Raising critical issues facing our community with policy-makers is core to SOFSA’s mission. We sought to reach all candidates for Syracuse Mayor, Syracuse Common Council, and the Onondaga County Legislature in the November 2021 General Election. Those candidates with publicly-available email addresses were emailed the following questions and asked to respond with their positions on these key food policies for our community. Responses are quoted (verbatim whenever possible) below the questions. This post will continue to be updated as new responses from candidates are received.
- ReZone Syracuse: The holdup of new zoning regulations that allow for chicken keeping and for the sale of produce from garden lots, for example, is hampering community members’ abilities to achieve food sovereignty, that is, growing and producing one’s own food, especially during a pandemic and an economic downturn. The fact that these regulations have been indefinitely postponed with no communication with the public perpetuates long-standing injustices in our food system. As Mayor/Common Councilor, will you work with the Common Council to pass ReZone? How will you ensure that this policy – and others like it – remain a priority in our city?
- Urban Foraging: The present Mayor’s Office and the Syracuse City Departments of Parks, Recreation, and Youth Programs as well as Neighborhood and Business Development have actively supported ideas and implementation of planting forageable trees, shrubs, and other understory species (e.g., ramps) in public spaces including parks, street rights-of-way, and empty lots. At the same time, Syracuse Municipal Code Sec. 17-8 (b), Interference with trees, shrubs, grass and soil, states that no person shall “[p]luck, break, trample upon or interfere with any flower or shrub in any park or playground.” As Mayor/Common Councilor, will you work with City Departments, the Common Council, and community groups to alleviate this apparent contradiction and develop residents’ legal rights and safe access to sustainably and honorably forage on the City’s public properties.
- DoubleUp Food Bucks: The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a crucial anti-poverty and anti-hunger program, yet current SNAP benefits remain too low causing participants to make nutritional trade-offs to ensure their benefits last to the end of the month. The DoubleUp Food Bucks program doubles the value of SNAP dollars spent at participating local retailers, providing low-income families with more fruits and vegetables. At the same time, local economies get a boost from this additional flux of spending, making them stronger. As County Legislator, would you support appropriating funds to provide the resources necessary for Onondaga County retailers to participate in Double Up?
- Farm-to-School: Farm-to-School initiatives connect schools with local farms and food producers to strengthen local agriculture, improve student health, and promote regional food systems awareness. Neighboring counties have supported the growth of farm-to-school while Onondaga County has lagged behind. As County Legislator, will you invest in efforts to expand access to Onondaga-grown and -produced foods for students in our county’s schools?
- Food System Infrastructure: Among some of the key recommendations of FoodPlanCNY is to strengthen the “middle” of the food system by re-building the infrastructure for efficient distribution, aggregation, and processing of locally-produced food. Improvements in these key areas will provide key opportunities for small Onondaga County farmers and producers to access key markets like schools, universities, and other market outlets. As County Legislator, will you work with your colleagues to leverage existing assets – including the CNY Regional Market – and invest necessary resources to support small-scale farmers in our community to thrive?
SYRACUSE CITY CANDIDATES
JENNIFER SCHULTZ (DEM Candidate for Syracuse Common Council 1st District)
ReZone Syracuse: “As a resident of the Northside (1st District) for 40 years, I have benefitted from produce grown in local gardens. I have also seen an increased interest in the community to host chickens for personal consumption and the sale of eggs. The pandemic has caused delays and shortages in the production of many goods, including food, which has resulted in higher prices. Therefore, now more than ever, we need to prioritize food sovereignty, including new zoning regulations for hosting chicken and sales from local gardens. The 1st District is home to many new Americans who especially value fresh produce. There is ample “greenspace” in Syracuse to grow and sustain gardens and chickens. However, many of the current zoning ordinances are confusing, misleading, and contradictory, and prevent them from safely and legally existing. As a member of the council, I will absolutely support ReZone as this process is long overdue. I will work to ensure that property investments and zoning enforcement, as well as to the health and safety of everyone, are aligned and prioritized to bring a positive result for all.”
Urban Foraging: “I am aware that the current administration and its related programs actively support and maintain forgeable species throughout many of Syracuse’s public spaces. Recently, I attended a neighborhood meeting where a member of the Syracuse Department of Parks and Recreation was boasting about the forgeable trees in Syracuse. However, it is very disappointing to me that we have these great resources, but current zoning does not “legally” support accessing and enjoying them. I was a member of the recent Syracuse Urban Forestry Master Plan- stakeholders meeting and appreciate and understand the need and value to grow our city’s canopy. The plan that resulted from the process will help to improve quality of life, especially for those in underserved areas. As councilor, I will continue to support these efforts by emphasizing the importance of and accessibility to these plantings and greenspaces. I will also research best practices in other communities and advocate that we follow those leads when applicable.”
JOE DRISCOLL (DEM Incumbent Candidate for Syracuse Common Council 5th District)
“I have been a supporter and advocate for ReZone, and have repeatedly been informed that it is only a few months from implementation, for the last 3-4 years. I have been unable to get clarity on what continues to stall its progress, but I will continue to advocate for its advancement and implementation.
