On October 15, 2014, East Park Revitalization Alliance Director of Food Access Nicole Sugerman gave compelling testimony about the Land Bank we need to support food justice and equitable development in Philadelphia. See below for a link to the written testimony submitted by the Mayor's Food Policy Advisory Council.
My name is Nicole Sugerman and I have been an urban farmer and food educator for nine years. As the Director of Food Access for the East Park Revitalization Alliance, I tend vegetable gardens and help kids and adults learn to grow food and maintain their own gardens. I work with both the Campaign to Take Back Vacant Land and the Healthy Foods Green Spaces coalition because I am passionate about supporting a diverse, equitable, healthy city.
I find my work worthwhile not only because of the tangible benefits that growing or accessing local food brings to peoples’ lives, including improved health, and money saved on grocery bills, but because of gardens’ incredible ability to build community and bring people together. The community gardeners in the gardens where I work are drawn to gardening for so many different reasons; one woman told me that learning to garden is helping her get through mourning her son’s death; a young mother gardens with her daughter to pass down skills she remembers from her grandmother; one man wants to commemorate his childhood, spent with his parents growing tobacco in the South. The gardens become spaces where people meet new neighbors, learn from each other, and end up working together both in the garden and without. The benefits are both broad and remarkable; peer reviewed studies have found that gardens have been linked to reductions in crime, trash dumping, fires, violent deaths, mental illness, and stress, as well as increases in residents’ perceived feelings of safety, and community civic engagement.
In light of these benefits, I would urge the land bank’s policies to give farmers and gardeners longer-term, secure leases instead of the currently described licenses, which are revocable at any time. A garden or farm takes considerable energy, both physical and emotional, to start and maintain, as well as significant monetary costs. Gardeners need more time and security to fully invest themselves in their projects and communities; this would be more feasible if gardeners and farmers were given leases with longer tenures as gardeners’ demonstrate capacity. I would also like to thank the land bank for prioritizing the preservation of existing gardens in the plan.
I am excited about the land bank as a means to build resilient, diverse communities that meet the needs of their members, including new and existing gardens and farms, affordable, accessible housing, and job creation. While I have confidence in the land bank to support community needs, the strategic plan that we reviewed does not clarify specific ways to implement its equitable development goals. I would like to see a land bank that makes equity, transparency, and accountability real priorities as it operates.
As we move forward, we are excited to support a land bank that is accountable to communities and is transparent in its processes. I appreciate the work that has gone into this legislation and plan.
The East Park Revitalization Alliance is also a member of the new Philadelpia Coalition for Affordable Communities, which is waging a Development without Displacement campaign. This campaign will develop and win passage of funding bills that will provide money to build affordable housing and support community food production. But in order for this campaign to have impact, we need the land bank to give us land for equitable uses, especially in neighborhoods undergoing gentrification. I look forward to working with you as we continue to make land accessible and responsive to community need.