Recommendations for Urban Agriculture and Community Gardening During COVID-19

Recommendations for Urban Agriculture and Community Gardening During COVID-19

Resources and recommendations for those growing food for themselves, their neighbors or others. 

This document was compiled by leaders from Soil Generation, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, Neighborhood Gardens Trust, the Garden Justice Legal initiative, and others with experience supporting urban agriculture in Philadelphia. Please use and share these resources with any gardeners and farmers you know in Philadelphia. 

Updates from Philadelphia City Government

  • Get COVID-19 updates sent to your phone – text COVIDPHL 888-777 to recieve free text alerts from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.
  • On Wednesday, March 22, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation clarified that gardens are life-sustaining businesses and may operate the current emergency, when non-essential businesses are closed.
  • To clarify the use of gardens as essential services, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation developed guidelines for gardens on parkland. Any garden that is not implementing safe protocols can be closed by the department. Read their guidance for gardeners here.
  • If you run a garden or farm with employees, you should provide employees with letters certifying that they are working as employees of an essential business that they can carry with them on their way to and from work and while working at the garden. Use the following template to draft a letter for your employees.
  • What does this mean for community gardens? Gardens should use their own discretion about operating during the shelter-in-place but abide about regulations maximizing social distancing and reducing risks.

Guidance from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture issued new guidance and recommendations for community gardeners on April 17. The guidance recognizes these gardens as critical to Pennsylvania’s local food systems. “May of these gardens fill a void and address food deserts.”

The Dept. of Agriculture recommends that gardeners wear cloth masks while working, and asks garden leadership to clearly communicate all new safety procedures. Read the full guidance here

Recommendations for Community Gardens 

  • Continue growing food! Now more than ever we should be practicing local self-reliance and grow food for ourselves and the community. 


  • If you have a garden meeting scheduled, do it by phone or web conferencing or simply post-pone.  Gardens can easily open a free account with services like Zoom which can host up to 100 participants but limited to 40 minutes.  If your site doesn’t have access to these technologies or needs help, let us know and we can gladly guide you or offer our support / conferencing services.
  • Leverage other tech services like WhatsApp to spread awareness in appropriate languages to your clients, gardeners, etc.

Cleaning and Disinfecting

  •  Exercise an abundance of caution in the garden and follow these guidelines recommended by the CDC:
    1. Wear gloves and disinfect high-touch spots.
    2. Maintain social distance of six feet or more from others.
    3. Be mindful of frequently touched spots like gates, locks, water spigots, tools
    4. Plan a day to disinfect!  Use diluted household bleach solutions, alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol or other EPA-approved products. Viruses can be relatively long-lasting in the environment and have the potential to be transferred via food or food contact surface
    5. Have hand sanitizer and soap readily available in the garden. Create a sanitizing station in the garden. If hand sanitizer isn’t readily available, consider making your own.
  •  Limit sharing.  Consider bringing your own tools for the time being as well as posting signs in the garden for people to a) wear gloves and b) always sanitize equipment after use.
  • This is a given, but thoroughly wash all produce you harvest from the garden!  

Social Distancing

  • We understand it isn’t our nature, but restrict large gatherings at the garden.  There is no reason people should be holding a party or barbecue at this time even if the weather feels right.
  • Consider reducing risks for at-risk gardeners such as old gardeners, immune-compromised, etc. 
  • Close your garden to the public. Limit garden access to only members of the garden.
  • If possible, avoid public transportation to get to your garden.  We know travel can be an issue for some but consider alternatives like a bike, carpooling or something else. 
  • Stagger participation.  This is more difficult, but if possible, consider how to stagger the involvement of folks in the garden to ensure managing social distancing. The City has told gardens that fall in the Parks and Recreation system to have no more than 5 people in a garden at once. Recognizing that gardens vary in size, layout, and use, consider the following recommendations for staggering.
    1. Set up a crop watering schedule – maybe assign gardeners to water the entire garden to limit the number of active people in the space. Consider no more than 4 or 5 people in a confined area.
    2. Create a schedule or slots for when people can come to the garden recognizing that there should be no more people than there is space to effectively execute appropriate social distancing. 
    3. Limit the number of people in the garden at any one time to not exceed 20% of the number of garden beds.

