A new study of Camden's food landscape identifies plenty of ways in which city leaders, local politicians, and large corporations can use access to food as a way to grow the city's economy.
As several large corporations plan to move into Camden, the study recommends that the city find ways to tap into the growing daytime workforce, which could mean opening new restaurants as well as supporting and promoting existing ones. Anchor institutions, such as the city's universities and hospitals, could consider developing nutrition and voucher programs for residents and partnerships with local nonprofits.
The report, created by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and Campbell Soup's Healthy Communities Program, looked at Camden's food access, median income, economy, and other factors.
Alison Hastings, manager of the office of communications and engagement for the planning commission, said that because so many members of the workforce move out of Camden when they are able to, the city has few mixed-income neighborhoods that often lead to restaurants, small stores, and other development.
The report noted that city leaders could play a larger role in boosting the city's food economy, such as by encouraging grocery stores to consider opening in areas accessible to public transportation. A PriceRite that opened in fall 2014 is currently the city's only full-service supermarket, and residents who don't have cars might not be able to get there regularly. Creating a land inventory would also help the city identify places for community gardens or other alternative food sources, the study says.
In recent years, companies including Subaru of America, Holtec, and Lockheed Martin have announced plans to relocate to Camden with help from generous state tax incentives.
The study recommends that area economic development corporations focus on how to serve the hundreds of people who will be working in Camden during the day.
In addition to streamlining the process for opening a new food-centered business such as a restaurant or lunch cart, the city could invest in existing culinary-arts training programs such as those run through Respond Inc. and the Cathedral Kitchen, and create a social-media training program to promote neighborhood businesses through sites such as Yelp, Google, Chowhound, and other platforms.
"The food economy is mostly made up of small businesses," Hastings said. "And for urban adventurers, people who are excited by cities, food is a big part of that experience."
Mayor Dana Redd said in a statement that in the meantime, residents can also boost the local economy by eating at Camden restaurants and shopping there when possible.
"These recommendations will require many different actors' working together and it will take time to realize all of the goals," she said, "but there are things that individuals can do right now to support the goal of increasing food access and improving economic opportunities through food in Camden."