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

Beloved Lion Killing Sparks Virtual, Real Life Outrage

Twitter, as usual, was epicenter for anger directed at Palmer, with some questioning his manhood, calling for him to be released into the wild More

Video Booming London Property Market a Haven for Dirty Money

Billions of dollars from proceeds of crime, especially from Russia, being laundered through London property market, according to anti-corruption activists More

Video Scouts' Decision on Gays Meets Acceptance in Founder's Hometown

One former Scout leader thinks organization will move past political, social debate, get back to its primary focus of turning boys into good citizens More

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.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Scouts' Decision on Gays Meets Acceptance in Founder's Hometown

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs