Vertical farms, rescued food, a healthy corner store? Meet the Full City Challenge finalists

Five teams will vie for a $5,000 prize to help solve Philly’s hunger issues.


Palumbo Academy student Zanayja had a relatively simple question. Why, the tenth grader wanted to know, could she easily buy four bags of chips at the corner store for $1, while one smoothie at the supermarket would cost her $4?


A group of Philadelphians from all over the city — including the owner of Honest Tom’s Taco Shop and the proprietor of Siddiq’s Water Ice — are coming together to try to solve that imbalance.


Planned for one of Philly’s many food deserts, a new storefront called the Rebel Market will employ local kids and provide a menu of nutritious snacks they actually like — and can actually afford. Think grab-and-go fruit slices, veggies sticks, parfaits and smoothies. Also Crumbles, the healthy breakfast cookie served throughout the Philadelphia School District.


There’s a direct connection: Crumbles are made by Rebel Ventures, the student-led social enterprise cofounded by Jarrett Stein.


For some time, Stein said, he’d been mulling the idea to take his successful youth-powered model to the retail sector. It wasn’t until he heard about the Full City Challenge that he decided to take action and make the connections needed to get the idea off the ground.


Boom! This is exactly the kind of innovative collaboration Billy Penn and the Economy League hoped to spark when we launched our social impact pitch competition at the end of last year — and it’s why the Rebel Market is one of our five finalists.


Thanks to many who helped spread the word about this opportunity to win $5,000 to pilot a project that uses Philly’s food boom to help make the city better , we received a fantastic 32 applications for the Challenge, which is supported by civic-minded sponsors including Philadelphia International Airport, Marketplace PHL and PIDC.

We pored over all the submissions — there are some really cool ideas percolating out there — and narrowed the field to 10 semifinalists. After a series of in-person interviews, we made some very tough choices to come up with our five finalist teams.


These innovators will participate in an all-day incubator workshop where a cohort of advisors and experts will help them refine these new ideas. They’ll then pitch the concepts to a food celeb judging panel at a public party on Feb. 19 at Green Soul. (RSVP here; it’ll be a fun night.)


Here’s a preview of the five Full City Challenge candidates.


Victory V Farms

What if the empty shells of warehouses in developing neighborhoods could be turned into buzzing activity centers that provide jobs and also grow fresh food?


That’s the promise of Victory V Farms. A spinoff of the environmental nonprofit First Light Project, the startup plans to build vertical farms in Philly’s underutilized industrial buildings. The plan calls for staff to be trained from the immediate community, and for the herbs and leafy greens to be sold to institutional customers, creating a self-sustaining social enterprise. During a pilot phase, all produce grown will be donated to local food banks.



Hospitality is a fast-growing sector in Philly, but it also has high turnover, and many restaurants are often left hurting for staff. At the same time, jobs in the industry have unpredictable schedules that can make professional learning next to impossible.


A group of restaurant veterans led by Baology Judy Ni have joined forces with school district alum Oscar Wang to form HospitalityTogether. Billed as a new alternative to traditional college, HT offers culinary training to students while they’re in school, and also offers classes designed to be accessible to restaurant employees. It aims to help small business owners solve their staffing issues and help food workers advance their careers.


Philly Food Rescue

On average, more than 1.3 million pounds of food goes to waste in Philly each month, while at the same time one in five people is hungry. There’s an obvious logistics problem here — and a new app aims to solve it.

Philly Food Rescue allows everyday Philadelphians to donate a few hours here or there, helping transport extra eats to the people who need them. The app was the brainchild of dietician Victoria Della Rocca, who soft-launched late last year. Already, she has partnerships in place with a handful of supermarkets and restaurants, and with the Philadelphia Housing Authority, which has accepted thousands of pounds of surplus food over the past few months.


CWC Wellness

Restaurants offer more entry-level positions than many other industries, but it’s hard to overstate how stressful those jobs can be. Along with relatively low wages, employees working in hospitality can have physically-demanding shifts with long hours, and are often not offered health insurance.


Cooks Who Care, a support network launched last year by chef Maria Campbell, wants to branch out to directly address the bodily and mental health of its constituency with a new program called CWC Wellness. By developing a tech platform that integrates into existing point-of-sale systems, the program looks to provide restaurant workers with discounts and support in the areas of fitness, stress relief, healthy eating and financial advice.


The Rebel Market

Why are healthy snacks so much more expensive than junk food at the corner store — if they’re sold there at all? Various solutions-oriented organizations have tried to fix this over the years, but a new collaboration might have what it takes to actually make it work.


The Rebel Market will tap into the creativity of the teenage entrepreneurs that run Rebel Ventures, combine it with the plant-based culinary expertise behind Honest Tom’s Taco Shop, string it together with the placemaking prowess that makes Siddiq’s Water Ice an anchor of its Cobbs Creek community, and wield it to create a retail storefront that successfully addresses this imbalance.


Reminder: You can hear more about all these projects — and meet the innovative thinkers behind them — at the Full City Challenge Main Event on Tuesday, Feb. 19. RSVP here.


This article originally appeared on Billy Penn.