News / USA

    Bob Lewis Campaigns For Fresh Local Food, Nutrition For All

    Greenmarket co-founder is out to change the way New Yorkers grow, buy and eat produce, one delicious apple and head of lettuce at a time

    Bob Lewis with radishes
    Bob Lewis with radishes

    Multimedia

    Audio

    It's noon on a hot New York summer day, and Bob Lewis picks up a large organic radish at the teeming Union Square greenmarket in Manhattan. It's one of about 50 green markets he has helped establish in New York City since 1976, and one of about 500 now operating across the state. "The magic of it! This is truly a miracle," says Lewis, popping the radish in his mouth. Lewis' efforts have helped preserve family farming in the region, and helped foster closer ties between American family farmers and the communities they feed.

    Bob Lewis at Union Square Greenmarket
    Bob Lewis at Union Square Greenmarket

    Lewis, who was born in Brooklyn in 1946, grew up with interests almost as diverse as the produce on offer at the dozens of stalls here. He majored in geology in college, and later did field work in Kentucky studying the environmental impact of coal strip mining. He studied the water tables in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, and conducted regional and town planning in the Catskill Mountains of New York State.

    In 1975, Lewis returned to his native New York to look for a job where his passion for the natural and social sciences and agriculture could be satisfied. Soon, he met the veteran city planner and architect Barry Benepe, famous for what's come to be known as "human-centered" urban design. Lewis says they shared an intense interest in cities and agriculture, and how they fit together.

    "This led us to essentially decide to create – or recreate – what was once a very essential part of New York City, and all cities, which was the open marketplace."  Thus began the Big Apple's now-ubiquitous "greenmarkets."

    Bob Lewis with carrots
    Bob Lewis with carrots

    Before the first part of the 20th century, most small-scale farmers in the United States sold their produce directly to consumers at local markets. But that changed with the industrialization of agriculture, when food production became more centralized and family farmers were forced to sell their produce to wholesalers, who in turn sold it to distributors, who sold it to urban retailers. This system meant far less profit for small producers, and by the 1970s, many American family farms were in financial crisis.

    "The farmers did not have enough economic incentive to continue to produce in the face of the rising costs they experienced," says Lewis, "and the only way to send a signal to those farmers that they could have a future in agriculture was to give them the opportunity to meet the consumer one-on-one, present what they were growing, and see the response."

    The response was enormous. Lewis says that because of industrialized farms, which grew produce with an eye toward longer shelf life and ease of transport rather than for taste and nutrition, many city folk had never known the wonders of freshly harvested, regionally-grown fruits and vegetables.

    What began as three or four stalls drew ever larger crowds, encouraged other businesses, and increased real estate values
    What began as three or four stalls drew ever larger crowds, encouraged other businesses, and increased real estate values

    "By bringing back the farmers markets to New York City, we were able to expose hundreds of thousands of people to what real food really is – real food that was grown by people who really care about growing real food," says Lewis with more than a hint of pride, adding  that "ultimately, those experiences kicked off a national [greenmarkets] movement."

    Greenmarkets can also restore neighborhoods. When New York's Union Square greenmarket began in the late 70s, the area was blighted with drug dealers, vandals and filth. But what began as three or four stalls drew ever larger crowds, which encouraged other businesses, which in turn increased real estate values. Today, the district is considered a highly desirable place to live, work and raise a family.

    Lewis, who now works for New York State's Department of Agriculture and Markets, adds that greenmarkets have flourished in small towns too, where social and economic life on Main Street has been choked off by out of town, malls, offering predictability, but little else.

    And Lewis fights hard to put programs in place that give all New Yorkers access to fresh, regionally grown food. One project distributes farmers' market coupons through federal nutrition programs for low-income women, children and the elderly.

    "We feel terrific to see in [poor districts such as] the South Bronx or in Harlem a woman with a stroller and a child having a peach with the juice dripping down the child's face who had never ever eaten fresh fruit like this in their life, who had never had a fresh peach ever."  In many cases, those children had mostly been eating processed foods, or their parents couldn't afford fruits or vegetables, or didn't know how to prepare them. "[That was] knowledge that perhaps their grandmother had, but not them," says Lewis.    

    Lewis is addressing this knowledge gap in several ways. One program helps to create school gardens where kids grow their own foods and harvest them for use in their own school lunches. He has spearheaded the New Farmer Development Project, which gives immigrant farmers in the New York City region micro-loans to start their own farms, and offers them the use of the greenmarket network.

    Lewis and his colleagues also advise the United Nations on ways to promote greenmarket strategies abroad in places like Mexico, Kenya, and Haiti, where urbanization is spreading and small farmers and local markets are threatened.

    It's all in a day's work for Bob Lewis, who says all he's really trying to do is "live an ethical life," and see to it that the earth his children inherit will afford them a sustainable bounty of wholesome and delicious food.

    You May Like

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Before burial at overflowing cemeteries, unidentified dead being swapped for DNA, in case some day relatives come to learn their fate

    Russian Opposition Leader Sues Putin for Conflict of Interest

    Alexei Navalny tells VOA in exclusive interview why transfer of $2 billion from country’s wealth fund to company with ties to President Putin’s son-in-law triggered lawsuit

    Clinton, Sanders Fight for African American Votes

    Some African American lawmakers lining up to support Clinton in face of perceived surge by Sanders in race for Democratic nomination in presidential campaign

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Filli
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 11, 2016 8:01 PM
    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.