Food Systems Associate, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission
As the metropolitan planning organization for the nine-county region, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) is charged with preparing for and envisioning a sustainable future amidst energy and climate uncertainties. This uncertain future will most likely limit the transport of fresh foods across long distances, and most of the world’s urbanizing populations will need to be fed by closer agricultural resources. Today, Greater Philadelphia, as in the rest of the United States, is relying on agricultural resources further and further away while at the same time we are losing viable farmland and a successful agricultural industry (between 1990 and 2005, the DVRPC region lost over 126,000 acres of agricultural land). However, more organizations, agencies, businesses, and individuals are appreciating the connections between local farmers, healthy food and healthy communities and food system planning is becoming an important part of sustainability.
In 2008 and 2009, DVRPC commenced the Greater Philadelphia Food System Study to better understand the complicated global and regional food systems that feeds Greater Philadelphia. It looked at a broad range of food supply issues within a 100-mile radius of Philadelphia, such as agricultural production, natural resources, the origins and destinations of food imports and exports, and the significance of the food economy. The study is the first step in DVRPC efforts to envision a more sustainable food system for Greater Philadelphia. Starting in July 2009, DVRPC undertook a planning effort to identify recommendations and establish baseline indicators in order to measure the region’s progress. The following findings were made regarding the Greater Delaware Valley Foodshed:
- There is a steady loss of viable farmland due to a sprawling and inefficient land use patterns. About 37 percent of the land within the foodshed is considered to be important agricultural soil. Unfortunately, this farmland is also attractive and suitable for development.
- There are many diverse farmers but their food supply cannot meet Greater Philadelphia’s total demand for food.
- Food shipments from outside the foodshed are expected to grow by 75 percent and shipments from international sources by more than 100 percent by the year 2035.
- Many citizens are eating highly processed convenience foods, which has led to a prevalence of diet-related diseases. Hunger and food insecurity (not knowing where your next meal is coming from) are on the rise.
- On average, American households spend 12 percent of their income on food. The average household in Greater Philadelphia spent $5,600 on food in 2007 while households in New York City and Washington, D.C. spent more than $7,000. Philadelphia competes with New York and Washington for food that is grown within 100 miles of the city.
Having a sustainable food supply does not mean self-sufficiency within the Greater Philadelphia Food Shed. In light of the study’s findings it is, however, important that we instill values among food system stakeholders that protect agriculture in the Greater Philadelphia Foodshed and promote better food and nutritional awareness among the populace. Among those values are maintaining a sustainable agriculture in the region, promoting ecological stewardship and conservation, providing better access to nutritious and locally grown food, achieving economic development that does not come at the expense of our food system, promoting healthy eating and collaboration among all food system stakeholders.
Given what we already know, we think that food will become a bigger part of the economy and access to food will become a bigger concern for everyone, regardless of income. Strong ties and geographic access to local food will become a competitive advantage. If we want systemic change, we need many actors taking actions toward the common good. While our food system stakeholders represent diverse facets of the food system, they can implement the Greater Philadelphia Food Systems plan through their day-to-day work and advocacy efforts. To learn more about the plan, visit the DVRPC website at http://www.dvrpc.org/.
In an effort to provide wide-ranging views and perspectives regarding the practice of and issues surrounding agriculture, the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture (PSPA) seeks speakers representing a variety of perspectives. The statements and opinions they present are strictly their own and do not necessarily represent the views of PSPA.