plan: Philadelphia’s urban gardens need secure access to land | Gardening tips and how-to gardening guides

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Philadelphia released its first urban agriculture plan Nov. 3, offering policies that could help growers secure access to land and increase food production in high-poverty neighborhoods.

“We’re excited to share all of the insights, feedback and insights provided by residents, growers, city agencies,” said Ash Richards, urban agriculture project manager at Philadelphia Parks and Recreation.

The 242-page draft plan, “Growing From the Root,” was developed by Soil Generation, an urban farming group for people of color; the urban planning firm Interface Studio; and the Parks and Recreation Department.

The document, in development since 2019, recommends 87 actions that city agencies, nonprofits and others should take to strengthen Philadelphia’s urban agricultural economy.

The objectives of the plan include the preservation of existing growing spaces and the creation of new ones; support safe and appropriate animal care; increasing access to nutritious foods; emphasize the role of Black, immigrant and refugee communities; improve the recovery of food waste; and the creation of jobs and business opportunities.

Philadelphia has more than 400 active urban farms totaling 130 acres on 900 parcels.

About 70% of these gardens and farms are in very poor areas, many of which have limited options for buying fresh produce.

“I can’t afford the food I can grow,” said an anonymous participant at a public planning meeting cited in the plan.

The main concern raised by urban producers was not having secure access to land.

A third of the gardens are in the most redeveloped areas of the city, and at least 140 gardens have already been lost for various reasons.

Plan participants said the city’s land bank process for securing access to vacant land is complicated and mostly provides one-year agreements. Participants prefer longer leases or permanent land acquisitions.

“Is it a good idea for me to even invest in building the infrastructure if I know this garden could be taken away from me at any time?” said Ashley Gripper of Soil Generation.

Sheriff’s sales are a major way for community gardeners to lose the land they used to use.

The plan looks for strategies to reduce those losses, such as educating growers on how to acquire plots before they go up for public sale, said Mindy Watts of Interface Studio.

The city declined the plan’s drafters’ proposal for an outright moratorium on community gardens sold at sheriff’s sales, Gripper said.

Yet many other policy ideas were deemed realistic, such as allowing greenhouses and other production-related structures to be built on plots accessed through the land bank.

Some goals, such as developing rules for animal production, will take longer to achieve than others. After getting resistance from the city, Gripper said the plan’s writers denied any mention of the hens.

For now, the plan calls for developing “a long-term roadmap to explore safe and appropriate animal husbandry,” prioritizing species already mentioned in city code, including bees, horses, fish and goats.

The city is accepting comments on the draft plan until November 28 at phillyagplan.com.

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