In February of this year a group of neighbors and I sat down at my kitchen table, drank tea and discussed the idea of creating a new community garden in our neighborhood. Now, almost four months later, we have two garden projects we are working on and a list of over 75 people interested in helping out and getting plots. It's more than a little overwhelming and exciting that this is actually happening and that I am in charge.
There is a core group of about 7 neighbors who come to the meetings and are instrumental in getting things done. One of those people is Sue, the director of a fabulous local non-profit called UC Green (they do urban greening projects in West Philly). As a result of her generous suggestion we are calling ourselves (yes it's clumsy and wordy, but it sounds official) The UC Green Community Garden Initiative. We have a name!
We have also attracted the attention of other community groups interested in vacant land reclamation, community gardens, and urban redevelopement. West Philly Digs is a group of young activists who are interested in turning vacant lots in West Philly into community gardens. Eric, the founder, has been one of our core garden committee members from the beginning.
We are also collaborating with The Enterprise Center Community Development Corporation, a small business incubator that serves Walnut Hill, the neighborhood immediately north of mine. Their mission is to help local minority entrepreuners start small businesses. In that spirit, they are starting a kitchen incubator called the Center for Culinary Enterprises (you think our name is wordy, check out this one: The Enterprise Center Community Development Corporation's Center for Culinary Enterprises, TEC-CDC CCE). They bought an abandoned supermarket and are building several industrial, Health Department-approved kitchens for people to rent out! I think this project is amazing because it provides a resource for local food enptrepreuners to legally sell their products. And we are collaborating with them to create a community garden where some of those people can grow their own food for processing - locally grown, locally processed food!
So, with the background info out of the way, onto the projects.
The hardest part about this project so far is finding available land. Duh. Our part of West Philly is the advancing front of gentirfication and land is expensive and in high demand. We struggled with this challenge for a while and then The Enterprise Center approached us with a peice of land. This land is behind the 46th Street elevated subway station and it is currently owned by SEPTA (the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority). In September of this year it will be deeded over to The Enterprise Center for $1 and our councilwoman has given TEC the job of making it into a park or other community space. Given that they have no budget for this project, we will be collaborating with TEC to make this into one of our community gardens!
Here is the space, it's roughly 60' by 100'. We're calling it The Blue Line Garden after the subway line that runs next to it.
***South side, looking north - you can see the El in the background. SEPTA put up a silly fence that's not attached to anything on the south side of the lot. You can see the front slope covered in weeds and a set of cement stairs that we plan to make into the main entrance to the garden.***
***South side, looking west.***
***South side, looking east - another set of rickety cement steps that we are currently using to access the site.***
***North side, looking south - the line of rocks shows where the site begins to slope down and turn into a parking lot/storage space for SEPTA. We are only dealing with the area between the rocks and the silly fence.***
We had a work day on May 9th and 25 people came out to help! We weeded, removed rocks, raked and graded the land, and did a little bit of planting along the front slope.
Here are some before and after shots from the southwest corner:
All of the amazing panoramic-style photos are by Adam, one of two local landscape architects who are working with us on this project. We have been so incredibly lucky in attracting people to this project who all have different talents. There's Joe, who knows everyone and is a tireless volunteer for all things urban greening in the neighborhood. There's Sue, our non-profit director who is lending us tools, a name, and countless other resources. There are Nancy and Vivianne (who I met at Garden Tenders in the winter) who manage other gardens in the area and were the impetus for this whole thing. There are Patty and Adam, our landscape architects. There's Imanni and other staff members from The Enterprise Center who were insturmental in getting this project off the ground. There's M, who has grant-writing and park-building experience. There's Nic, who has started community gardens elsewhere and is probably second only to me in his enthusiasm about our projects. This whole process of garden-building has been made so much easier by the passionate involvement of all of these wonderful people.
In April we approached the director of The Woodlands (a historic cemetery in West Philly that is a popular place for local runners and dog walkers) about the possibility of putting a community garden on the grounds. Much to our surprise, she said that she had already been thinkking about a projcet like that! So I wrote a proposal and the board is currently reviewing it. Our ace-in-the-hole is that Sue (thank God for Sue) is on the Horticulture Commitee for the Woodlands and she will be presenting our proposal and garden design to the board next weekend.
Here is the space, it's roughly 30' by 80'. We're calling it The Woodlands Community Garden:
***From the west side, looking east. The space is bounded by an historic carraige house on the south and several larger trees on the north.***
***From the east, looking west.***
Our two projects are completely different in many ways. Where the Blue Line Garden is a very visible urban redevelopment project that is equal parts community activism and urban greening, The Woodlands Community Garden is on a peice of land that is off the street, scenic, and has an almost exclusive feel to it. Other things that make The Woodlands project easier are: UC Green stores their tools in a shed on the other side of that low wall and we will have access to them as members of the garden; the water hookup is less than 100' from the entrance to the garden (the east side); and there are piles of free woods chips on the grounds that we can use to cover the paths of the garden.
So there you go, all the info you need to know about my comunity garden projects. Now that we've got that out of the way I will be updating you on our progress, including what happens at the next work day at the Blue Line Garden and how the board responds to our proposal for The Woodlands Community Garden.
Have a lovely long weekend!