City Officials are “DIGGING IN” to Urban Agriculture in Philly

This year urban and community agriculture, here in Philadelphia has had some significant wins, of which the Garden Justice Legal Initiative and Soil Generation has been instrumental in forwarding. According to our records at the Public Interest Law Center here are some of the changes that are helping city officials to understand the positive impacts of community gardening and farming on the city.

Along with the Food Policy Council (FPAC), GJLI and SG helped to improve city policies regarding soil safety. As many gardens and farms are developed on post-industrial or trash strewn sites, we helped develop soil safety recommendations and we are now discussing with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture how these recommendations might be implemented state-wide.

At the request of City Council members, a resolution was drafted calling for city-wide hearings on urban agriculture. These resolutions were later passed by City Council and this fall we will help convene these hearings and organize Soil Generation members and other gardeners and farmers to provide testimony. GET INVOLVED, WE NEED YOUR VOICES THERE!! There was also an historic meeting between the PA Secretary of Agriculture and more than 40 Philadelphia gardeners and farmers this past spring.

In a major victory for gardens and farms, after four years of advocacy, a bill went forward that exempts gardens and farms from paying storm water fees and eliminates any debt related to storm water bills on garden and farm parcels. These fees or debt can amount to thousands of dollars that many neighborhood gardens cannot afford to pay. We worked with Soil Generation and garden leaders to testify before City Council about the importance of this bill, which is expected to be adopted on in the near future.

We have perhaps achieved the most progress when it comes to improving city policies. Our work to shape the Land Bank proved fruitful just this past month. In December 2015, the Land Bank became active when four city council members “deposited” more than 800 parcels of vacant land into the bank. The Land Bank is currently working to implement a pilot project to acquire long-abandoned tax delinquent parcels for productive reuse. We have been instrumental in ensuring that garden, farm, and open space parcels are part of that pilot. Just this month, we saw our progress in action when the Land Bank started moving towards acquisition of at least one privately owned tax delinquent garden parcel, which has been stewarded by community members for decades.

Garden Justice Legal Initiative and Soil Generation trained 26 people in the city’s first Training of Trainers around land access for urban agriculture and look forward to training many more in the year to come.

This fall there will be Urban Agricultural Hearing with City Council and we will need all of your voices to tell the story of urban and community ag in your neighborhood. Look for more messages from us as the summer unfolds to see how you can get involved.