0-10 garden beds = 2 people in the garden at a time.

11-20 garden beds = 4 people in the garden at a time

21 – 30 garden beds = 6 people in a garden at a time

31 – 40 garden beds = 8 people in the garden at a time

 Recommendations for Farm Stands & Farmers Markets

 If you plan to sell or distribute food, consider the following or see PA Dept of Ag recommendations:

  • Separation of duties – cash / card person separate from food person.
  • Minimize processing – no sampling
  • Sanitation of equipment
  • Provide ample hand sanitizer, disinfectant, wipes for skin and surface and wash stations.
  •  Glove etiquette!  Do not reuse gloves after touching high-risk surfaces.
  • Consider alternative delivery or customer spacing
  • Reinforce health benefits of fruits and vegetables

Recommendations for Market Farms and Community Farming Organizations

 Read this guide to on-farm food safety from Community Alliance with Family Farmers.

Read “You, COVID, and Your Farm Business,” from Growing Farmers

If you are interested in learning how to ship products from your farm, GrazeCart is opening their Perishable Shipping Course for 60 days at no charge to fellow farmers. This free access does not include live coaching calls or setup packages.

Resources for starting CSAs and other food delivery services

The following is a list of food delivery services and related software that work with farmers. If growers are interested in collaborating on group ordering, CSAs, or food hubs to serve their community and consumers with fresh food delivery, these may be useful tools. This list is also useful if you are looking to order deliveries of local produce. 


Local Food Marketplace




Market 2Day


Farmers to You

LocalHarvest (to CSAs in your area)

Additional Resources

For additional information both local and beyond:

Organizations that Can Help

For further questions, feel free to reach out to the following local organizations who may be of assistance.

This document is meant to be a living document of resources and recommendations for those growing food for themselves, their neighbors or others. If you would like to add a resource to this page, or if you see something on this page that appears to be inaccurate, please contact Jonathan McJunkin.

More resources for securing access or ownership of land for your garden or farm

Insurance for Gardens in Philadelphia

Like any business or organization, running a garden or farm creates some risk. Find out what you need to know about insurance and liability to protect yourself, your organization and your garden.

How to Obtain Land Through Adverse Possession

Gaining land ownership through adverse possession in Philadelphia requires a 21 year statutory period before you can obtain the title to the land or property.

Philadelphia Building Codes and Permits

Here’s how to follow Philadelphia building code when building a shed or other structure on your community garden or farm.

Philadelphia Stormwater Charge: Community Garden Discount

Here’s how you can get a discount on your Philadelphia stormwater bill for your community garden.

Make a Land Use Contract with Private Landowner

If vacant land you would like to use as green space is currently owned by a private landowner, you can often make an agreement with them to use the land. Here’s how.

About Neighborhood Gardens Trust

The Neighborhood Gardens Trust is a crucial resource for the preservation of gardens and community green space, providing a trust for public land in Philadelphia.

Conservatorship of Vacant Properties

Conservatorship is a helpful tool to obtain the rights to manage a property in order to return it to productive use and into compliance with code.

A Guide to Sheriff Sale in Philadelphia for Community Gardeners

Sheriff’s sales are an important tool for acquiring ownership where a property is burdened with unpaid debt.

Get Permission to Use the Land From the City of Philadelphia

Learn more about how to license, lease, and purchase land from the City of Philadelphia and its various agencies.

Gardening Without Ownership

You don’t need to own vacant land to establish a community garden or green space in Philadelphia, but gardening without ownership comes with risks. Find out how to get started.

Growing Food in Philadelphia

Urban agriculture is recognized as a valid use of land in Philadelphia under the zoning code. Find out what you need to know about zoning in Philadelphia.

Licenses, Permits, and Regulations

If you plan to sell food produced in your farm or garden–especially prepared foods–you should be aware of Philadelphia laws about food safety & preparation.

Water For Your Garden

There are several options in Philadelphia for providing water to gardens and urban farms.

Liens and Debt

Unpaid debt from a previous owner can stand in the way of using a vacant lot for a community space–here’s how to find out if a vacant lot has debt, and what to do.

Employment and Labor Law

If you are looking to hire workers or have volunteers in your community garden or urban farm, you need to comply with state and local labor laws.