This community food sovereignty vision builds a new food economy by advancing a culture of good food, resilience and cooperative development
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights, the communities that make up most of Central Brooklyn, are two of New York City’s most rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods. From 2000 to 2015, the number of businesses increased by 80%. Instead of this contributing to greater economic and food security for the 64% Black and 16% Latino residents in the area, job growth is concentrated in the low-wage sector, with the average yearly wage in these new businesses only $21,538. The influx of wealth and opportunity remains elusive for many longtime residents of these historically Black communities. From 2007 to 2012, Black-owned businesses declined 31.4%, while growing nationwide by 2.4% . As the area gentrifies, food stores and restaurants offer more organic products, yet nearly all options are marketed to and priced for newer, wealthier residents.
In 2013, The Brooklyn Movement Center (BMC), a membership-led, Central Brooklyn community organization, convened community conversations to address a lack of access to affordable and fresh food which led to the founding of the Central Brooklyn Food Coop (the Food Coop). The Food Coop is separately incorporated with a board of directors and has three committees made up of about 40 core organizers. In November 2018, the Food Coop began accepting invested members. The Food Coop is projected to have 500 dues-paying members by its opening in 2020.
Meanwhile, the team at RiseBoro began developing a distinct, but parallel food justice project in 2013 in Bed-Stuy. In 2015, a partnership with The Working World, delivered a course on worker-coop development, out of which grew three successful coops. Later that year, the team started a community chef program, and in 2018, those chefs voted to become a worker-owned coop.
While the RiseBoro staff had always been collaborating with the BMC on the Food Coop, it was in 2019 when the two organizations came together to develop the vision for the Central Brooklyn Food Democracy Project.
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
In a 2014 focus group, Central Brooklyn residents said that the biggest barrier to purchasing “healthy food” was cost. Bed-Stuy is currently ranked 6th nationally for “Food Hardship”. Despite being a dense urban area with minimal agriculture, New York City as a whole is highly accessible to nearby areas with significant agriculture, and much of the bounty from these farms does make its way into the city through farmer’s markets. However, access to these markets is inequitable, with them concentrated in neighborhoods with higher incomes and fewer residents of color. Central Brooklyn’s poverty rate is 34%, but higher throughout the target area. 40% of the population makes less than $25,000 annually. Crown Heights ranks second (16%) and Bed-Stuy fifth in rates of Diabetes in NYC; 33% of Central Brooklyn residents are obese; and 18% are unemployed. Meanwhile these neighborhoods are facing massive gentrification, very much due to the heavy flow of capital and investment by corporate developers and the subsequent lack of political will to do anything about the ever-increasing cost of housing.
Much of NYC’s food is reliant on the upstate NY watershed and foodshed. The climate modelling is contradictory on what will happen to this area in the next 30 years. Some models show that the region will go through something akin to an ice age, which would result in a much shorter growing season. Some models show a combination of a warming climate, flooding, and drought. In short, the area is at risk over the next 30 years of losing this area without the right investment.
Of course, NYC is not only reliant on its upstate supply, but also on the global food system. As Citylab.com reports:
"Most of the private companies that now dominate the distribution of food in America, like Walmart and Sysco, keep much smaller inventories than in years past, sized to meet immediate demand under stable conditions—a strategy known as "just-in-time."
This strategy doesn't work when there are infrastructure and supply disruptions - like the one NYC recently experienced with hurricane Sandy and the ones we can only expect to see more of.
With such changes in how food is grown, harvested, and distributed are also changing beyond reasons of climate change. As written on Foodtank.com:
“From seed to table, a revolution in technology that prioritizes robotics and automation is on the cusp of transforming the work required...
What that shift will mean,however, is not fully understood. Tech entrepreneurs talk about how robotics will solve labor shortages and make food system work safer and more efficient. Laborers fear robots will lead to the displacement of millions of workers who are not trained for a new, digital economy while lining the pockets of tech CEOs.”
Finally, NYC residents, for the most part, are disconnected from how their food is grown and are entirely dependent on the system to provide food. Knowledge of food growing practices and self-reliance are held by very few.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
The Project is a unified vision of community food sovereignty. The Project will build an integrated food economy in Central Brooklyn while advancing a culture of healthy food, resilience and cooperative development. In direct response to a historical practice of food redlining in Central Brooklyn, as well as residential and commercial displacement, the project strategically positions a new generation of entrepreneurs, workers, and consumers in a neighborhood food system powered by cooperative enterprises.
