Planning for Urban Agriculture During COVID-19

growing From Tje Root Covid Planning
As we find ourselves in these challenging times exacerbated by COVID-19, we want to contextualize and provide an update on our ongoing work on Philadelphia’s Urban Agriculture Plan: Growing from the Root. We recognize the current moment we’re in and the impact it is having in communities across Philadelphia.

From the outset, Growing from the Root has grounded the Urban Agriculture Plan in health, racial and economic equity, culture, resiliency, and history, prioritizing the communities that are most impacted. These days, those deep, interconnected plan foundations are more visible than ever. Crisis is not new for many communities in our city that have been struggling with health issues and food insecurity. The current pandemic has only worsened that reality, shining a light on the underlying structural inequalities that disproportionately impact Black and Brown communities in this city.

It is not a coincidence that some of the neighborhoods with the highest rates of infections also have the poorest health outcomes. According to recent data from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, Black Philadelphians are contracting the virus at a rate (43.3%) more than triple that of White residents (14.2%). CDC data report that 89% of people hospitalized due to COVID-19 had at least one chronic condition, with one-third having diabetes and one-third having heart disease. The virus affects us in different ways along these structural lines.

There are also very real economic impacts. Since March 15, more than 1.75 million Pennsylvania residents have applied for unemployment benefits, 27% of the total workforce. Images of empty grocery store shelves and long lines at food banks are sobering. Meanwhile, the risk of exposure remains high for essential workers in health care, child care, public service, and transportation, industries where people of color make up a large share of the workforce.

Amongst these hardships, we are also seeing an increase in community members growing food and many more expressing interest in learning the tools and practices of agriculture. Our communities have long been growing as a means to become more self-reliant and resilient to the shocks to our global food system. The practices of community gardening and farming have been an integral part of survival and independence for communities for generations, and we hope to underscore the urgency to continue supporting that work.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not only showing us how urban agriculture provides critical relief to people who have become food insecure, but also highlights the need to build infrastructure that sustains resilient, local, and equitable food systems. What are the connections, food policies, and resources needed to help this City build a new future? We have a responsibility to contextualize the short-term and long-term vision in our Plan to imagine better possibilities and outcomes.

Growing from the Root will continue to do what we can to ensure that the most marginalized voices are included in our community engagement, utilizing all the tools available to us and our existing relationships throughout Philadelphia.