SEPTA Teams Up for Fresh Food (Goal 6)

April 22, 2011

Last week, we reviewed how transit can improve access to food and contribute to the development of more livable communities. Today, we'll describe how SEPTA's Sustainability Program is acting on these interconnected goals - food access and livability - to ensure that all regional residents - including its own employees - have access to fresh local foods.

SEPTA's recognition of this connection between food access and transit planning process recently received accolades from the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), which honored Philadelphia as one of the Top-Seven "Smarter Cities" for Transportation.

NRDC Award

Here is an excerpt:

"Don't see the link between transit and food? Philly does. The City of Philadelphia and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) have made it a top goal to target food deserts - neighborhoods where it is difficult to access fresh food - and public transportation is at the core of their effort. With an established transit infrastructure, a focus on multimodal travel, effective collaboration, and a number of highly innovative programs, Philadelphia has earned a spot as a top metropolitan region for transportation. Its transit system covers five counties, serves 4 million people, and is the sixth largest transit system in the country. But there is more to smart transportation than just getting people from place to place. Like many cities, Philadelphia acknowledges the relationship between transportation and public health. For example, getting residents to choose walking and bicycling instead of driving can contribute to a healthy population. But Philadelphia and SEPTA are taking it a step further with their pioneering initiative to bring people closer to fresh food.

"'We're working with the city, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, and the Food Trust to identify the food deserts in Philadelphia and study their access to transit,' says Marion M. Coker, manager of strategic business planning and sustainability for SEPTA. Future service planning will be one major component of the strategy to increase residents' access to fresh food. But Greenworks Philadelphia, the city's extensive sustainability plan, targets putting local food within a 10-minute walk of 75 percent of the city's population, or well over a million people, and SEPTA plans to use its real estate to host farmers' markets at transit centers in partnership with the Food Trust."

Farmers Market Program

The partnership with the City and The Food Trust has resulted in the recommendation of the opening of two new farmers market locations this growing season. The Food Trust, with SEPTA's support, has recommended Olney and Frankford Transportation Centers as two new sites. Both locations are intermodal hubs and key transfer points in the SEPTA system. Additionally, Olney lies within an identified food desert and would provide access to those who currently have limited opportunity to purchase fresh locally-grown foods.

Another farmers market location is at 46th and Market Streets. SEPTA has leased vacant land adjacent to its 46th Street Market Frankford Line station to The Enterprise Center (TEC) for an urban farm and park, known as the Walnut Hill Community Farm. The project's farm component is managed by a West Philadelphia youth cooperative that farms the land and sells its produce. The farm will also support a stand at SEPTA headquarters in Center City (1234 Market Street).

The 1234 Market Street farm stand, a collaborative effort between Farm to City, TEC, The Common Market, and SEPTA, will open on June 1, 2011 and continue twice-per-month through August. Operating hours will be from 11 am to 3 pm near the building lobby's east entrance. Customers will be able to purchase fresh produce and dairy. Upon opening, these farmers markets will achieve SEPTA's goal of opening of three new farmers market locations per year.

Employee Wellness

SEPTA is complementing this farmers market program with an expanded "Wellness Program" to ensure that SEPTA's own employees have access to healthy foods. From June 8 through October 26, 2011, SEPTA will be sponsoring a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program called "Farm to SEPTA," which in partnership with Farm to City, The Common Market, and TEC will enable SEPTA employees to purchase biweekly shares from the farm. For $20, shares will include 6-8 produce varieties and one dozen farm-fresh eggs.

What's Next

SEP-TAINABLE's Goal 5 - to integrate with livable communities - and Goal 6 - to improve access to local food via transit - represent SEPTA's enduring commitment to steward social sustainability across Greater Philadelphia.

But SEPTA's broader social sustainability platform also centers on workforce development, an imperative that is at the heart of its sustainability from a human capital perspective. Next week, we'll describe how SEPTA's Sustainability Program is working to address its own challenges related to a highly skilled but aging workforce.

Next Week: Goal 7: Developing a Highly-Skilled, Versatile Workforce