehicles, and high-capacity freight trikes, for instance?”

Besides Mr. Van Ooyen, not one of the other participants on the panel was willing to touch on the topic, which attempted to spark discussion on the flood of fossil fuels on which today’s entire supply chain floats – including New York State’s supply chain. Our state actually possesses effective low and no fossil-fuel transport infrastructure for serious food (and other) distribution to and from primary population centers. Unfortunately, foreign, federal, state, and city governments won’t get out of the way of the transport market and instead infuse into it trillion dollar subsidies to pay for massive motor vehicle infrastructure. In this fun house world of massive government subsidies, citizens subsidize via taxes the massive cost difference between truck transport and rail (6x cheaper) and barge (9x cheaper) according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office; the point of sale is the only spot at which citizens and companies are confronted with pricing; verily, they are made to believe that truck transport is somehow cheaper.

Mr. Van Ooyen decried the “touches” that right-sized value cycles aka “supply chains” may require – just minutes after Common Market Operations Manager Zoe Lloyd described a desperate need for (the touch of) food “aggregators” to facilitate regular collections of produce from smaller farms. Others on the panel described a shortfall of well located food processors, packagers, and slaughterhouses, while the entire concept of a “food hub,” which were the buzzwords of the day, involves supposedly superfluous touches.

To be sure, multimodal logistics systems on global, local, and other levels in between are returning to the fore despite the best efforts of fossil fools. Well managed multimodal systems streamline processes and deliver superior results despite the fun house marketplace. Unfortunately, GrowNYC and other enterprises well positioned to support the critical modal shifts for distributing food via responsible infrastructure in NYC and NYS continue to drink the fossil-fueled Kool-Aid.