Enter Philly Homegrown (www.visitphilly.com/food), a $450,000 consumer-education and tourism-marketing program created by the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC), along with the William Penn Foundation, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) and the local food community.
Philly Homegrown is a two-year initiative geared to showcasing the region's bountiful local food scene and identifying foods that are both healthy, delicious, and support the local economy.
Whether you're visiting or live here, the Philly Homegrown message resonates. According to numbers cited in the "2009 Travel and Tourism Research Handbook," from Richard K. Miller and Associates, 27 million Americans, or 17 percent of leisure travelers, made culinary and/or wine activities a part of their travels within the last three years.
This could mean taking cooking classes, dining out in a unique setting, visiting farmer's markets or attending food festivals.
"What started in places like Napa and Sonoma has spread to cities like Portland and Philadelphia," said Erik Wolf, president of the International Culinary Tourism Association.
When Robert Weinberg and his partner, Eric Matzke, started City Food Tours in 2007, he was amazed at the region's bounty. "As an urbanite, many of us don't leave the city," Weinberg said. "We have everything we need right here. We see skyscrapers, but we don't always see or feel a connection to where our food comes from."
City Food tours traipse all around town, from Northern Liberties to the Reading Terminal and beyond, to establish just that connection.
Weinberg said that while visitors love the Flavors of Philly tour, featuring Philly's iconic foods like cheesesteaks, soft pretzels and tomato pie, it's mostly locals who sign up for the Taste of Northern Liberties tour and the Craft Beer & Artisanal Cheese tour.
All City Food tours feature independent, locally owned merchants such as DiBruno Bros., Naked Chocolate and Capogiro. The company's latest stroll, the Philly Homegrown Tour, organized in conjunction with GPTMC, will be offered Nov. 27, and Dec. 11 and 18.
It's a two-hour tasting adventure that includes stops for seasonal goodies at Reading Terminal's Fair Food Farmstand and local cheeses at Salumeria, followed by a tasting at Tweed, where chef David Cunningham brings local farm goods to the table.
Philadelphia offers a perfect (chocolate) storm for Valerie Beck, of Philadelphia Chocolate Tour, who expanded her Chicago business to include a Philly tour last year.
"Philly is in the midst of a culinary and chocolate renaissance," she said. "So many new pastry chefs and chocolatiers have started doing incredibly creative things in town over the past year or so. We really couldn't have opened any sooner, since some of the shops we work with are also around 1 year old or even newer."
Add in Philly's walkability and chocolate history ("more cocoa beans enter the port of Philadelphia than any other city"), and Beck found a sweet spot for her business. The way she see it, "Philadelphia's culinary renaissance is a model for the foodie scene across the country."
"The local food movement has been growing in the Philadelphia region for some time now, and we're happy to tell this story to residents and potential visitors," said Meryl Levitz, president and CEO of GPTMC. "By highlighting the accessibility, flavors, experiences, neighborhoods and the people of the local food scene, we hope visitors and residents alike will realize how accessible the local bounty is."