Economy League Champions Innovative Solutions To Support Philadelphia’s Food Economy

After complex research, we are working to create better food solutions, provide opportunity for food insecure residents, and increase the region’s overall economy through local purchasing.



It’s been an exciting year at the Economy League, specifically around our efforts supporting the Philadelphia food economy. Since the start of 2019, the Economy League, in partnership with several Philadelphia institutions and organizations, has championed innovative solutions and work to advance the good food economy within the city. After complex research, we are working to create better food solutions, provide opportunity for food insecure residents and increase the region’s overall economy through local purchasing.


Let’s take a look at the last ten months.


Philadelphia itself is home to 79,000 food-related jobs and accounts for nearly 25% of all food-related jobs and firms in the region. But while food-related jobs and restaurants are abundant in the region, one in five Philadelphians do not have enough food to eat and nearly half of residents struggle to make ends meet financially.


Just announced this week, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s Division of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention, also known as Get Healthy Philly, and the Economy League conducted a broad analysis of the Greater Philadelphia food economy with a report titled Good Eats. This analysis investigates regionally-based healthy and good food opportunities and examines the potential for good food production to meet the needs of regional anchor institutions, expanding upon the unique subject-matter expertise within Get Healthy Philly and our work.


In Greater Philadelphia, food-based businesses fuel commercial activity and create jobs for thousands of individuals. Businesses and people that participate along the food supply chain comprise an economy unto themselves, a “food economy” that spans small businesses to multinational corporations, corner stores to global shippers. The food economy supports 331,000 jobs across 25,000 firms in the 11 counties that constitute Philadelphia’s Metropolitan Statistical Area. The Economy League’s Good Eats report indicates that:


  • Food-related jobs account for 12% of all jobs in the city

  • Food-related firms account for 18% of all firms in the city

  • Food-related job growth accelerated to 4.2% annually, higher than overall annual job growth in Philadelphia

  • These jobs, firms, and growth span a wide array of careers and industries--everything from farming, to bartending, from baking to composting

While the Good Eats report highlights Philadelphia’s opportunity to capitalize on the potential to improve health, drive growth, and expand opportunity in the region, we are also directing attention to the fact that Greater Philadelphia has a share of food-related challenges.

Hunger and food insecurity face many Philadelphians, particularly those in low-income communities of color. Similarly, health-related issues like chronic disease stem from a lack of access to quality food and quality jobs. In addition, a broader changing economy – everything from ecommerce to automation – is changing the city’s relationship to food and food-related jobs. To address this need, we partnered with Billy Penn and presented the Full City Challenge in February.


The Full City Challenge initiative looked at Philadelphians for solutions to leverage the region’s robust food economy to address the dual acute problems of hunger and poverty in Philadelphia. In early 2019, we asked for proposals for initiatives, campaigns, social enterprises, technology platforms and other new solutions that use food, culinary or agricultural-based solutions to address pervasive hunger and its underlying causes for too many of our region’s residents were submitted.

To help shape and refine promising ideas, select participants gained access to the Economy League’s extensive network of advisors, policymakers, and influencers to attend an incubator workshop and later the main event where finalist pitched their ideas to a panel of expert judges with the chance to receive $5,000 to advance a small-scale pilot of their concept.


Since the Full City Challenge main event in February, Billy Penn and ourselves are working with the Full City Challenge winners – grand prize winner HospitalityTogether and people's choice award winner The Rebel Market – to implement their pilots, assess lessons from the pilot process, and position the solutions to advance to the next phase of development. Making an impact on the effort, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) is working alongside us assisting The Rebel Market in opening their West Philadelphia store. CHOP is donating kitchen and café equipment to the Rebels, in addition to making their signature product the Rebel Crumble available in hospital cafeterias.


Here is a note from Alonzo South, Sr. Director of Community Engagement at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: “CHOP is committed to supporting our community, and we are thrilled to partner with Rebel Ventures in an effort to increase their contribution to the food economy in West Philadelphia. We know that the social determinants of health, including, housing, trauma, hunger and poverty affect many of our patient families, and we are committed to addressing these pressing health and economic needs in the neighborhoods surrounding our hospital. Supporting community access to healthy food is vital to achieving the best overall health outcomes for all of Philadelphia’s children and their families.”


To continue this momentum within the Philadelphia food economy throughout the year, we were a co-host for a local food tasting with The Enterprise Center. In April, the tasting was created to provide an opportunity for institutions participating in Philadelphia Anchors for Growth and Equity (PAGE) to meet local suppliers from the Center for Culinary Enterprises. The tasting’s attendance featured 21 buyers representing hospitals, universities, food service companies and other major institutions, as well as 23 food entrepreneurs providing catering, retail and wholesale offerings.


The Economy League will round-out 2019 partnering with Independence Blue Cross supporting their Inaugural Health of America Forum to address millennial health challenges. The League is set to issue a citywide challenge to civic innovators in communities across Philadelphia to surface and support promising ideas for addressing millennial health, with a focus on food and nutrition, fitness, and public open spaces and nature.


We’ve made quite the impact this year in the food economy and how they will continue to move the needle in 2020.