Report suggests stronger food sector could benefit Camden’s starved economy

The Campbell's Soup plant off South 11th Street in Camden. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The Campbell's Soup plant off South 11th Street in Camden. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A new report suggests that Camden could help its residents and spur economic growth by further developing its food sector, which includes restaurants as well as anything from manufacturers to urban farms.

Produced by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission in partnership with the Campbell Soup Company, the report lists ways city government, local institutions, community groups, and economic development organizations could increase food access for residents and support the local economy.

“These recommendations will require many different actors working together, and it will take time to realize all of the goals,” said Camden Mayor Dana Redd, in a statement. “But there are things that individuals can do right now to support the goal of increasing food access and improving economic opportunities through food in Camden,” such as buying from a local farmer’s market or starting a community garden.

Several of the recommendations in the report call on the city government to empower local food-sector consumers and workers by, for example, increasing public transit options and streamlining the permitting process for new food business.

“A lot of entrepreneurship happens around food. A lot of small businesses can be food related — not just restaurants, but value-added products, people who are going to make tomato sauce or cookies,” said commission planner Amy Verbofsky.

Unlike other industries, Verbofsky said, food businesses can form a uniquely local industry that directly benefits the regional economy where it is located.

“There are a lot of opportunities that can happen at a local level around food,” she said.

The report also encouraged Camden’s “anchor” institutions, such as universities, hospitals, and museums, to pitch in to solve the problem of limited food access.

For example, the report suggests that city hospitals implement a FreshRx program, which would let doctors write patients prescriptions for vouchers to buy healthy food at local markets.

Other recommendations include expanding nutrition education programs; investing in culinary arts training for food-sector workers; and funding grants for food-related projects.

Lana Posner, founder of the national charity Feed Our Children NOW that is based in Camden, praised the report for attempting to tackle the little-discussed scourge of a lack of food access.

“The important part about this paper is that it begins to focus attention on it,” said Posner. “The most damaging part of this problem is when people are not talking about it and looking for solutions.”

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