Re: the city [foraging] code, I reckon that would be a correction of language that would be within the Council’s purview.”
[Councilor Driscoll has asked SOFSA and the Syracuse Urban Food Forest Project for further clarification on our recommendations for updated language on the code. We are in ongoing conversation about possible reformed language to permit foraging on public lands within the city limits.]
COUNTY LEGISLATURE CANDIDATES
JAY B. SNYDER (DEM/WOR Candidate for Onondaga County Legislator 2nd District)
Double Up Food Bucks: “I would definitely support more money for this program as we need to provide better food choices for everyone. The healthier people can eat, the better they live and, in the case of children, learn and thrive.
Farm-to-School: “I support it. As someone who supports local farmers, having worked on a beef cattle farm in Ohio as a youth, and as a former educator, I believe we need to strengthen the connections between farms and schools any way we can both nutritionally and educationally. As an associate member of the Empire Alpaca Association, I believe this tie needs to go beyond even the food area and help students understand that farms also provide items for other uses as well.”
Food System Infrastructure: “[This] is also something I support. We need to help our local small farmers any way we can. They provide so much for us all from food to fiber. Without them remaining viable, the future looks bleak on so many fronts. We have to help our small farms get their products to market much better than we do…I am a firm supporter of locally grown items whether it’s food or fiber products.”
MATTHEW JOHNSON (DEM/WOR Candidate for Onondaga County Legislator 3rd District)
“Thank you for reaching out, and thank you for the work you and everyone involved in SOFSA do to advocate for this important issue that has a massive impact on our county. My answer to all three questions is ‘yes.'”
STEPHON L. WILLIAMS (DEM/WOR Candidate for Onondaga County Legislator 4th District)
DoubleUp Food Bucks: As County Legislator, I would support appropriating funds to provide the resources necessary for Onondaga retailers to participate in the Double Up program. The DoubleUp Food Buck program allows SNAP recipients access to healthier foods like fruits and vegetables. It’s a critical tool in creating healthy environments for our low income families. This program also provides support for our communities, families, farmers, and retailers. I would strongly support and advocate that local County retailers participate in the DoubleUp Food Bucks program.
Farm-to-School: Farm-to-School is an important initiative and investment to ensure that our children receives healthy meals. I strongly support efforts to expand access to Onondaga grown and produced foods for our students in our county schools.
Food System Infrastructure: As County Legislator, I will work with my colleagues to leverage existing assets and will work to invest necessary resources to support small-scale farmers in our communities to thrive. We have to ensure that we have adequate food system infrastructure in place in order for our farmers, producers, and key markets to do well. I will strongly support investing in our food system infrastructure systems.
JANA C. ROGERS (DEM/WOR/KOP Candidate for Onondaga County Legislator 5th District)
“I am thrilled to let you know that I not only support all three positions, but I am the principal of a local high school that has a focus on urban agriculture science and creating our own farm to school program! Our students built raised beds and tended to them this summer, as well as flower beds, tending to gardens and beautification projects around our school and neighborhood! Many places in our community suffer from food deserts and there is so much we can do to alleviate the need for local, fresh fruits and vegetables. All three of your programs would serve our community well and increase access to healthy, nutritious and locally grown food.”
PEGGY CHASE (DEM/KOP Incumbent Candidate for Onondaga County Legislator 9th District)
“As Vice Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee and being a nurse I have always advocated for programs that provide healthy nutrition to our residents. The Double Up program sounds like a great way to encourage retail stores to participate in the SNAP programs. We are lucky to be a farm rich community and we should take advantage of their products and support our farmers. Providing fresh foods for the kids is essential. Relationships with the farmers should also provide fresh produce to all our food banks. Good nutrition is a foundation to good health. Everyone benefits. I am always open to building relationships to make that happen.”
HEATHER WATERS (DEM/WOR Candidate for Onondaga County Legislator 10th District)
“I believe that we have a moral mandate to support people in our community who are experiencing food insecurity and weak food systems, but especially now, and while plans for rescue funds are being developed. It is also in our best economic interest to help others to see the interdependence of food systems with our efforts to promote and health and prosperity. For example, trash hauling costs will continue to rise, as will recycling costs. Composting food waste is one of the best ways we have to reduce waste, reduce the cost of hauling waste, and have compost be an important, local part of our food system.
In 2013, I was introduced to the power of food justice through Detroit-based friends who shared the work of Will Allen and Growing Power, and my own neighbors in Westcott who had a community garden plot. I have also met a number of CNY Food PLan and SOFSA leaders through my own community engagement. I am proud to have helped to bring the Lender Center for Social Justice to Syracuse University, and I attended the July kickoff to FoodPlanCNY and was able to meet some of the Lender Fellows working with Professor Robinson and SOFSA on their current project.”
