This little blurb from a Long Island news site caught my eye, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought, “Why yes, it’s about time!”:
The bill (S.2468), sponsored by Senator Thomas Libous (R-C-I, Binghamton), requires state agencies with food contracts to buy at least 20 percent of their food from New York sources.
There may very well be similar legislation on the books elsewhere, or even enacted; I’m not sure what the best way is to research this. What I do know, from my years in the wine industry, is that this sort of protectionism is in place in nearly every state to support in-state viticulture. (That’s why, fellow residents of Massachusetts, it is so ridiculously hard to buy other states’ wines at your local shop.) And from my time in Ontario, I know that Canada has similar policies in place for everything from book sales to wine sales to music (minimum content programming, wherein a certain percentage of everything played or shown must be Canadian; this led to an awful lot of Avril Lavigne on the air at the time, but it does make some sense).
This New York bill is not yet law, but I hope it will be. New York State is so oddly divided between The City and Everywhere Else that it has led to no end of problems fiscally and politically. New York City is the Québec of Canada: Its industry essentially subsidizes the rest of the state, since agriculture, quarrying, tourism, and other ye olde forms of revenue have steadily declined as business has ascended. And like the Québécois, you often hear New Yorkers talk about how they’re sick of doing all the heavy lifting. And to be fair, you often hear up-staters talk about how they’re sick of the dirty politics and urban-focused legislation that ignores their very valid needs.
This bill would help close that gap. It’s not like small farmers have lost revenue because they’re sick of making money: it’s because retailers would always rather buy from the cheaper supplier, now generally to be found in California, or Georgia, or Mexico. Instituting a minimum in-state product purchase requirement for retailers would drive state funds back into the state and–hopefully–breathe some life back into the flagging agricultural industry in New York, which has a rich history and incredible future potential.
Just to inject a little more odd perspective from my past, I hope New York manages to get ahead of the curve on this one and not be left behind as has happened with the solar industry. Although another way of looking at it might be that New York’s refusal to jump on the kind of solar industry incentives offered by neighboring New Jersey might be a key component of boosting agriculture now: When land is cheap (as it is, relatively, in much of New York State), solar developers would snatch it up for large solar installations if the state instituted a very competitive incentive structure as New Jersey did. With that land still available and hopefully more attractive if agriculture once again takes precedence, farmers can integrate renewable energy (hello to methane digesters and wind in addition to solar) in ways that balance land use as oppose to monopolize it.
P.S. This bill is sponsored by a Republican, in case that slipped your notice. Good food policy should really be non-partisan, and this made be happy to see.