Gardening for the Greater Good

For October 3, 2018 

The neighborhood is called Hunting Park, evoking images of green lawns and shady boughs. But the North Philadelphia community has one of the lowest percentages of tree canopy in the city, making it one of the hottest places to live and contributing to childhood asthma and other health issues.

“Planting trees is one of the best ways to ameliorate the problem long-term,” says Gabriella Paez, education coordinator at Esperanza, the Hispanic community development organization.

This year, PHS partnered with Esperanza to launch a Tree Tenders group in Hunting Park and offered the program’s first bilingual training for the community which is 60 percent Hispanic “Language tends to be a big barrier in getting access to resources,” explains Paez, who provided translation for the written and classroom instruction.

Twenty-two residents graduated from the training, and the new volunteers planted 15 trees in April. They will add another 45 street trees in November.

The young trees are already making an impact on the residents, who have added window boxes and other plantings around their homes and are spending more time outdoors with their neighbors. “The blocks look nicer, cleaner, and it just feels different. People say, ‘I love walking down this block now,’” Paez says. “People are feeling better about where they live. It’s literally transforming the neighborhood.”

In five years, the Tree Tenders will have planted hundreds of trees, Paez adds, and “20 years down the road they will give plenty of shade. We really will have a green Hunting Park.”


Members of the first bilingual Tree Tenders training for the Hunting Park community celebrate with Tree Tenders program manager Mindy Maslin (seated center, red shirt) and Esperanza education coordinator Gabriella Paez (blue and black shirt).

Two young residents of Hunting Park participate in the Tree Tenders planting in their neighborhood.

Posted on September 5, 2018

Beth Bowman has been a community gardener at Benjamin Rush Community Garden in upper Northeast Philadelphia for 15 years. As a member and treasurer of the garden, as well as a volunteer grower for PHS City Harvest, Bowman finds satisfaction in knowing “we’re doing something good that matters. We’re growing and harvesting vegetables for neighbors in need.” She has been both intrigued and delighted by her community and its diverse group of gardeners.

Originally from the Philippines, where she grew up on a farm, Bowman describes gardening as “very therapeutic – it’s a passion you can’t quantify.”

Bowman loves the community effort in the garden. “You meet people you would not meet otherwise. You gather in the garden with the same goal and passion, and you share your experience,” she says.

One of the most rewarding parts of her experience in the community garden is the people she has met from different countries. “I watch what they do and ask questions. Immigrants grow what’s indigenous to where they come from; it’s part of their culture and how they grew up,” she says.

This year, a couple from Cameroon brought in some special greens. “I kept asking them, what do you do with them? They said it’s greens, like spinach. They kept harvesting them, bringing home whole bunches of it,” explains Bowman. She inquired how they get seeds if they keep harvesting, and learned that in their country, they do four harvests, and the fifth time they leave the plants for seeds. “My priority is that I get seeds first, then I harvest, but theirs is very different,” she says.  

The same family did not want any sweet peppers when they were given out, describing them as bland. “They prefer growing hot peppers to make relish,” says Bowman. “I was fascinated!”

Two awesome gardeners, a couple from Turkey, keep two 30-by-60-foot plots. One plot consists entirely of potatoes, the other vegetables. Bowman learned that the couple eats potatoes every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In Eastern Europe, potatoes are a staple because they grow in the cold and some families don’t have the money for bread and pasta.

Bowman is hopeful new members will join the Benjamin Rush community garden and enjoy the camaraderie, as well as give back to PHS City Harvest. “It’s what we want to do,” she says. Learn more about PHS City Harvest here.

Beth Bowman is a community gardener at Benjamin Rush Community Garden.