Long Island Food System Report Card

The Long Island Food System Report Card (LIFSRC), a joint indicator project between Sustainable Long Island’s Food Equity Advisory Committee (FEAC) and Adelphi University’s Vital Signs project, takes the first step in looking at the state of our food system. Development of the LIFSRC began in late 2011 and the end product is the result of ongoing stakeholder collaboration. Representatives from across food system sectors have contributed significantly to this report, through the selection of indicators as well as their measurement strategies, and development of recommendations.

The LIFSRC creates a comprehensive baseline profile of the Long Island food system, highlighting indicator trends and needs as well as relationships among sectors of the food system. Data findings then inform recommendations for a safe, fair, and sustainable food system and serve as the platform for subsequent community discussions about policy and program development.

Through this report, we aim to provide all stakeholders with a timely, informative and data-driven document to help generate community dialogue about programs, policies, and research to protect and improve Long Island’s food system. Ultimately, we hope that by creating and sharing this report, our region is able to mobilize for change, leading to a wide array of proactive solutions with long-term, tangible benefits to our food system.

While Long Island remains a state leader in agricultural revenue, the strength and fairness of the Long Island food system is at risk. The report card’s analysis of multi-year data revealed a number of trouble spots threatening economic, environmental and social sustainability. The number of farms continues to decline, dropping 15.6% from 1987-2007, with just 644 now remaining. Efforts to preserve farmland have been an uphill battle, with less farmland being preserved over the last decade than originally anticipated by the Counties.

Food manufacturing and food wholesale have also taken hits. From 2003-2010, the number of food manufacturers declined 16.7% in Nassau and 15.3% in Suffolk. During the same time period, the number of food wholesalers dropped 10.8% in Suffolk and 5.7% in Nassau, with the largest declines in the poultry, packaged frozen foods and seafood categories.

Consumers in the New York Metropolitan are spending a greater share of their annual household expenses on food, 13%, than they did before the Great Recession, as a result of rising food costs and/or declining incomes. Moreover, the economic downturn has fueled a dramatic increase in food insecurity; Food Stamp or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) enrollment increased 116% in Nassau and 168% in Suffolk between 2008 and 2011.

Food system byproducts are causing significant damage to our environment. Water quality of lakes, estuaries and rivers are under stress largely due to urban/stormwater runoff. 35% of Long Island sound basin rivers, 8% of lakes and 37% of estuaries have been rated as “poor.”

Categories by Food System Sectors and Domains

The LIFSRC was structured using best practices from similar reports. In particular, the report employs a matrix as a tool for analysis, placing 11 categories along vertical and horizontal axes, representing the five food system sectors (production, transformation, distribution/marketing/retail, food access/consumption, and waste management) and the three domains of sustainability (economic, environment, and equity), respectively. A cross-cutting category – food system jobs – runs across all sectors overlapping the economic domain.

Identifying and Selecting Indicators for the LIFSRC

Based on an extensive review of the food system literature, we identified an initial set of over 100 different indicators. Stakeholders then helped to narrow them down to the 31 indicators included in this report. Throughout this process, we set out to ensure that the indicators used were reflective of the concerns of a broad spectrum of Long Islanders, measurable and derived from publicly available, reliable sources.

Rating Food System Indicator Trends and Needs

Measuring trends and determining what is needed to address issues found in these trends can be a challenging and subjective process. Evaluators have to assess what the data means for an indicator and extrapolate from it to determine how the indicator trend impacts other issues not being measured.

Rather than providing a ranking system for the indicators (i.e. hierarchical), this report designates whether a trend has moved positively, negatively, or has not experienced significant change over time. These designations do not necessarily reflect directional movement in the data but show whether or not movement is positive or negative for the food system indicator being measured. Ratings for indicator needs were driven by consensus among evaluators to determine what actions or activities should be taken to maintain or improve observed trends.

Long Island Food System Report Card Ratings with Recommendations

Listed below is a summary of recommendations for building a more sustainable food system. The recommendations were compiled based on input from the FEAC and the Vital Signs Advisory Board. The recommendations were also informed by strategies identified in our literature review of previous academic and policy studies.

Overall Recommendations

1.  Infrastructure investment to preserve and grow Long Island’s regional food system.

2.  Economic diversification in farming to strengthen its role as one of the region’s economic engines.

3.  Address food accessibility, insecurity and rising costs of food for all Long Islanders.

4.  Protect the region’s water supply, farmland, and air quality for the long-term environmental viability.

5. Strengthen and expand regional partnerships to promote communication, coordination, collection of information and conducting regular assessments of the food system.

 “Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness.” – Letter from Thomas Jefferson to George Washington (1787)

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To download the Report Card, please use the below links:

LI Food System Report Card Part One

LI Food System Report Card Part Two

LI Food System Report Card Part Three

LI Food System Report Card Part Four

LI Food System Report Card Part Five