By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia teamed up with urban agricultural groups Saturday for a daylong event that demonstrated how access to locally grown food can lead to healthier communities.

“One of the advantages in local growing is people have greater access to healthy and whole foods,” says Jerome Shabazz. He runs the Overbrook Environmental Education Center at 6130 Lancaster Avenue. The facility has a small orchard, greenhouse and space for a farmers market. They hosted workshops Saturday on composting, gardening and organizing a community garden with the goal of getting neighbors to grow their own food.

“We have 40,000 vacant properties in the city,” he says, “and if those properties were used as open space, you could imagine the capacity that we could grow.”

The Public Interest Law Center co-hosted the event. Their Garden Justice Initiative helps urban growers cut through red tape to get access to land.

“It’s really hard to get legal land access and then once you get the land, it’s really hard to know you can stay there,” says Amy Laura Cahn, staff attorney at Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia.

“Historically, this city and other cities have viewed gardening as interim use,” she says, “but now its really about working to create policies that support these urban growers. It’s about community building. It’s about healthy, affordable, culturally appropriate food access. It’s about leadership.”

“We have to begin to think of urban areas as a place where we can grow our food,” says Shabazz. “It’s not outside of the reach of those in the urban community to get outside and enjoy the outdoors.”

Saturday’s Growing Healthy Communities workshops run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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