Haile Johnston
Common Market/East Park Revitalization Alliance
Philadelphia, PA
“We teach kids business skills and how to eat well, while giving them opportunities to make money.”

Food has become a symbol for healthful choices in Haile Johnston’s Philadelphia neighborhood. This is a big change from how it used to be when good food was limited.

Through the East Park Revitalization Alliance, Johnston spent his early career days turning vacant lots into gardens and parks. But he knew more had to be done.

“After becoming aware of the health disparities in our neighborhood, we knew we had to find a way to provide access to healthful food from the farm to the table,” he said.

From the ground up, Johnston cofounded and built Common Market in 2008. It is a nonprofit food distributor that brings fresh food from regional farms to neighborhoods, schools, community groups, grocers and hospitals between New York and Baltimore.

Because there were few examples of similar regional programs, it was hard for Common Market to attract funding in its early days. Most recently, however, it was awarded a $300,000 grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture through the Community Food Project. “We are now seen as a leader. There is a national movement around creating regional food sources,” said Johnston.

Common Market enjoys partnering with organizations that share similar values such as the farm-to-school movement. In five years, more than 100 schools in the Philadelphia region have been served with healthful food options.

Teens involved in the program are learning about food production and entrepreneurship by selling produce they help grow at small farm stands in low-income communities. “Through the alliance, we teach kids business skills and how to eat well, while giving them opportunities to make money,” he said. “Communities hold the power to create solutions within themselves. When they participate in their growth, they are the most sustainable.”

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“creating a new relationship with food”

Sustainable Fact: Urban agriculture benefits both individuals and neighborhoods, and thus contributes to overall community health.*