Philadelphia, PA (May 2, 2016) – West Philadelphia is at risk of losing another community garden this month. On May 26, one of two properties that make up the St. Bernard Community Garden will go up for sheriff’s sale. If the sale goes through, the land would be seized from the gardeners and potentially developed.
The property at 1008 S. St. Bernard Street was put up for sale without notice by Linebarger, a private tax collection agency. Gardeners are now scrambling to postpone the sale so that the newly formed Philadelphia Land Bank can absorb the plot into its inventory and ensure that this garden can continue to be used as a place for growing food and gathering community for years to come. Gardeners are calling on Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell to advocate for the postponement of the sheriff’s sale.
Transformed from a vacant lot to a vibrant green space in the late 1980’s, the garden represents a valuable asset to the community. Today more than 50 gardeners use the garden’s 47 plots. “The St Bernard St Garden is a green focal point for the neighborhood, providing fresh, organic vegetables to those in the area,” says Jeff Knightly, a long-time gardener and neighbor of St. Bernard. “As a member of the block, it is positive gathering place for people to come and share something basic to our existence, the growing of food.”
This is the second threat to St. Bernard. The first was in 2012 when the 1010 S. St. Bernard Street property went up for sheriff’s sale. That plot was returned to the city’s inventory thanks to quick mobilization of the garden’s advocates and a last-minute bid by Councilwoman Blackwell. The plot at 1010 S. St. Bernard Street is now owned by the Neighborhood Gardens Trust, an organization that acquires and preserves community gardens in the city.
This is not an isolated incident. Holly Street Neighbors Community Garden in Powelton Village is also up for sheriff’s sale on May 26. In addition, hundreds of gardens around the city have a tenuous hold on their land, particularly in areas in which property values are rapidly increasing.
“The Land Bank will ultimately be the tool we need to preserve garden and farm spaces in the city, particularly longstanding spaces that serve as community anchors,” says Amy Laura Cahn, director of the Garden Legal Justice Initiative of the Public Interest Law Center. “Meanwhile, we need to ensure that the communities who have invested their time and energy in these gardens over the years don’t lose out to other interests.”