Through the years the North Philly Peace Park has been home to hundreds of volunteers, residents and visitors; help to create a thriving vegetable and perennial garden, earthship classroom ( a sustainably designed building created from reused materials), and small food forest. This past summer they hosted the first community-run Urban County Fair where over 300 people came to participate in workshops, listen to local musicians, lend their voices to the urban agricultural scene is Philadelphia and build relationships in the community. This is truly a community-driven project! From the intergenerational relationships being built to the collaboration of people from different cultural backgrounds, learning and growing is happening here.
Written by Aaron Marks
Two new Acts signed into law by Governor Corbett on October 22nd have made it easier – and cheaper – to cultivate land in your community.
If you’ve ever built greenhouse, hoop house, or high tunnel to protect your produce, then you may know what a pain and cost it is to acquire signed and sealed plans by a “registered design professional” (engineer, architect, etc.) necessary to secure all the necessary zoning and building permits.
Act 159 makes the process of building protective structures simpler and more affordable. Under the old law, agricultural buildings were exempt from the requirements of the Uniform Construction Code and, thus, exempt from Philadelphia’s building code. Act 159 expands the definition of agricultural buildings to include buildings used to “grow . . . agricultural or horticultural products, like greenhouses, hoop houses, and high tunnels. Thus, the Act lets you erect these protective structures without obtaining a building permit.
You may still need a zoning permit, but a zoning permit is an easier and less expensive process than obtaining a building permit, in part because you can draw up the plans yourself. You do not need an architect or engineer to do it.
The other important change in law, Act 157, is all about gaining access to privately owned and abandoned land through a conservatorship. What is a conservatorship? In short, it’s a way for people, businesses, or organizations to assume control of a vacant, abandoned property in their neighborhood and develop it for the benefit of the community.
Until now, you could only attain conservatorship of properties with buildings on them. Now, any property that ever had a building (even if it’s been demolished) is fair game. This means that almost any vacant property that meets certain conditions (e.g. its appearance negatively affects the economic well-being of the community, the owner isn’t actively selling it,) can, through a court petition, be secured and transformed into a community garden – legally.
The Act also expands the distance an individual or organization can legally be from a property over which they can attain conservatorship. Now, instead of one mile, people, businesses, and organizations can petition for conservatorship of lots up to five miles away. This might be both a negative and positive amendment as the expansion of these boundaries empowers people to maintain and develop land in their greater community, but also requires less of a close geographical connection to a particular parcel.
As an added bonus, Act 157 also lets you assume conservatorship of adjacent properties owned by the same negligent owner. This means if there are several adjacent abandoned properties in your community, you can get conservatorship of them all with a single court petition.
These two Acts are victories for growers in Philadelphia and across the Commonwealth. To learn more details about conservatorship, including a detailed how-to guide check out our Pathways page at this link.
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:
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.
Eastwick Friend and Neighbors Coalition at the People's Climate March
At the front of the march, a vibrant banner tied the experiences of these groups together, “Frontlines of the crisis, Forefront of change.” Each intersection between economic, racial, and climate justice holds a different piece of our movement puzzle. Seeing labor and education organizing as climate justice work builds toward the visionary and broad movement we need.
An article by Kate McCleary, Senior Project Coordinator at Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future
What do you see here? A vacant lot? Neighborhood blight? Unfulfilled ambitions? Or do you see untapped potential, a plot rich in opportunity? Perhaps a glint of promise for a community camouflaged by trash and overgrown weeds? If your vision involved growing food as a productive way to use these vacant plots of city land, you are not alone.
Being a part of the food justice movement means that the issue of a socially just and ecologically sound, local economy are important to you. What are some other important factors to consider? Or questions to ask? Does everyone have purpose, is valued, feels safe, cared for, included and has their needs met? Should you get out of your comfort zone- pledge to get to know, and/or go out where there are people other than those in your particular cultural groups? You could be handsomely rewarded with a multi-cultural friend base.
Check out the HomeGrown Music Festival Theme Song...
And read on to hear all about what gardens and bands will be a part of this momentous event!!
If you have not heard already, University City High School has been sold. The only thing is...what will happen to the garden? Many community residents, teachers, students and volunteers helped to make that a special space. There is a campaign right now to help save this garden. Click below to read the sentiments of Martin Galvin, a former teacher at UCHS...
The saga of Urban Renewal in one of Philadelphia's oldest multi-cultural neighborhoods, Eastwick, still continues. In the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, Vol. 49, Amy Laura Cahn eloquently presents the history, circumstances and current status of this communities struggle in the face of environmental injustice and political power.