The Pennsylvania Convention Center Annex was filled with the redolent scents of artisanal cheese, creamy gelato, freshly-baked bread and biscotti, and premium steeped tea last Sunday. These scents formed the aromatic calling card for the
Philly Farm and Food Fest
, which was co-organized by Fair Food
and the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA)
. One of the highlights of the convention was a panel discussion on the Green Space Alliance’s recent study “Transforming open space to sustainable farm enterprises.”
The panel discussion started with an outline of Green Space Alliance’s (GSA’s)
findings, which include recommendations on public outreach, zoning and planning, and urban areas. One of the chief findings is that GSA should extend an arm to local governments, land trusts, and conservancies to generate knowledge about sustainable farming. Under zoning, the study concludes that specific ordinance definitions should be drafted, says Justin Keller, an architect with Simone Collins Landscape Architecture
, which prepared the study for GSA.
Finally, the study advises that incentives be created for urban farms that bolster stormwater management through the elimination of impervious surfaces. It specifically pinpoints urban farms as sources of sorely-needed nourishment in food deserts and job creators in neighborhoods with rampant unemployment. GSA found that the city of Philadelphia has nearly 2,500 acres that can be used for farming, which could yield a crop value between $6.4 and $10.8 million, says Peter Simone, also an architect with Simone Collins.
After Simone Collins presented the study, three panelists offered conference-goers some feedback. Nic Esposito, who farms at East Kensington’s Emerald St. Urban Farm
, is interested in the study’s examination of municipal land, as his farm is owned by three different city agencies. While the study looks at both CSAs and farms that donate food, Esposito makes sure to mention that Emerald St. donates all the food it generates from chickens and bees. He also adds that Councilwoman Sanchez and Councilman Green’s land bank resolution in City Council
would be an asset for urban farming on vacant land.
Another panelist was Joan Blaustein, chair of the Philadelphia Food Policy Council and a director in the city’s department of Parks and Recreation
. Blaustein, who grows food in her own backyard garden, emphasizes the practical nature of urban gardening. Urban gardens “should satisfy the social needs of people in the city,” says Blaustein. She proceeds to give the city a pat on the back for emphasizing urban farms in its Greenworks
plan and mentioning it in its new zoning code
The third panelist was Fred DeLong, a project director at the Willistown Conservation Trust
and Rushton Farm
in Chester County. DeLong differs from the other panelists in that his farm certainly isn’t urban. Nonetheless, he has a similar goal to the study and his fellow panelists. “Willistown Conservation Trust wants to connect people to the land,” says DeLong. He adds that within the trust is the Rushton Farm, which is a natural community-supported agriculture (CSA) within an 80-acre nature preserve.
Justin Keller, Peter Simone, Nic Esposito, Joan Blaustein, and Fred DeLong, panelists at Philly Farm and Food Fest
Illustration courtesy of Philly Farm and Food Fest