When Tatiana Garcia-Granados bought a fixer-upper in Philadelphia's Strawberry Mansion neighborhood in 2002, she fell in love with the area's historic homes, colorful murals and tight-knit family feel.
Less appealing was the state of decay that the neighborhood — once home to jazz musician John Coltrane — had fallen into. Not only was there crime and a lack of decent housing, but Strawberry Mansion had become unhealthy: Its residents, many of whom are working-class African-Americans and Latinos, suffered from diet-related diseases. The culprit? Lack of access to healthful food. The corner shops were more likely stocked with processed packaged food than fresh fruits and vegetables.
Garcia-Granados, who was just finishing up her MBA at University of Pennsylvania's elite Wharton School, decided to investigate the problem. "We're relying so much on markets," she says. "But when you have pockets of either low density or high poverty, there's no incentive for people to create supermarkets" — think Whole Foods or Trader Joe's — "or other interventions that would get healthy food into the communities."
What frustrated her was the knowledge that just outside Philly, in Pennsylvania's rolling countryside, family farms were producing beautiful, nutritious, organic produce. Yet those farmers were struggling and on the brink of disappearance themselves. "Our agricultural system has just become bigger and bigger," she says. "It's cheaper to get a truckload of food from California than it is to get a pallet from Upstate New York to New York City. It doesn't make any sense."