December 23, 2009

Brotherly Love and Sustainable Eats

Patti Truant

Patti Truant

CLF-Lerner Fellow

Center for a Livable Future

APHA members tour the Weaver's Way Co-op in Philadelphia in November 2009.

APHA members tour the Weaver's Way Co-op in Philadelphia in November 2009.

At the mammoth American Public Health Association meeting last month in Philadelphia, it was easy to get lost in all the meetings, scientific sessions and special events. Still, 50 people made it to a food system bus tour of some of the city’s sustainable markets and urban farms on the opening day of the conference. On the tour organized by APHA’s Food and Environment Working Group, participants visited Greensgrow Farm, the Urban Nutrition Initiative, Clark Park Farmers’ Market, Milk & Honey Market, Weaver’s Way, the Fair Food Farm Stand at Reading Terminal Market and a healthy corner store site.

A diverse group of food system experts, academics, physicians and students from as far away as Australia joined in eager to see the greener side of Philly’s food scene and share experiences from back home.

“It was a natural fit to have this tour in Philadelphia,” said Lynn Fredericks, founder of FamilyCook Productions in New York City, and a member of the APHA Food and Environment Working Group. “We would like to take the opportunity to explore the food systems within the host cities for our APHA conferences, and in the case of Philly, with such a plethora of innovations within their food system, it was an ideal location to inaugurate this concept.”
The group visited Weaver’s Way, a co-op established in 1972 primarily to increase access to fresh food in an underserved area, but which has evolved to promote sustainability and local farming.

Fredericks was impressed that the tour pulled a diverse group of public health professionals from around the world, but even the locals learned a thing or two.

Another stop was Weaver’s Way’s newest urban farm, Hope Garden, developed for and with Stenton Family Manor Homeless Shelter. Here, a blighted piece of vacant land has been transformed into a productive urban farm. Fredericks said the tourgoers were impressed with the system where the farm grows food for and with people from the adjacent homeless shelter.

At Greensgrow Farm, the tour saw an example of a vertically integrated farm originally started on a former industrial site, whose mission is focused on benefitting the community.

Anne Marie Thow, a PhD student in health policy at the University of Sydney in Australia, said she enjoyed hearing about the grassroots efforts to improve health in Philadelphia.

“All the presenters were very knowledgeable and together provided a very comprehensive introduction to the different aspects of creating a healthier local food supply through urban agriculture, kitchen gardens and healthier local stores,” Thow said. “As someone working in public health policy, I also really appreciated the presentation by a local government representative, which provided a policy perspective on how to improve food availability.”

As a family physician who researches how the food environment influences people’s dietary patterns, Dr. Sean Lucan of Bronx, NY, said he appreciated the opportunity to see firsthand the urban gardens and corner store initiatives he had heard about.

“The use of abandoned lots, park space, school grounds, and even raised beds on concrete lots was amazing to me,” he said. “The co-op idea was also new to me, and it was interesting to see how these different aspects of the food system interdigitate, and to understand the financial and logistical models that allow them to operate.”

For more information or to get involved in APHA’s Food and Environment Working Group, visit http://www.foodenvironment.com.

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