Bonnie Nickerson

Tim Faulkner: Providence's stunning new food-distribution center

Artist’s rendition of Farm Fresh Rhode Island’s coming food-distribution center in Providence.

Artist’s rendition of Farm Fresh Rhode Island’s coming food-distribution center in Providence.

Via ecoRI News (ecori.org)

PROVIDENCE

This city recently celebrated its designation as a food capital by recognizing three new food ventures and a book touting its success at making food a cultural, educational, and economic engine.

The businesses — all under different stages of construction — include the relocation of Farm Fresh Rhode Island’s food distribution center to a 60,000-square-foot building on a 3.2-acre site off Valley Road, the 110,000-square-foot greenhouse for Gotham Greens on Harris Avenue, and the Urban Greens Co-op, a tenant in a new commercial and residential space on Cranston Street.

All of the projects are being built on remediated brownfield sites. The three organizations use food to bring together culture, arts, and economic growth for a “a new green future,” Mayor Jorge Elorza said at the May 30 “Edible Providence” event. “It’s just a way to bring us together as a community.”

The mayor spoke of celebrating his Guatemalan heritage through traditional foods such as tortillas, black beans, carne asada, and guacamole — all of which have been enjoyed and adopted by other cultures.

“Food has such a transformative quality to it in Guatemalan culture and in every culture throughout the world,” Elorza said.

Providence also was profiled in a chapter of the United Nations book Integrating Food Into Urban Planning. The planning guide looks at food systems in 20 cities, including Toronto, New York, Bangkok, and Tokyo.

The book shows how food is used across municipal agencies to address a range of issues such as health, diet, recreation, education, planning, and waste management.

Providence was singled out for having the forethought to increase food security and nutrition through collaboration between businesses, residents, and government.

Bonnie Nickerson, director of the city’s Department of Planning and Development, said the creation of the Office of Sustainability brought together several independent initiatives and policies. Changes to zoning regulations advanced programs for beekeeping, urban farming, and backyard chickens.

Nellie de Goguel, of the city’s Office of Sustainability, said the city is in the early stages of launching a curbside food-scrap collection service within a single neighborhood. The city has a goal of having 100 restaurants divert their food scrap for compost by 2020. So far, 12 restaurants are onboard through the city’s composting program.

Ellen Cynar, director of the city’s Healthy Communities Office, said new programs such as Lots of Hope created access to vacant land for neighborhood gardens and urban farmers. The city has a goal of hiring a farmer to manage the public farming and garden areas at city parks. Thanks to a federal grant the city is developing a farm-to-school program.

Cynar said the program will help students learn about the relationships between the environment and food.

Tim Faulkner is an eco RI News journalist.