‘We’re here to start a conversation’: Philly gardeners talk land security with Cherelle Parker ahead of election

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Philadelphia community gardeners want the city’s next mayor to help them secure access to the land they steward.

A group of gardeners and advocates met with Democratic mayoral candidate Cherelle Parker at the Las Parcelas Community Garden in North Philly Tuesday to discuss the forces they say threaten community gardens in neighborhoods throughout the city.

“With the help of politicians, the new mayor, those things hopefully will be corrected,” said Elizabeth Waring, manager of the Holly Street Neighbors Community Garden in West Philadelphia, which operates on land that’s not entirely owned by the gardeners. “The threat is still there of losing that garden space … But fortunately we are going to keep going with the hope that all of these issues concerning the green spaces and gardens will be … turned around.”

Democratic mayoral candidate Cherelle Parker listens to gardeners and advocates ahead of the general election. (Sophia Schmidt/WHYY)

Fewer than half of the city’s community gardens are considered secure, meaning they’re owned entirely by the people who steward them or an organization these gardeners trust to preserve the land long term, according to the Urban Agriculture Plan the city released earlier this year.

The group of gardeners and advocates who met with Parker Tuesday hopes to meet with Republican mayoral candidate David Oh as well, said Public Interest Law Center Environmental Justice Organizer Ryan Gittler-Muñiz.

Gardeners cite development pressure as a threat to many vacant lots where food is grown. In 2020, planners, farmers, and organizers estimated that one in three of Philly’s farms and gardens were in areas of the city with a high intensity of new construction. 

Mara Henao, an organizer with the César Andreu Iglesias Community Garden in North Philly, told Parker Tuesday that “rampant” development has created a crisis not only for gardens, but for people who steward vacant side yards as recreational space.

“How about all the little side yards and people who don’t have the access to the resources to become an LLC or whatever — what happens to their culture, to their labor that they have put on these little yards for the past 30 years?” she said. “This is part of Philadelphia culture.”

Parker affirmed the importance of gardens and preserved greenspace in the city.

“I see you,” she told the gardeners and advocates. “I hear you. I know the work that you’re doing. I know what’s important to you.”

Plants grow at Las Parcelas Community Garden in North Philly. (Sophia Schmidt/WHYY)

This year gardeners and organizers successfully pushed the city to buy back close to 100 liens on lots used as community gardens — mainly in West, Southwest, and North Philly — which had been sold to a private lien-holder more than two decades ago. Gardeners cheered the buyback, because it meant the city regained control over whether and when the properties go to the sheriff’s sale. But Gittler-Muñiz, of the Public Interest Law Center, said the path for transferring the properties to gardeners is still being worked out.

  • November 1, 2023
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