Central Brooklyn Food Coop (CBFC) which has been organizing since 2014, is the nerve center and engine of the project. As a retail food cooperative, it will enable thousands of low- and moderate-income residents to nourish themselves with healthy and affordable food. Each CBFC member holds an equity stake in the coop and helps lower operational costs through an investment fee and three hours of monthly labor.
CBFC serves as the docking station for the project’s interlocking components: the food education curricula/culinary training, and new worker-owned food businesses.
- RiseBoro will leverage the market base and opportunities generated by CBFC to form business relationships and establish micro-enterprises along a food supply/demand value chain that will include food growing, sourcing, production, warehousing, packing, distribution, and catering. RiseBoro staff has already incubated two successful worker coops--the Community Chef Kitchen and the Brooklyn Packers--that are poised to do business with CBFC.
- Members of the Community Chef Kitchen Worker-Coop (The Chefs) have served thousands of Central Brooklyn residents and organizations since 2014 and will develop CBFC’s human capital and food literacy. Their offerings will include eight 8-week culinary courses for adults, four 5-week culinary courses for families, and two 3-session workshops for Seniors; 68 one-time cooking demonstrations; and they will cater events among the CBFC community of families, while training members to lead healthy sustainable lives.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
This project will bring food sovereignty to a neighborhood that is experiencing food apartheid--a lack of food that is rooted in inequity and injustice. Through the initiatives in this project, centered on the creation of a member-owned food coop, residents will create their own solution and achieve accessible, healthy, delicious food that enables future generations of Central Brooklyn’s unique culture to thrive.
People in Central Brooklyn will be more connected to their food system by participating in it more through cooking more, growing more, and knowing more about who grows their food and how it is grown.
Residents will also be more engaged politically. By participating in the project, they will further recognize their collective power to influence policy and the who what where why of their own food system.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
Saturday, September 3, 2050, 6:05 p.m.
Central Brooklyn, home to the largest urban concentration of Black people in the nation as late as 2030, is now a largely mixed-income, mixed race, community recently rated at the 7th most livable urban neighborhood in the nation.
Central Brooklyn was at the tipping point of becoming a neighborhood permanently over-run by transient, middle-class hipsters. Not only were housing prices and conditions hostile to low- and moderate-income residents, but the local economy was owned and operated by people who did not care to live in Central Brooklyn. Retail stores, restaurants, supermarkets and business-to-business service enterprises catered almost exclusively to the mostly white, under-forty, individuals and families who saw Central Brooklyn as a lay-over stop before resuming their eventual settlement in downtown Brooklyn, Manhattan, and other parts of the country.
At times it can seem like the very air conspired against us. Central Brooklyn’s designation as the most heat-vulnerable area and asthma capital of New York City was a result of its inland, landlocked geography; compromised green space; over-development; and an aging, socially dislocated, population. The antiquated and over-burdened energy grid operated by the utility companies Con Edison and National Grid, routinely failed and plunged the residents of Central Brooklyn in darkness and helplessness. It’s no surprise that in 2025, Central Brooklyn recorded some of the highest rates of death caused by exposure to extreme heat.
But something remarkable happened to this once poster child for gentrification: a critical mass of Black people in Central Brooklyn successfully fought back against rampant displacement and the erasure of a centuries-old mecca of Black life. What enabled this community to survive, and then thrive? A combination of factors put in motion by the Central Brooklyn Food Democracy Project and its opening of the Solidarity Brooklyn campus.
After six years of organizing, the Central Brooklyn Food Democracy Project, a collaboration between the Brooklyn Movement Center and Riseboro Community Partnership opened up the consumer-owned Central Brooklyn Food Coop in 2020 and actively began to integrate a new generation of food-based worker-owned coops that were owned and operated by long-term residents. Part organizing project, part cooperative business incubator, the Central Brooklyn Food Democracy Project established, over time, through relationship building, political education and successful environmental justice campaigns, a base of 10,000 Central Brooklyn owner-residents and -workers who purchased healthy, affordable and locally sourced food from the very food coops that they owned and worked at.
Within the first few years of the creation of a locally operated and owned food eco-system, this base of Central Brooklyn Food Coop members was bound together by common political consciousness and social justice agenda nurtured by the Central Brooklyn Food Democracy Project.
In time, this base of people, through sustained campaigns and actions, prompted the roll-back of the zoning changes and over-development practices that had previously eroded the historically Black core of Brooklyn. This included forcing elected officials to be responsive to their interests and demands, fighting back against abusive landlords and predatory lending practices, and prompting public investment in the Central Brooklyn Food Coop, worker-owned coops, and the community organizing infrastructure.
