Working Together for a Stronger Food System

March 21, 2011

Since 2009, Dodge has enthusiastically supported the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission‘s (DVRPC) Food System Stakeholders Committee, which brings together representatives from over 100 organizations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania interested in creating a sustainable regional food system. As you will see in the Greater Philadelphia Foodshed map below, a sustainable food system impacts all of New Jersey and a significant portion of Pennsylvania, as well as some areas of New York, Maryland and Delaware.

Over the next several Mondays, we’ve invited DVRPC and their partners to blog about their work around food systems, and talk to us about why this work is important. Today, Alison Hastings of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission kicks off the series with details of Eating Here: Greater Philadelphia’s Food System plan and steps we can all take to support our local food systems.

Greater Philadelphia Region Foodshed map

Alison Hastings
Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission

On a cold day in February, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) released a plan called Eating Here: Greater Philadelphia’s Food System (pdf) to strengthen the regional food system and continue a dialogue about how food is vital to human health, the environment, and the economy.

For centuries, agriculture has been an essential part of New Jersey’s identity and economy. Possibly up to 30 percent of our economy is tied to the food system and it supports nearly 270,000 jobs in Greater Philadelphia (southern NJ and southeastern PA). And although New Jersey is often seen as a large bedroom community to New York City and Philadelphia, it continues to be important for both cities’ food supply.

Eating Here Greater Philadelphia's Food System Plan

But while a lot of us are looking forward to the opening of our local farmers markets in May and have spent cold afternoons picking out interesting seasonal recipes to try, many of our neighbors are suffering from diet-related diseases, and one in ten households does not know where their next meal will come from.

Eating Here is organized around six core values – farming and sustainable agriculture, ecological stewardship and conservation, economic development, health, fairness, and collaboration – and outlines more than 50 recommendations to improve the Greater Philadelphia food system.

A stakeholder committee made up of 150 individuals in nearly 100 organizations and representing farmers, antihunger advocates, farmland preservation experts, public officials, small business owners, and others, collaborated on this effort and identified the following top recommendations:

  • Support local agriculture and grow the local food economy, improving profitability for farmers;
  • Protect the environment;
  • Ensure safety and healthfulness of food and food supply;
  • Improve nutrition and reduce obesity and preventable diseases;
  • Ensure all residents have access to enough nutritious food to eat; and
  • Encourage collaboration between individuals, organizations, and government agencies.

Eating Here is the second phase of a regional planning effort to examine the food system. The plan was born out of the Greater Philadelphia Food System Study (pdf), which took a close look at the natural, economic, and social resources of the “foodshed” or the geographic area within a 100-mile radius of Philadelphia.

Core values of the Eating Here food system plan

Second three banners of Eating Here

The six core values of Eating Here

What do you bring to the table?

Funding from the Dodge Foundation has allowed DVRPC to grow the Stakeholder Committee and produce various outreach materials, including a summary brochure that asks everyone to play their part in strengthening our regional food system.

There are simple things we can all do to support our local food systems, strengthen regional food systems, and improve the national food system, such as:

  • Purchase fresh, locally grown foods from nearby farmers or farmers’ markets or join a community-supported agriculture program;
  • Grow a garden;
  • Participate in a composting program;
  • Take advantage of region’s network of parks and trails for exercise and fresh air;
  • Become a member of a land trust;
  • Vote for local, county and state funding referendums for funding for open space and farmland preservation; and
  • Contact your Congressperson. The US Congress will soon start the legislative process to reauthorize the federal Farm Bill. Now is the time that citizens can inform important national policy discussions.

Where do we go from here?

Eating Here is designed to help strengthen our complex food system so it sustains us for decades to come. Working with the William Penn Foundation, the Commission awarded grants to organizations working to implement the plan.

Over the next five weeks, this blog will feature various organizations that are doing great work to support Greater Philadelphia’s food system and make our vision for an equitable food system a reality. While some organizations are focused on serving a particular geographic area, all the organizations are making a positive impact on the larger, regional food system that includes all of New Jersey and much of the Mid-Atlantic. And the projects are poised to become national models:

  • A successful neighborhood food cooperative is helping others start similar, neighborhood-based food retail cooperatives throughout the Mid-Atlantic.
  • This past summer, a coalition of organizations and funders successfully leveraged federal stimulus dollars to increase the amount of nutrition assistance spent at farmers markets.
  • Greater Philadelphia’s local food movement is being lifted up by a regional tourism campaign.
  • Farm-to-School programs are taking off throughout the country, and the nation’s 8th largest school district is growing its own.
  • And agriculture continues to be Pennsylvania’s biggest industry. One organization is looking at ways to help beginning farmers access farmland and start-up financing, and continue to keep farming in the Keystone state.

To view a copy of the plan and for more information about DVRPC’s food system planning, visit

Images courtesy Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission