How a local organization supports community gardens
“In 2003, the neighbors came home to see a large ‘For Sale’ sign on the garden fence,” said Tracy Levesque. “We immediately acted to save him. It was a four-year process and on July 11, 2007, the Garden Manager became a member of the Neighborhood Gardens Land Trust.
Levesque was a member of Bodine Street Garden (BSG) since 1999 and now manages the BSG website and waiting lists. It is also the main contact between the garden and Trust of neighborhood gardens (NGT), a nonprofit organization that works to acquire and preserve community gardens and green spaces around Philadelphia.
BSG became one of NGT’s partners in 2003 after threats of land conquest by promoters.
Jennifer Greenberg is the Executive Director of Neighborhood Gardens Trust.
“We are a land conservation organization,” Greenberg said. “In particular, we are working to ensure that community gardens have secure access to their land so that they are not lost in development activities. We really want to improve the quality of life in the neighborhoods of Philadelphia.
When these green spaces start to experience financial or environmental difficulties, they often turn to NGT for help. NGT takes the land in its hands and helps restore the green space.
“We work with gardens that are already established and cultivate the land but lack secure tenure,” Greenberg said. “We have an admissions process to determine if they are ideally suited for long-term preservation with us.”
Once the NGT has established a relationship with its partners, it helps them in any way to ensure that their lands are not taken away.
“We are funding some improvements to the garden like maybe putting in a new water pipe or a new raised bed,” Greenberg said.
For over six years Greenberg has worked for NGT, she has had the opportunity to see the organization working with and preserving many gardens and green spaces around the city.
“Since I started we have been able to preserve about 20 gardens,” said Greenberg. “There are 20 gardens in the city which were in danger for their future. Now they have peace of mind because they know NGT has their land in a safe place.”
Bel Arbor Community Garden is another partner of NGT. Carla Puppin is the president as well as one of the founding members of Bel Arbor. In addition, she is also chairman of the board of NGT and is one of the representatives of the garden.
It was 1995 when she and her husband rallied the neighbors to start a community garden. Eventually, they obtained permission to use a vacant lot and made an agreement with the owner to use the land for five years for gardening. The group ended up asking NGT to hold the lease.
“Following a series of fortuitous events, the owner donated the land to NGT in December 1999,” Puppin said. “Thus, the land is preserved in perpetuity as a gardening space.”
In total, the NGT has preserved 49 gardens around Philadelphia, but Greenberg is still looking to bring more gardens into the trust.
“At the same time, we have to follow the gardens that we have already preserved, to make sure that they are safe and that all is well.”
Even thanks to COVID-19, NGT has helped the gardens survive.
“Last year most of the plots were well maintained and provided a safe outdoor activity,” said Levesque. “Since we’re a small garden, social distancing hasn’t been a big deal. We had to put a pause on the events, but hopefully as we get herd immunity we may have events again. “
With the continued growth of Philadelphia, more and more space is being developed. Small green spaces run the risk of being evicted due to real estate projects.
“You know the real question is whether we can bring some of the other gardens that we know are threatened under our protection before they are lost to development?” Said Greenberg. “I hope so, because we’re pretty good at what we do. But there is a lot of pressure in the real estate market, especially in some neighborhoods, which creates a feeling of pressure.”
Having a garden in a city can be difficult, but securing and preserving shared green spaces can be beneficial in more than one way.
“A lot of gardens create compost, and a lot of them are very conscious of planting pollinators, which is good because we’re losing our bee population,” Greenberg said. “They are therefore good for the city’s urban biodiversity.”
Puppin also finds it rewarding to take care of a community garden.
“The garden has so many positive benefits,” Puppin said. “First of all, on an individual level, it gives people the opportunity to grow their own vegetables, herbs and flowers. There is such satisfaction and pleasure in nurturing and watering a seed or plant in a mature plant that will yield tomatoes, peppers, green vegetables, etc. that you can harvest and eat. “
The establishment of green spaces also helps to fight against environmental problems by absorbing excessive heat from buildings and loose concrete.
“Vegetation helps cool the urban environment, which combats climate change and what’s called the urban heat island effect, which is very important,” Greenberg said. “It is cooler near a community garden than in an area without green space.”
Puppin also explained how garden spaces benefit the ecosystem due to common areas with native trees, bushes, fruit trees, and vegetation.
“These areas provide habitat and food for creatures other than humans,” she said. “There are all kinds of insects, including dragonflies, bees, birds, garden snakes, bats, even the occasional hawk or opossum. In that sense, the garden is a mini ecosystem. . “
Even water filtration is affected by green spaces.
“Another environmental benefit is the stormwater that falls into a garden,” Greenberg said. “It works as an aquifer recharge rather than an urban runoff that pollutes our waterways. All of these green spaces in the city are making a difference.”
The gardens also help many people bring food to inner city areas that may have difficulty in food deserts.
“Food is a big plus, and it’s a safe place to be outside and be active,” Greenberg said. “Our biggest garden is on 18th and Glenwood, and it’s almost four acres. They have huge plots, and the people there really know how to grow and produce a lot of produce to give to families.”
Many point to the benefits of community gardening that have nothing to do with food. Puppin explained how community green spaces bring people together and teach neighbors about gardening.
“In a community garden, you get to know other people in the neighborhood in a unique way – through gardening,” Puppin said. “More experienced gardeners share their gardening knowledge with those new to gardening and we all share our stories of what went well and what went wrong.
Levesque also knows how his garden has helped strengthen community bonds and made people more familiar.
“When I started gardening in 1999, more than half of the garden was unoccupied,” said Levesque. “But as more and more people joined in, the garden became a social hub for the neighborhood. Children and adults in the neighborhood, whether they had land or not, hung out and met, which helped the neighbors get to know each other ”.
All of these aspects are linked to make NGT a non-profit organization with mutually beneficial relationships.
“I don’t think you can sort of rank the importance of these aspects, they’re just super good for the city,” Greenberg said. “Even some of the tiny spaces, like single-family apartments and maybe flower gardens, but they’re still significant. And they improve people’s quality of life and morale.
Going forward, Greenberg hopes to continue helping NGT secure green spaces that need assistance.
“Because we own the land, as long as we’re up and running they will be up and running,” Greenberg said. “Our goal is to make sure they don’t waste their space. I am convinced that the gardens we have preserved will continue to do well.
This sense of security is reassuring for those who maintain and maintain community gardens. Puppin and Levesque both feel in good hands with NGT and have many years of community gardening to look forward to.
“Because the garden is preserved by NGT, for the future it will always be there,” Puppin said. “Some gardeners will have changed, the bushes and trees will be a little bigger, but the activities will be much the same. Every year, grow vegetables and plants, and continue to maintain the common areas.”
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This story was originally posted by PhiladelphiaNequarthoods.com.