How a Food Justice Fund will help Pittsburgh boost healthy food access

Let's invest $10 million into our food future with the Pittsburgh Food Justice Fund. Share your food story with Pittsburgh City CouncilEarlier this week, the Pittsburgh Recovery Task Force scheduled two public hearings for July 10th and 12th on their plan to distribute an estimated $335 million in federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) relief funds. This is a huge influx of dollars, nearly half the amount the city approved for its Operating and Capital Budgets for 2021.

The announcement and the hearings come just a few weeks after Mayor Peduto released his spending plan for the ARP funds. The task force comprises Peduto’s office, the city’s Office of Management and Budget chief staff, and City Council members Ricky Burgess, Dan Lavelle, and Theresa Kail Smith.

At the first hearing, Sam Applefield, project manager for the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council (PFPC), addressed Pittsburgh City Council. Just Harvest is a leading member of PFPC. Sam’s testimony is below.

~ Just Harvest

For the last three years, I have worked to engage constituents, businesses, and food and farm organizations across Pittsburgh in the development of the Greater Pittsburgh Food Action Plan, our region’s first comprehensive food systems plan. I’d like to share some background on that plan, and explain why the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council is now calling for the creation of a $10 million Food Justice Fund with the American Rescue Plan Act money. 

Starting in 2018, we developed a diverse project team, made up of community leaders, business owners, academic partners, city agencies, urban gardeners, and public health officials. This team met monthly to guide the development of the Plan, which included an immense amount of research, as well as community engagement sessions, online surveys, and stakeholder roundtables. In total, more than 600 people contributed to the development of this Plan, which was released in the fall of 2020 and outlines 150 strategies to strengthen the food system in Allegheny County. 

For many of these strategies, the people, organization, and motivation are all in place. All that is needed is a financial investment. For example, strategy 3.12.2 of the Plan is to develop grants, incentives, and other economic supports from the City and County government for healthy food retail businesses.

Our partners at Just Harvest and Bridgeway Capital are doing great work to advance this strategy, building a network of a dozen corner stores that they have supported to carry and market fresh produce. However, they are limited in the financial support they can provide, and the number of stores they can reach.

There are hundreds of corner stores across the city that could benefit from small-scale investment. Just $15,000, for example, can cover the costs of refrigeration, Point of Sale upgrades, marketing materials, and other needs for stores to carry produce. This investment supports small locally owned businesses, creates a new fresh produce access point for thousands of residents, and creates new market opportunities for small-scale growers.

Similar high-impact investments can be made in farmers markets, community gardens, food business development, and food access programming. We have a plan, developed with years of work and the voices of hundreds of City residents, to guide investments in our local food system.

We need you to recognize the transformative impact this kind of investment can have, and support our local food systems development. That is why we are asking for a $10 million Food Justice Fund, to invest in the critical infrastructure required to put food on the table for all  Pittsburghers. 

Finally, I encourage you to consider not only this fund in the final allocations for the American Rescue Plan, but also the voices and ideas of others who have spoken here today. There is no need to rush to a decision about these funds, so please, slow the process down, and make sure that the people of Pittsburgh who these funds are supposed to support have a voice in saying how they should be used. 


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