Food Insecurity and Spatial Inequality in Philadelphia’s Lower-Income Neighborhoods:
Analyzing the Role of Community Gardens
Completed October 2011
The Center for Sustainable Communities at Temple University (CSC) has conducted a study in Philadelphia’s lower-income neighborhoods with the following two primary objectives: (1) Analyze the issues of community food insecurity and hunger in the City of Philadelphia, and (2) Analyze the contribution of community gardens, urban farms, and Community Based Organizations (CBOs)/ Community Development Corporations (CDCs) in providing fresh food access and alleviating food insecurity and hunger.
The study first looked at the issues of hunger and spatial inequality (in terms of accessing fresh food) in many Philadelphia neighborhoods. A Geographic Information Systems (GIS) based spatial analysis was conducted to find neighborhoods that face the issues of food insecurity. The analysis included data on the following categories: food cupboards, community gardens, urban farms, supermarkets, farmers markets, grocery stores, convenience stores, and data collected by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Household Health Survey. This analysis showcased the co-occurrence of poverty, hunger, land vacancy, absence of supermarkets and grocery stores, and informal means to fresh food access at the neighborhood scale. Such co-occurrences were mostly concentrated generally in the North, West, and South sections of Philadelphia.
Secondly, the study paid particular attention to the role that urban agriculture programs have in reducing inequality found in the aforementioned neighborhoods. A city-wide survey was conducted to better understand the impact of urban agriculture at the neighborhood scale. Analysis of the data included the following: (i) understanding the models of urban agriculture, (ii) identifying the primary garden participants and recipients of locally produced food, (iii) analyzing how local food is distributed in disadvantaged neighborhoods, and (iv) understanding how community agriculture projects were evolved and engaged in their neighborhoods. Major findings from this analysis are listed below.
Three primary models of urban agriculture exist in Philadelphia: the traditional community gardens, the entrepreneurial urban farms, and urban agriculture supported by CBOs or CDCs.
Three different modes are used to distribute food throughout the city: informal distribution, sales, and donation.
Community gardens are located in all of the 12 Planning Analysis Zones of the City, but mostly concentrated in neighborhoods experiencing the greatest level of food insecurity.
Community gardens draw a large portion of their participants from their surrounding neighborhoods.
The report concludes with a discussion based on ten follow-up interviews with garden organizers. The topics discussed were based on either further dialogue about the initial survey results, or issues raised by the interviewees. The topics included the following:
Agreement/disagreement with the statement, as included in the survey: “Philadelphia’s community gardens help providing fresh food access and alleviating food insecurity and hunger in lower-income neighborhoods.”
Economic contribution of urban agriculture
Accessibility to urban agriculture
A number of garden organizers expressed that one of their most important impacts in Philadelphia's underserved neighborhoods was achieved by creating knowledge of local produce for a generation unfamiliar with the production of food. Gardens are also creating indirect economic opportunities for their neighborhoods through hands on training in a professional setting. A variety of transferable skills are assisting teens to find gainful employment through various garden programs.
Mahbubur Meenar, assistant director of the Center for Sustainable Communities, served as the principal investigator.