Furthermore, the social cohesion of this base was strengthened by the creation of the Central Brooklyn Be-a-Buddy program -- a network of food coop members who monitored and operated an alert system for senior citizens, differently abled people, socially dislocated people and others who were vulnerable to extreme heat conditions and electrical grid failure. The Be-a-Buddy program prompted the city to establish a dozen cooling centers in Central Brooklyn that provided public relief for seniors and heat vulnerable residents.
By 2030, the combined will, resources and financing of the Central Brooklyn Food Democracy project led to the opening of the Solidarity Brooklyn campus, a four-square block oasis at the intersection of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights and Brownsville, the epicenter of Central Brooklyn’s surviving Black population. This sprawling concentration of repurposed warehouses were reclaimed by the mobilized base of the Central Brooklyn Food Democracy stakeholders who came together to establish a community land trust. The facility is powered through its own micro-grid that uses a combination of solar, wind and other renewable energy sources. A brilliant mosaic of green space, solar-lined roofs and windmills, the campus also dramatically reduces its carbon foot print through on-site paper, metal, plastic, organic food waste, and human waste recycling processing facilities. All of this infrastructure is made possible through the introduction of cutting age technology delivered by nationally recognized scientists and engineers who donated their services to the Solidarity Brooklyn project.
The facility features the Central Brooklyn Food Cooperative, a neighborhood-owned food hub in which its 15,000 members pay nominal membership one-time investment fees and contribute 2.5 hours of their time/labor per month to support the operation. The members are mostly Black, low-income and/or working class, and, until they joined the coop, they were food insecure. During the week the members do their work shifts and buy groceries, often times dropping their children off at the coop's childcare center. In the evenings and weekends they participate in food coop committee meetings, environmental justice actions, contribute to a climate change preparedness plan, receive culinary training from a worker-owned community chef collective, and learn urban farming techniques.
In Solidarity Brooklyn’s Food Hub, local/hyper-local farmers, gardeners and members of worker coops conduct wholesale business. These suppliers, distributors, community chefs, manufacturers and an assortment of other food-based cooperative enterprises represent elements in a food supply chain and ecosystem that converge in the coop, as well as in outside institutions like nearby schools and hospitals .
In 1920, the number of Black farmers in America peaked at nearly 1 million. Nearly 100 years later, through land-theft and policies by the USDA and bankers nationwide that prohibited loans and supportive services to Black farmers the total had plummeted to a mere 45,000 - only 1.3% of total farmers. By 2030, the Food Hub in Central Brooklyn provides a sustaining consumer market for a generation of local Black farmers who, just a decade earlier, were on the brink of erasure. Now, here in 2050, this model has been replicated and Black Farmers make up as much of the farming community as they Black people represent nationwide - 18.5%.
On this night, Solidarity Brooklyn is being visited by the mayor and all local legislators who would not dare miss this moment, because they recognize that it represents the most highly mobilized and politically savvy group of mostly Black, working class voters that New York has ever seen. They have come to pay respects to the Central Brooklyn Food Democracy community and honor 30 years of community transformation at Brooklyn Harvest - an all-day festival all over the Solidarity Brooklyn Campus - both inside and out. Throughout the day, festival-goers share cooking secrets, go on tours of the Hub's facilities, they buy foods from community chefs that their great-great-grandparents would recognize as their own, they participate in farming skill-shares at the onsite farm, and most of all, they connect. The festival is loud - loud like the summer block parties that Central Brooklyn has been known for since the days when Biggie Smalls, Jay-Z, and Lil’ Kim were coming up.
On this balmy September evening, Malaika, a 42 year old councilwoman, takes the stage, “Dear Brooklyn!” The crowd of over 12,000 cheer her on. “Dear Brooklyn!” she repeats as the crowd starts to quiet, to turn their attention to her, “I would be in awe of what we have built here if I hadn’t been a witness of this transformation that so many of you have contributed to my entire life. I know how hard the work was to create this, but we Brooklyn, right?! We went hard and we created something beautiful. As so many of you know, I grew up here at a time when we were losing Central Brooklyn to greedy developers, climate change profiteers. At a time when we were losing sight of our cultural roots and the foodways of our ancestors and when most food around was either out unaffordable and marketed to the wealthier, whiter class or it was junk food. No one was coming to create the solution, so we did it ourselves. We did it together...” The speech goes on and from a distance of ¼ mile away, you can hear the hum of the crowd, of the talking, of the cheering, of the laughter. This is the hum that that has carried this community into the spotlight, this is the hum that brought this model of community transformation to cities all over the country, it’s the hum of the energy from the wind turbines and solar panels that power the neighborhoods. It’s the hum of the call to return to our human need for collaboration, health, and joy.