Improve access to fresh, local food



Increases access to locally grown foods people want, lowers diet-related diseases like heart disease and diabetes in children and adults, and improves community vibrancy


Reduces energy-wasting long hauls and increases sustainability of local farms


Creates jobs, keeps income in the city and increases tourism and food security

Peer Cities

New York City’s FRESH program provides property tax reductions, sales tax exemptions and Floor Area Ratio (FAR) bonuses to grocery store operators who provide fresh produce in areas with inadequate access. Albany, NY requires that a percentage of local food be purchased for the city’s prisons and healthcare facilities. Chicago launched City Farm to operate rent free on vacant land and then relocate when and if a developer buys the land, while Milwaukee provides three-year leases for gardens and farms on publicly owned land.
City Council can increase the availability of local, fresh food in city neighborhoods by creating incentives for businesses that grow or sell local fresh food, leasing publicly owned vacant land to urban farmers, adopting a local food procurement policy that leverages the city’s immense purchasing power, and ensuring that Philadelphia’s farms are counted by the census.

In the U.S., the average fruit or vegetable travels 1,500 miles from where it was grown to the dinner table. This distance requires energy-wasting long hauls and does little for the local economy.[1]

City Council can improve health of residents, grow local businesses and improve the environment by providing incentives for farmers' markets, urban farms, community gardens, corner stores with fresh produce, co-ops, community-supported agriculture programs (CSAs) and supermarkets to locate or expand in neighborhoods with inadequate access to fresh local foods. Incentives offered in other cities that council should consider include: tax abatements, tax credits, reduced tax assessments, low-interest loans, grants and inexpensive or free vacant land. City Council’s support for the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative serves as a good example of council’s ability to incentivize private market behavior to improve access to fresh local food.

The city should offer lease terms of three years or more for publicly owned vacant land that will be used for urban agriculture and community gardens. City Council should encourage farmers to lease publicly owned vacant land where no alternative use is planned. According to a 2010 Redevelopment Authority study, this strategy will increase the value of the property and neighboring parcels and promote community revitalization.[2] A three-year minimum lease is necessary because of the work involved to prepare the ground and the time needed for certain crops to mature.

Pass an ordinance to increase the percentage of local foods offered through the city- sponsored food programs. Cities across the country have used their roles as market participants to expand markets for local fresh foods. Increasing local fresh food offered by city food programs that serve seniors, children and others will help nutritious food reach these residents. A law that favors city or regional food producers may face a legal challenge if it is perceived to “discriminate” against businesses in other states and regions in violation of the City Charter and the U.S. Constitution. Therefore, the law must be carefully crafted in partnership with the Law Department and volunteer private attorneys.

Ensure urban farms are counted in the USDA’s Census of Agriculture. This annual census counts all farms by county that produce at least $1,000 worth of product each year, a standard many of the city’s farms and larger community gardens meet. Yet because most Philadelphia gardeners and farmers do not track and report the financial value of the food they grow, the 2007 census found only 17 farms in Philadelphia. Ensuring that every farm and community garden is counted will increase federal resources available to local farms and make it clear that urban farming plays a key role in Philadelphia’s green economy.

[1] Rich Pirog, Checking the food odometer: Comparing food miles for local versus conventional produce sales to Iowa institutions (July 2003)

[2] Econsult Corporation and Penn Institute for Urban Research, Redevelopment Authority of The City Of Philadelphia: Land Use And Policy Study (June 2010).