Hunting Park to set example for fixing food scarcity problems

Mayor Nutter at the Hunting Park community garden dedication. The garden is also part of the revitalization project. | Photo via cityparksblog.comIn the past three decades, North Philadelphia’s Hunting Park – one of the oldest in the Fairmount Park system – has become a better hub for crime than community activity. But since late 2008, the Fairmount Park Conservancy and the Hunting Park community have been working together to reverse this trend.

The first phase of the 87-acre park’s renewal kicked off in 2009 with projects that included the addition of two new playgrounds and the planting of a fruit orchard with the Philadelphia Orchard Project. Most notably, the park received a gift from the Ryan Howard Family Foundation to build “the most beautiful baseball field on city land,” says Meg Holscher, development director at the Fairmount Park Conservancy. The results of these renovations are already rolling in; since the baseball field’s construction, enrollment for the Hunting Park little league team has increased by more than 200 percent.

The Conservancy is now moving into the second phase of the revitalization project, which includes another problem endemic to the Hunting Park neighborhood: food scarcity. Partnering with the Food Trust and Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, the Conservancy has developed a plan to combat the spread of the area’s “food desert” and provide Hunting Park residents with healthy and affordable produce.

The park already has a seasonal farmers market and community garden, so improvements in this phase will focus on revitalizing the park’s dilapidated concession stand. The stand will be an engine for economic growth in the community as well as an easy-to-access food source. “The plan is not just to fix up the building,” Holscher emphasizes, “but to open it as a healthy food stand run by local entrepreneurs employing local youth.” Holscher sees the park as a new model to be replicated by parks throughout the city, with facilities “owned by municipality but operated by and employing locals ... making sure that the dollars generated are going back into the park and the community.”

In addition to their work at Hunting Park, the Fairmount Park Conservancy has recently published “Creating Healthy Concessions: a Resource Guide,” a guidebook that outlines their two-year study on food access in underserved communities. The hope, according to Holscher, is that the study, coupled with Hunting Park’s current and future successes, will serve as a model for “parks in Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania and around the country.”

Visit the Fairmount Park Conservancy for more information on their work with the Hunting Park community, and learn about the community’s own efforts at huntingpark.org

ALEX JACOBS is the Grid intern for spring 2013. He is a junior history major at Haverford College.