By Callista Popp
For decades, Neighborhood Gardens Trust (NGT) has been working to acquire and preserve community gardens and other shared open spaces to enhance the quality of life in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods. NGT works with community gardeners in the city of Philadelphia to ensure that community residents can continue to access land that they care for and enjoy the many health benefits of these spaces for years to come. NGT may alternately hold ownership or long-term leases for community gardens so they won’t be lost to sale or development and can be enjoyed in perpetuity by gardeners and neighbors alike.
NGT’s mission of protecting open garden space aligns with PHS’s work and expertise in providing material, organizational, and educational support for community gardens. PHS provides supplies, materials, and training to many of the same community gardens that NGT has worked tirelessly to protect. Executive Director of NGT, Jenny Greenberg, says the organizations work together “hand in glove” and highlights the benefits of PHS and NGT’s combined support of community gardens in the Philadelphia region. She says, “Increasing access to supplies and materials, as well as water access and raised beds, helps community gardeners amplify the benefits that those gardens can provide in terms of food production and the quality, safety, and accessibility of these spaces in their neighborhoods.”
NGT has had some significant achievements in the past year, including permanently preserving the Brewerytown Garden in Philadelphia — the organization’s 50th preserved space! — and raising awareness around policy issues that threaten the future of many community gardens.
Brewerytown Garden at North 27th and Masters Street was NGT’s 50th preserved garden! While some of the garden land was already protected by Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, two parcels were on the market for sale. In order to protect these properties, NGT secured a $125,000 state grant, and the Brewerytown community held an impressive fundraising campaign, raising $40,000 in under 3 weeks to help fund the land purchase. Ultimately, through the amazing work of the community and with support from NGT and the Commonwealth, both lots were purchased and preserved in February 2022.
The successful preservation of this garden had a fantastic impact on the Brewerytown community. This garden has over 80 food-producing vegetable beds, and with so many crops produced, the community hosts a weekly farm stand during the growing season. They also offer fresh produce distribution through a CSA (community-supported agriculture) subscription model. Additionally, the garden offers children’s programming and cultural and educational activities. The garden is a focal point for the community and for educating members about the importance of fresh produce. As Jenny Greenberg says, “The garden has become a community anchor in Brewerytown.”
At a recent celebration of the preservation of the garden, Brewerytown Garden leader, Amanda Bock, shared her relief now that the garden is fully protected. She said, “There were days when many of us who have been concerned about the lots that were not preserved lost sleep over it... The day one of our lots went on the market, we were completely uncertain we would ever see this day. I’m so relieved that this is where we are, and that we don't have a building in the middle of our garden. We know that preserving land in the city is not an easy thing to do…We’re so grateful to have this space to be able to continue to grow together."
NGT also works hard to raise awareness of policy issues that result in the loss of many community gardens in the Philadelphia region. Many community gardens in the city have land that is privately owned by people who abandoned it and stopped paying taxes decades ago. Community gardens with historic tax liens owed to U.S. Bank are at serious risk of being lost at a Sheriff’s sale to real estate speculators or developers. In many cases, these liens prevent NGT from acquiring these gardens for preservation as green space for ongoing use by the community.
This year, NGT has been working with Councilmember Kendra Brooks, Jamie Gauthier, and advocates on a “Community Land” campaign to identify a pathway for the city to acquire these liens and secure the land for community gardens, side yards, and affordable housing. Councilmember Brooks organized a press conference at the Viola Street Community Garden that gathered representatives from NGT, PHS, and other advocates to shine a light on the urgent need to stop the loss of community gardens at public auction. It is exciting that a working group has formed with city council members and other advocates to push the City of Philadelphia towards a solution. It is NGT’s hope that increased awareness of this problem will soon result in an effective resolution.
There are 20 community gardens in the preservation pipeline that NGT is actively working to acquire and permanently preserve in the next two years as they continue to expand protection to many more threatened gardens across the city. A single garden can have multiple land parcels with different owners, so the process is a complicated and lengthy one. Through NGT’s partnership with PHS, more community gardens in the Philadelphia region will receive support and permanent protection so the benefits of these gardens can continue to help improve their communities.