What do you think of Philly’s first urban agriculture plan? The city wants to know

There are hundreds of farms and gardens in Philly, but many growers struggle with land security. The city released its first plan to help urban ag thrive.

A family works at the La Parcelas community garden in Kensington. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

A family works at the La Parcelas community garden in Kensington. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

A public seed library, a network of community kitchens, and more agricultural programming in Philly public schools.

These are some of the recommendations from Philly’s first plan on urban agriculture — released in draft form Thursday after three years of development and several public meetings.

The draft plan was developed by Soil Generation, a Black- and brown-led coalition of growers and advocates, and urban design firm Interface Studio LLC. The city’s Department of Parks and Recreation commissioned the plan, and several other city agencies participated.

“As grassroots people and growers, we did the best we could to represent the expertise of the community and the direct experiences that you all lended to the process, as well as the feedback you all gave us about your needs,” said Sonia Galliber, of Soil Generation.

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The 10-year roadmap aims to identify the policies, resources, and systems needed to “sustain and grow” agriculture in the city and build a more just food system. The plan takes an “anti-racist lens,” and is rooted in the understanding that the city’s Black, Indigenous, immigrant, and refugee communities have built and nurtured its agricultural traditions over generations.

File photo: Hajjah Glover (left) and Princess Rahman of Sankofa Community Farm add soil to a newly installed raised garden bed on Thomas Avenue. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Two groups the city contracted to develop the plan presented a draft version to the public over Zoom Thursday night.

The plan includes dozens of recommendations around land, food production, consumption, distribution, and more.

It addresses the region’s history of land-based oppression, like the violent displacement of the Lenape people in the late 1600s, the migration of Southern Black people to cities like Philadelphia while fleeing Jim Crow laws and brutal sharecropping systems, as well as segregation, urban renewal, and disinvestment in Philly’s neighborhoods. It also highlights instances of collective action and self determination through agriculture.

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“Urban agriculture is not a hobby,” Galliber said. “It’s about food justice. It’s about racial justice. It’s about land justice.”

According to the plan, there are around 450 “known active urban agricultural spaces” throughout the city, for a total of around 130 acres of agricultural space. The majority of active gardens and farms are in areas where at least a fifth of the population lives below the poverty line. Many are in areas where a low percentage of neighborhood stores are considered “high produce supply stores.”

The plan identifies a lack of secure access to land as the top issue for growers in Philly.

One in three gardens or farms are in areas planners identified as having the highest intensity of new construction — meaning without secure ownership, they could be at risk of being developed.

Community volunteer Kahri Jones (left) and People’s Kitchen agricultural manager Kenny Chiu build a raised bed on a vacant lot at 61st and Reinhard streets. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The plan recommends increasing the number of city-owned parcels that are preserved each year and having city agencies coordinate to proactively acquire gardens that are in the Sheriff’s Sale pipeline, that are not part of a subset where liens are owned by a private company.

Other recommendations include updating city code and policies to make it easier for growers to build structures like greenhouses, helping entrepreneurs access food preparation facilities, establishing “values-driven” food procurement rules for city programs, and looking into expanding a city-run organic recycling center to support gardens and farms with compost.

One recommendation that’s already on its way to implementation is starting an Office of Urban Agriculture in the Department of Parks and Recreation. The Department has already committed to creating the office, which will take shape over the next year or so, said Ash Richards, the city’s urban agriculture director.

The plan is aimed at both Philly growers and city agencies or entities, such as City Council, the Water Department, the city Planning Commission, and the Department of Prisons.

Chris DiStasi, with Interface Studio, the other group that developed the plan, said Philadelphians will need to hold the city accountable to follow through on the plan.

“Everything in this plan is something a city agency has committed to that they say is feasible,” he said. “So accountability going forward is really key.”

The plan does not include everything that the growers helping develop it wanted, said Ashley Gripper, a member of Soil Generation and founder of Land Based Jawns.

“We were hurt about some of the recommendations that got struck or significantly altered during the city’s review,” Gripper said. “We really tried hard, but we couldn’t get a complete moratorium on all gardens going to sheriff’s sale included as a recommendation. There’s also no mention of hens in any of the recommendations.”

The planning process went on hold for several months in 2020 due to internal issues on the project team. Richards led an anti-racist facilitation process to repair harm and tackle white supremacy culture and anti-Blackness within the project team, according to the plan. The resulting plan was “not only made possible, but stronger for it,” the document reads.

The plan’s creators want Philadelphians to comment on the document by Nov. 28, and are requesting specific feedback including page numbers and phrasing. The final version is expected to be released by the end of the year.

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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