By Skyler Stillwaggon; Photo by Chris Callan
On Tuesday, June 19th, a group of community garden supporters including Philly Socialists members gathered in front of the First District Plaza in West Philadelphia to protest the sheriff sale of a lot that is part of the César Andreu Iglesias Community Garden.
This action was the first in an escalation campaign to preserve the Iglesias Garden. Philly Socialists is currently working to acquire the properties that make up the Iglesias Garden through the Philadelphia Land Bank as a permanent solution to ensure the future of the garden. In the meantime, Mara Henao, Philly Socialists Co-Chair, is fundraising to pay the back taxes on a portion of the land that makes up the Iglesias Garden, which would provide short-term protection from sheriff sale.
The Iglesias Garden, located in North Philadelphia, was established in 2012 by Philly Socialists alongside members of the local community. Three vacant and long-neglected lots were transformed into a green space for the benefit of the neighborhood. The lots were cleared of trash and debris, raised beds were constructed, new, nutrient-rich soil was brought in and barriers were constructed to discourage illegal dumping. Since its creation, the Iglesias Garden has expanded into neighboring vacant lots where trees are being planted.
“We found a flyer that said the lot was for sheriff’s sale,” said Willow Zef, an organizer with the garden. “Then we had a meeting and drafted a letter to deliver to Maria Quiñones-Sánchez’s office requesting the lot be immediately pulled from the sale. Mara dropped the letter off, and then the group went the day of the sheriff’s sale, flyered and disrupted, and by the end of the day we found out the lot had been pulled.”
Philly Socialists is awaiting confirmation from Councilwoman Maria D. Quiñones-Sánchez (D-7th Dist.) regarding the status of this property. Efforts are underway to see if the three lots can be placed in a land bank outside the grasp of real-estate developers. The Philadelphia Land Bank has been used by developers to buy inexpensive lots and build pricey housing that current neighbors can’t afford. This is the opposite of the Land Bank’s stated purpose. Volunteers from community gardens around Philadelphia are discussing plans to protect gardens citywide.
Why gardens matter
Community gardens provide many benefits to individuals, communities and the environment.
The presence of a community garden improves food security in a neighborhood and reduces the impact of food deserts in low-income communities by providing access to fresh, nutrient-rich produce. In one study, adults and children who participated in community gardening increased their vegetable intake by 66.6% and 40% respectively. Working in a community garden also encourages increased physical activity and creates opportunities for skill building.
Social ties are strengthened through community gardening. Gardens provide a space for neighbors to come together and work toward common goals of beautifying vacant land and producing food for one another. This work can empower residents and be a source of community pride. A reduction in crime is often seen in neighborhoods with community gardens, in part due to these strengthened social ties.
Community gardens positively impact the environment by improving soil quality, which reduces runoff from rain, and reducing air pollution by absorbing carbon dioxide. Additionally, urban green spaces support native wildlife and migratory species.
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