Community gardeners face uncertain future near the airport

    The people who tend Philadelphia’s oldest and largest community garden, worry they may have to uproot their fruits and vegetables for a parking lot.

    Since the mid-1970’s gardeners have tilled a ten-acre piece of land within sight of an airport runway and I-95. In one year alone, the Eastwick Community Garden produces 400,000 pounds of produce. But now, the gardeners say the city has plans not to renew their lease beyond next June.

    “We’re mostly senior citizens here and most of the people raise their own foods here,” says Al Moore, the garden president. “The fruits, the vegetables – we have pear trees, apple trees, they’re really gonna be heartbroken I can suggest that.”

    Moore says the garden had a 15 year lease that expired in 2008 before the Redevelopment Authority sold the land to the airport. He says since then they’ve been offered one-year leases. But he says the new lease includes language stating its the final one.

    Michael Nairn, a professor of city planning at Penn., says the city should support gardeners like Moore.

    “And this is really really part of their tradition,” he says. “And we see is, as they die off, this knowledge is being lost. No one has really recorded it, studied it, and its just a fascinating story when you go around with these people.”

    Nairn says he keeps hearing about plans to turn the site into an airport parking lot.

    But Victoria Lupica, a spokeswoman for the airport, denies that claim and says no plans exist to do anything with the site. She says the lease could be renewed in June, but the city reserves the right to use the land for the airport.

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