"If you live in Philadelphia, want to buy local food, want to use your food dollar to make a positive impact on the environment and the local company, and you are willing to do a little research, you have a lot of opportunity to do so," Ann Karlen, director of the White Dog Cafe Foundation's Fair Food Project, said during her remarks.
Karlen, whose organization operates a farm stand at Reading Terminal Market and connects farmers with chefs and wholesale food buyers, described a landscape of seasonal farmers markets, urban farms, farm stands, food cooperatives, community-supported agriculture and at least 66 restaurants that buy directly from farmers.
At least 250 attended the meeting, giving them the chance to sample locally produced foods, such as Bobbi's Humus, chevre from Apple Tree Goat Dairy in Lebanon County, and gelato from Capogiro Gelato Artisans in Center City.
Most local-food advocates are not arguing against consuming Colombian coffee or Florida oranges, or suggesting that all needs can be met with foods grown in the region. Rather their mission is to encourage people to eat as much locally grown food as possible, to help break down the wall between food and agriculture.
"Why would you want to buy something that was shipped in from across the country when it was available from only 60 miles away?" said Karlen, who cofounded the Fair Food Project in 2001.
Another speaker, Gary Giberson, director of food services at the Lawrenceville School near Trenton, described the private school's sustainable dining program, which started in the fall of 2004 as an effort to reduce waste.
After considering the packaging needed to ship food long distances, Giberson started looking for local farmers. Now, for example, he buys apples from Terhune Orchards in Princeton - where he can choose from 29 varieties and receive them in reusable wooden boxes instead of cardboard from Washington.
The process of going local "was a rebirth for me as a chef," said Giberson. He's gearing up for more: Last week, the school's board approved a budget for an organic garden on campus, enabling greater student involvement, he said.
Education is a driving force behind many of the region's new farms that promote sustainable agriculture, such as the Pennypack Farm Education Center in Horsham. The Bucks County Foodshed Alliance, which draws 20 to 25 people to its monthly meetings, is planning an education center at Anchor Run Farm in Wrightstown.
In West Philadelphia, at 49th and Brown Streets, Mill Creek Farm grew more than 50 varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs on a half-acre of city-owned land during its first season. The farm hosted 20 school and youth groups during the season, Mill Creek cofounder Johanna Rosen said after last week's forum.
Mill Creek operates as a nonprofit and is not counting on making money from its produce. "We're selling at neighborhood prices," said Johanna Rosen, not at the prices farmers get at a Rittenhouse Square farmers market. "We want the people in that neighborhood to buy our food."
Contact staff writer Harold Brubaker at 215-854-4651 or firstname.lastname@example.org.