In a report written by Charlotte Prové of the Institution for Agriculture and Fisheries Research, Amy Laura Cahn, an attorney with the Public Interest Law Center, has been cited as one of the pioneers in the fight for environmental justice in the city, where issues such as zoning codes are preventing the development of urban agriculture.
Agriculture is Pennsylvania’s number one industry; almost one third of the land is farmland. Moreover, throughout the past few decades there has been an increase in agricultural activity in urban settings. The production and consumption of locally grown foods has become a phenomenon in Philadelphia, and stakeholders such as farmers markets and cooperatives are driving the movement. Despite these efforts to create a more agriculturally friendly city, there are still many legal and social barriers preventing the transformation.
Philadelphia, one of the poorest cities in the country, is home to over 40,000 vacant lots where efforts to add community gardens are often shot down to allocate space for projects that would produce larger revenue. Furthermore, existing community gardens and farms are being discontinued to make room for such projects.
Ms. Cahn, a strong and notable advocate in defending the legal status of urban gardens, joined the Philadelphia attorney scene to defend environmental justice, and has fought several land access and land tenure issues that prevent urban garden development.
According to Ms. Cahn, “one of the roles that the Public Interest Law Center plays really well is one of the convener,” and with the coalition of organizations Ms. Cahn and the Public Interest Law Center have created, they have managed to bring the issue under the media scope and engage stakeholders and the public about the legal issues of urban agriculture funding and development. According to Prové, “the focus of the Public Interest Law Center on these issues is exceptional.”
The combined efforts of the Public Interest Law Center and other organizations to promote urban agriculture have produced several outcomes. An increase in urban farming would help address the problems of vacant lots, poverty, food insecurity, justice within the food system and access to food and resources for the impoverished.
There are, however, social issues and questions raised. For example, while promoting urban agriculture and healthy food is a good thing, there are concerns about whether or not a career in farming can produce a viable income. Another concern is whether or not the agricultural goals of a specific community and those of the city are in alignment.
While there are many obstacles, both socially and legally, that must be overcome to create a feasible and sustainable urban agricultural system, the Public Interest Law Center’s focus and dedication to tackling the issue has increased public awareness and understanding of the latest trend to effect the urban environment.