Community gardening has substantial and immediate benefits for Philadelphia, where a quarter of all people live in poverty, more than 40,000 plots of land lie vacant, and over 900,000 people face hunger and malnutrition.
Community gardens provide reliable sources of healthy food and income, and they help communities revitalize and reclaim their neighborhoods. But even established sites of urban food production face legal difficulties that can make them difficult to sustain – not the least of which is the difficulty faced by community groups and individuals seeking to grow food on public and private vacant and abandoned property.
In 2011, the Law Center launched the Garden Justice Legal Initiative (GJLI) to provide pro bono legal support, advocacy, and policy research to community gardens and urban farmers in Philadelphia’s communities of color, immigrant and refugee communities, and historically disinvested neighborhoods.
Through GJLI, we engage with community members, develop partnerships with nonprofit and community-based organizations, and foster relationships between community gardeners and municipal authorities to help foster a movement in Philadelphia to support food access and positive vacant land policies. We aim to give communities greater control over the future of their neighborhoods.
The initiative is headed by Law Center attorney Amy Laura Cahn and supported by a Skadden Fellowship.
Central Club for Boys & Girls
The Central Club for Boys & Girls has stewarded two community gardens in Grey’s Ferry since the 1940s, using the land as a community resource for thousands of children. Still, it was faced with losing its land to a sheriff’s sale, even though the nonprofit organization had only recently acquired title to the land through adverse possession. Thanks to the Garden Justice Legal Initiative, the sheriff’s sale was postponed, giving the club time to file for the necessary tax exemptions.
Norris Square Neighborhood Project
South Philly Review Features Central Club for Boys & Girls
A recent article in the South Philly Review details the Law Center’s Amy Laura Cahn’s work with the Central Club to postpone the sale of their land and its successful attempts at receiving non-profit status. The article notes the importance of the Central Club in the local community and the impact it has had on children and families in helping them “to see that they, like thousands before them, keep neighborhoods thriving.”
Read the article here.
Central Club Granted Six-Month Stay of Sheriff’s Sale
At risk of losing two lots of formerly vacant land it has cared for since the 1940s, the Central Club for Boys and Girls reached out to the Law Center for help. After delaying the sheriff’s sale multiple times, Law Center attorney Amy Laura Cahn filed a motion to stay the sheriff’s sale in April, and on May 15th, 2012, following a hearing on the motion, she won a six-month stay of sheriff’s sale for the Central Club.
Read the motion here. (A nearly identical petition was filed for the second property.)
GJLI , Gardeners & Fellow Advocates Weigh In On Proposed Vacant Land Policy
In January 2011, Law Center attorney Amy Laura Cahn partnered with a number of urban farmers, community gardeners, and food justice advocates, as well as the Mayor’s Food Policy Advisory Council (FPAC) vacant land subcommittee and the Food Organizing Collaborative to submit feedback to the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) on its proposed policy for managing vacant city-owned land. The proposed PRA policy makes progress in its efforts to create a more “user-friendly” way to access land – creating one “front door” to access land held by several agencies and a database to determine what land is available.
For many years, City policies have not supported gardening and farming, and without a fair and transparent path to gaining land ownership, gardeners and farmers have not been able to secure the land they work on. The current system of one-year Urban Gardening Agreements has been wholly inadequate, as it creates uncertainty between growing seasons. Gardens and farms require a large initial investment, and the policy should encourage and make possible long-term investments in the community. To make farming and gardening worthwhile, the city must offer secure lease options of at least three years with the option to renew.
Further, the proposed policy will create new barriers to urban agriculture. The liability insurance and organizational requirements set by the policy impose a financial burden that is unrealistic for such small-scale, low-budget operations. The policy should leave room for greater flexibility in demonstrating organizational stability, and it should allow a grace period in the insurance requirement to give farmers and gardeners time to assess their options.
Moving forward, PRA should take steps to engage the gardeners and farmers whose work will be directly affected by this policy, and they should take steps to ensure that the process of amending and implementing this policy is both transparent and responsive to the needs of the community.