Environment: How One Local Organization Supports Community Gardens



“In 2003, neighbors came home to a big For Sale sign on the garden fence,” Tracy Levesque said. “We immediately took action to save him. This process lasted four years, and on July 11, 2007, the garden clerk became part of the Neighborhood Gardens Land Trust. ”

Levesque was a member Garden on Bodine Street (BSG) since 1999 and now operates the BSG website and waitlists. She is also the main contact between the garden and Neighborhood Gardens Trust (NGT), a non-profit organization dedicated to the acquisition and preservation of community gardens and green spaces around Philadelphia.

BSG became one of NGT’s partners back in 2003 after developers threatened to take over their land.

Jennifer Greenberg is the executive director of the Neighborhood Gardens Trust.

“We are a land conservation organization,” Greenberg said. “We pay special attention to ensuring that community gardens have safe access to their land so that they are not lost in the development process. We really want to improve the quality of life in the Philadelphia neighborhoods. ”

When these green spaces start to experience financial hardships or environmental problems, they often turn to NGT for help. NGT is taking the land into its own hands and helping to reactivate green spaces.

“We are working with orchards that are already established and cultivate the land, but have no guaranteed land tenure,” Greenberg said. “We have an admission process to find out if they are suitable for long term storage.”

Once NGT establishes relationships with partners, it helps them in every possible way to ensure that their land is not taken away.

“We are funding certain garden improvements, such as installing a new plumbing or a new garden bed,” Greenberg said.

In over six years at NGT, Greenberg has had the opportunity to see how the organization operates and conserves numerous gardens and green spaces throughout the city.

“Since I started, we have been able to preserve about 20 gardens,” Greenberg said. “There are 20 gardens in the city that used to be under threat to their future. Now they are calm because they know that the NGT is safeguarding their land. “

Bel Arbor Public Garden is another partner of NGT. Karla Puppin is President and Cofounder of Bel Arbor. In addition, she is also the chairman of the board of NGT and one of the representatives of horticulture.

It was back in 1995 when she and her husband gathered neighbors to establish a community garden. They eventually obtained permission to use the vacant lot and entered into an agreement with the owner to use the land for five years for gardening. As a result, the group asked NGT to enter into a lease.

“As a result of a series of random events, the owner handed over the land to NGT in December 1999,” Puppin said. “Thus, the land is preserved for eternity as a garden plot.”

In total, NGT has preserved 49 gardens around Philadelphia, but Greenberg is always looking to attract more gardens to its foundation.

“At the same time, we need to keep up with the already preserved gardens to make sure they are safe and that everything is going well.”

Even during COVID-19, NGT helped the gardens survive.

“Last year, most of the plots were well maintained and provided safe outdoor recreation,” Levesque said. “Since we are a small garden, social distancing was not a big problem. We did have to put things on hold, but hopefully when we achieve herd immunity, we can have events again. ”

As Philadelphia continues to grow, more and more space is being taken over. Small green spaces are at risk of being crowded out by real estate projects.

“You know the real question is, can we get some of the other gardens that we know are threatened in our defense, before they are lost to development?” – said Greenberg. “I hope so because we are pretty good at what we do. But there is a lot of pressure on the property market, especially in certain areas, which creates a feeling of pressure. “

It can be difficult to have a garden in a city, but protecting and preserving common green spaces can benefit in many ways.

“Many orchards are composting and many of them are very concerned about planting pollinators, which is good because we are losing the bee population,” Greenberg said. “So they’re good for urban biodiversity.”

Puppin also finds gardening useful.

“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 growing and watering seeds or seedlings to a mature plant that will produce tomatoes, peppers, etc., greens, etc. that can be harvested and eaten. “

Green space also solves environmental problems by absorbing excess heat from buildings and concrete.

“Vegetation helps cool the urban environment, which fights climate change and the so-called urban heat island effect, which is very important,” Greenberg said. “It gets cooler near a public garden than in an area where there is no green space.”

Puppin also said that garden spaces benefit the ecosystem because of the shared areas with native trees, shrubs, 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 rare hawks or possums. In this sense, a garden is a mini-ecosystem. “

Even the filtration of water is affected by green spaces.

“Another environmental benefit is storm water that gets into the garden,” Greenberg said. “It works like a recharge to an aquifer, not like a city runoff polluting our waterways. All these green spaces in the city make a difference. “

Gardens also help many deliver food to poor areas that may struggle with food deserts.

“Food is the main benefit and it’s a safe place for outdoor activities,” Greenberg said. “Our largest garden is on 18th Street in Glenwood, and it is nearly four acres. They have huge plots and people there really know how to grow and produce a lot of food to donate to their families. ”

Many point to the benefits of community gardening that have nothing to do with food. Puppin shared how community green spaces bring people together and teach neighbors how to garden.

“In a community garden, you get to know other people in your neighborhood in a unique way – through gardening,” Puppin said. “More experienced gardeners share their horticultural knowledge with newcomers to horticulture, and we all share our stories of what went well in one season and what was bad.”

Levesque also knows how their garden has helped strengthen social bonds and allowed people to get to know each other better.

“When I started gardening in 1999, more than half of the garden was unoccupied,” Levesque said. “But as more and more people joined us, the garden became the center of social life in the area. Children and adults from the area, whether they have a plot or not, would hang out and meet each other, which helped the neighbors get to know each other. ”

All of these aspects are tied together to make NGT a mutually beneficial non-profit organization.

“I don’t think you can appreciate the importance of these aspects, they are just very useful for the city,” Greenberg said. “Even some of the tiny spaces, like single-family houses or maybe flower gardens, are still important. And they improve people’s quality of life and their mood. “

Moving forward, Greenberg hopes to continue helping NGT protect green spaces that need help.

“Since the land belongs to us, as long as we work, they will work,” Greenberg said. “Our whole goal is to make sure they don’t lose their place. I am absolutely sure that the gardens we have preserved will continue to live well. “

This sense of security is reassuring to those who tend and care for community gardens. Both Puppin and Levesque feel they are in safe hands of NGT and have many years of work in the community gardening field that they look forward to.

“Since the garden is guarded by NGT, looking ahead, it will still be here,” Puppin said. “Some of the gardeners will be changed, the bushes and trees will get a little bigger, but the activity will remain the same. Every year he grows vegetables and plants and continues to look after the common areas. “

If you have any questions or concerns about this story, please send an email to: editor@philadelphianeighbors.com

This story was originally published PhiladelphiaNeighborhoods.com


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