Double Up Food Bucks: “Yes! I pledge to support appropriating funds to provide the resources necessary for Onondaga County retailers to participate in Double Up; invest in efforts to expand the (NYSED) Farm-to-School access and particularly in partnership with the ESM and FM school districts; and to advocate to leverage existing assets and invest in new infrastructure, including the CNY Regional Market and the smaller markets in my district, the Fayetteville Farmers Market and the new Minoa Farmers Market.”
“Two more personal anecdotes to share who I am with your network, if helpful: As you surely know, Syracuse has a very interesting and key place in the history and practice of veganism, and that could be celebrated and amplified for food tourists or in a way that is authentically rooted versus a huge capital project like…an aquarium. And I would be completely remiss if I didn’t mention the importance of indigenous knowledge and practices that we need to continue to make space for in our conversations and consider for our plans. I will never see berry picking or harvesting the same way, now that I have read and digested Prof. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass!“
SUNNY ASLAM (DEM/WOR Candidate for Onondaga County Legislator 12th District)
“Strongly support these efforts at getting food from local farmers and feeding CNY, particularly the most vulnerable among us. Whether rural poverty in the corners of our county or in Syracuse, there is much more we can do to make sure no one goes to sleep hungry at night.”
DAVID H. KNAPP (REP/CON/IND Incumbent Candidate for Onondaga County Legislator 12th District)
DoubleUp Food Bucks: I support the DoubleUp Food Bucks program in concept. It is vital that our residents, young and old, get proper nutrition. The cost of this program would be significant, and it would not be right to lay that entirely on the backs of Onondaga County taxpayers while we are still recovering from a pandemic that impacted everyone’s economic security. With partnership and buy-in from the State and Federal governments, we could implement DoubleUp Food Bucks locally and make a great impact on our community. I have been working with community leaders and corner stores to encourage owners to stock more healthy foods for their customers.
Farm-to-School: As Co-Chair of the Onondaga County Agriculture Council, I have already been working on streamlining the process of bringing local produce into our schools. We recently awarded $8,000 to the Crop to Shop program which links local small producers to grocery stores and schools. The Agriculture Council also invested $83,000 for the development of a food plan which was recently released. Part of that plan stressed the need to bring local produce into our schools. Thanks to local efforts, we are gaining steam and continuing to invest in bringing produce into our schools and into our kids’ diets more and more.
Food System Infrastructure: I have and will continue to support small farms and community farms in Onondaga County. Growing up in agriculture, I know how valuable it is to families large and small. This year, I was the architect of Onondaga County’s Small Farm Grant Program which gave grants of up to $15,000 to farms under 50 acres. We awarded $500,000 to local farmers during a time when they were most in need. I hope to continue this program in years to come, and this is just the tip of the community farm iceberg in Onondaga County.
CODY KELLY (REP/CON/IND Incumbent Candidate for Onondaga County Legislator 14th District)
Double Up Food Bucks: As a medical professional, I know firsthand the importance of nutrition and the impacts it can have on someone’s health, physical and mental. DoubleUp Food Bucks is an intriguing program to incentivize healthier options for local residents receiving SNAP benefits. With inflation on the rise and groceries more expensive than ever in recent memory, nutritional eating becomes more and more difficult for those on fixed incomes and fixed benefits. Currently, Onondaga County funds 28% of SNAP benefits provided to our residents, with the federal government picking up the remaining 72%. The DoubleUp program is intriguing and could prove beneficial to our community, but I can’t support increasing spending by that much without federal aid and without more study and data behind it. I can commit to learning more and fostering important conversations about local food insecurity within the Onondaga County Legislature.
Farm-to-School: I spent almost 10 years working in a local Wegmans produce department growing up, so I have some familiarity with local farms. I have many family members who have worked for years at the Central New York Regional Market, including my father. As County Legislator I will support farm to school initiatives to improve access to locally-grown food in our schools.
Food system infrastructure: I believe the Central New York Regional Market is a tremendous asset for our community, and I will support continued investment in local infrastructure to better integrate the supply chain from farm to table for all constituents.
VERNON WILLIAMS (WOR Incumbent Candidate for Onondaga County Legislator 16th District)
Double Up Food Bucks: “As the current County Legislator for District 16, I see how the DoubleUp Program would benefit my constituents. Having access to Price Rite and The Brady market helps 2/3 of my voters. Appropriating funds to DoubleUp could encourage a supermarket franchise to open in the future within the Valley Plaza further helping my voters with fresh food and employment options.”
Farm-to-School: “Within the immediate Syracuse area that includes my district, we currently work with businesses such as Wegmans and their localized to send home fresh fruit and vegetable options with our students, youth and families. I look forward to the option of the actual school lunches reflecting this same thought process, if Farm-to-School initiatives were to include that as an investment to my community members.”
Food System Infrastructure: “Yes, I would [support] especially if the small farmers included the community gardens run by the local youth organizations teaching them entrepreneurship skills.”
If you are a candidate running for office in Syracuse or Onondaga County and wish to share responses to these questions, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.