“Foodwise, among the most progressive cities in the country right now is Philadelphia, where the alliance of a forward-thinking mayor and a 19-year-old non-profit is moving things forward. Within a year or two, Philly might be funding better access to real food for its poorest citizens by taxing soda. And if you accept the notion that childhood obesity and the accompanying Type 2 diabetes are big problems, and you’re aware that soda is a major cause, you’ll agree that’s a huge step in the right direction.
Even the present is encouraging, because Philadelphia is figuring out its residents’ food needs and demonstrating that government and non-profits can lead the fight against diet-related diseases by putting real food into the hands of people — especially children — who have trouble finding and affording it.
In 2000, Philadelphia had the second-lowest number of grocery stores per capita of 21 major U.S. cities. Today, many of its poorest residents have improved access to supermarkets and farmers’ markets; at some of the latter, their purchases are subsidized. And Food Trust – the nonprofit behind many of these changes – is further improving access by encouraging hundreds of Philly’s corner stores to sell fresh fruits and vegetables.
Philadelphia is demonstrating that government and non-profits can lead the fight against diet-related diseases by putting real food into the hands of people who have trouble finding and affording it.
Food Trust, which is funded by private foundations, government grants and individual donors, is supported by Mayor Michael Nutter, a former city councilman from an underserved (read: poor) neighborhood. Nutter took office in 2008; while on the Council, he sponsored legislation that banned smoking in restaurants and bars, and he’s a true believer on the food-access issue: “I’m going to invest in this,” he told me in the nearly 120-year-old Reading Terminal Market. “It is to the long-term benefit of the city and our health. Ultimately, it’s going to save us money.”
After meeting with Nutter, I toured town with Food Trust staffers Yael Lehmann, Brian Lang and others. We visited corner stores in North Philadelphia that have enrolled in the Healthy Corner Store Initiative, which starts owners with a small cash bonus and, after a trial period, gives them refrigerators (manufactured in North Philly) for stocking fresh fruits and vegetables. (So far around 500 stores have enrolled in the program; most are in the beginning stage.) Unlike the average corner store, these had piles of oranges and bananas by the cash register, and small refrigerator cases with greens, tomatoes and, in at least one instance, bags containing 50 cents’ worth of grapes — sold out on the day I visited. These are not huge changes, obviously, but they’re significant ones.
Another program, Philly Bucks, is a boon to both low-income residents and farmers’-market vendors, and similar to several others around the country. For every $5 in food stamps people spend at participating farmers’ markets, they get an additional $2 in credit: a 40 percent bonus. Seventeen markets now accept Philly Bucks, and food-stamp redemption at farmers’ markets has increased 130 percent since the program began.
Significant, too, is the collaboration among Philadelphia, Food Trust and the state. In 2004 Pennsylvania set up a grants and loans program called the Fresh Food Financing Initiative, encouraging the opening of supermarkets in poor neighborhoods. Since then, 26 new supermarkets have opened, rehabbed or expanded in underserved parts of the city….” (article continues)
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Go Philly! article posted April 5, 2011
by Mark Bittman