Mayors Innovation Project


Local Food Systems


City-based food production takes many forms, from rooftop gardens to community garden plots to urban farms to re-greened vacant lots to microenterprises to farmer’s markets. It may be community based, non-profit, or private sector. It is often integrated with other efforts; including community building, job training, youth involvement, treatment for mental illness, beautification and the like. The many benefits range from economic (reducing food budgets, providing job training or economic opportunity) to public health (increasing exercise and nutrition) to environmental (air and water quality, soil remediation, and greenhouse gas reduction) to community (building neighborhood connections and improving communication and safety). We’ll discuss a variety of ways that cities can support urban agriculture projects.


Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “Improving Access to Healthy Foods: A Guide for Policy-Makers,” Fall 2007.

  • Suggests policies to improve access to healthy foods and the benefits of doing such.

McCann, Barbara. “Community Design for Healthy Eating” Robert Wood Johnson Foundation,” Fall 2006.

  • Describes how specific land use and transportation techniques can improve healthy eating in a community.

ICMA Press. “Community Health and Food Access: The Local Government Role,” August 2006

  • Details the local government’s role in improving the community’s health and food access and current examples of communities that have already done so.

Boullosa, Nicolas and Kirsten Dirksen. “Why We All Will Be Gardeners”.  Friends of Troy Gardens, Vol. II, Special Edition 1, January 22, 2008.

  • Discusses how urban cities can create agricultural plots and its benefits.

Dillon, Casey. “Countries and Local Food Systems: Ensuring Healthy Food, Nurturing Healthy Children”. Excerpted.  National Association of Counties, July 2007.

  • Includes an excerpt of Food Councils in Dane County, WI and its benefit to the community.

Philadelphia Green. “Community Gardens”, The Pennsylvania Horticulture Society, 2008.

  • Details the various benefits of having community gardens.

Philadelphia Green. “Partnerships”, The Pennsylvania Horticulture Society, 2007.

  • Describes how partnerships can improve neighborhood parks.

Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. “P-Patch Program,” 2008.

  • Details the P-Patch Program as a part of community gardening.

City of Cleveland. "Part Three-Zoning Code Title VII-Zoning Code Chapter 336 – Urban Garden District", December 31, 2007

  • Describes the zoning codes for urban gardens.

Community Food Security in California. “Weaving the Food Web”. Excerpt. “Farm Fresh Salad Bars Give Students a Healthy Choice in Santa Monica Schools,” 2002.

  • An excerpt article detailing how a salad bar from a local farm benefited the students in Santa Monica Schools.

Philadelphia Green. “City Harvest: More Than Just Food” The Pennsylvania Horticulture Society, 2007.

  • Details the many benefits of city gardens.

Gateway Greening. “City Seeds

  • Details an organization dedicated to aid the economic well-being of its community residents and its hand in creating urban gardens.

Connelly, Phoebe and Chelsea Ross. “Farming the Concrete Jungle” In These Times, August 24, 2007.

  • Includes examples of gardens in urban areas and legislation protecting such projects.

Kummer, Corby. “A Papaya Grows in Holyoke” The Atlantic Online, April 2008.

  • Describes how a simple urban garden not only added a food source, but also brought new life to a crime ridden and highly unemployed city.

Cornes, Saskia. “A Farm Grows in Brooklynedible Brooklyn, Spring 2008.

  • Describes a neighborhood farm in Brooklyn and how and community can achieve the same.


Will Allen is a former Professional basketball player in the American Basketball Association and European Professional League, the first African American basketball player at the University of Miami, Florida, and also a farmer and community activist, dedicated to supporting low-income and small family farmers and bringing healthy, affordable food to urban areas. Will  is the founder and president of the Rainbow Farmer’s Cooperative. One of the only African American farmers in the State of Wisconsin, Allen has struggled vigorously to alleviate the plight of the small family farmer.  He works a 100-acre farm in Oak Creek, WI and is responsible for organizing most of the farmers markets in Milwaukee. Will is also the CEO of Growing Power, a national not for profit organization supporting the development of community food systems. He has over fifty years experience in farming, marketing and distributing food and has shared this knowledge with youth, adults, community groups, immigrants, farmers, and consumers.

Will has developed an innovative bio-intensive growing system using worms.  This system is being used in urban and rural agriculture projects around the world. He has also developed a system to grow food in the winter without conventional heating system. Growing Power’s Community Food Center in Milwaukee, WI is considered a model for communities worldwide. Will believes that food is the cornerstone in building healthy communities and that we have a responsibility to pass on our knowledge to youth and adults about food for future sustainable food systems. Will is also leading the effort to vertically integrate our youth into healthy eating habits to end juvenile obesity. Will is putting Growing Power in a position to become energy self-sufficient by installing solar and a high solid Methane producing Anaerobic Digester. Will was recently honored by the Ford Foundations Leadership for changing world Award and is a featured speaker on Food Systems worldwide.

Stella Chao is the Director of the Department of Neighborhoods for the City of Seattle. She enjoys working in this Department because “Neighborhoods is where it all happens, where it all comes together. It is the Department that allows us to look holistically at the health and well-being of our City and its residents.”

She brings a varied experience to the Department of Neighborhoods, most recently being the Executive Director for the International District Housing Alliance, where she developed housing and community building programs, including housing search and stabilization, homeownership, domestic violence shelter and transitional housing, environmental justice, and effective, multicultural community engagement.  Previously, her varied background ranged from ecology, animal behavior, and medical research, to youth development and international community development.  Stella studied Ecology and Evolution at the State University of Stony Brook, has a Masters in Social Work from the University of Washington, and completed a Fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Community Fellows Program in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning.

Over the years, her work in numerous coalitions and committees has been to develop policies that increase cultural competency, equity, and justice for disadvantaged populations. Her goal will always be to promote community engagement and build healthy communities.

Joan Reilly serves as a Senior Director at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, overseeing its nationally recognized urban greening program, Philadelphia Green. Joan co-leads the work of Philadelphia Green in utilizing horticulture to build community and improve the quality of life in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods and downtown public spaces. Program areas include community gardens and food production, parks revitalization, public landscapes, , urban tree canopy restoration, vacant land management, stormwater management projects, and open space planning. Joan leads these key urban greening strategies working in partnership with community-based organizations, local residents, civic organizations, the City of Philadelphia, and state and federal agencies using open space revitalization and greening as a community-building tool.

Joan has played a leading role in the development of a 15-year partnership among the Philadelphia Department of Recreation, Fairmount Park, community groups and Philadelphia Green to revitalize neighborhood parks in the city and create systems change in stewardship practices. The partnership referred to as the Parks Revitalization Project is recognized nationally as a model for private/public partnership. In the past few years, this partnership was recognized for its innovation by the Project for Public Spaces, Urban Parks Institute and the Pennsylvania Recreation and Parks Society.

Larry Johnson has been managing the Dane County Farmer’s Market for six years. He has a long history of involvement with agriculture and has been a vendor at many a market in Wisconsin and Minnesota, selling fresh cut flowers. Larry has long history of managing organizations and projects and his previous career was as a groundwater consultant. He grew up on a farm, which his brother still runs, and his sister raises bison. Larry moved to Madison to be near his kids and grandkids.

Bob Gragson is the Executive Director of Friends of Troy Gardens, a unique development integrating people and nature in Madison, Wisconsin. His previous work includes directing the Solar Living Institute in California and serving as president or director of United Way operations in Ohio, New Mexico and Washington. Bob is a graduate of Furman University and holds an MBA from Walden University.

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