Neighborhood Gardens Trust - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Neighborhood Gardens Trust has been operating as an entity that protects community gardens in the City of Philadelphia since 1986. Working with community gardeners, local leaders, and neighborhood organizations, NGT is a land trust that helps these individuals or groups secure ownership or long-term lease contracts for these gardens to prevent redevelopment or reuse of the land. The organization focuses the majority of its land acquisition and assistance services in lower-income areas throughout Philadelphia, with a specific emphasis on serving underrepresented communities. Since its founding, NGT has protected 48 community gardens throughout Philadelphia, and is on track to protect at least 70 by 2022.

Local, community-run gardens have been a staple in the City of Philadelphia since the 1970s. In many neighborhoods, residents have transformed vacant lots to spaces where the community can not only feel safe to gather, but into small urban farms, where people can grow produce in supermarket deserts. Recognizing the importance of this movement, NGT has partnered with a variety of organizations and agencies, including the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Philadelphia Horticultural Society, to provide the services community gardeners need to keep these gardens running.

NGT finds community gardens to assist through their formal survey and acquisition process. During this process, NGT conducts several focus-group and outreach events to meet with community gardeners and development staff to identify gardens in the area that need NGT’s assistance. Additionally, in 2016, with support from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, NGT completed a garden acquisition study that used indicators to identify areas to prioritize for garden preservation, particularly where gardens would be at higher risk of loss to development and where community benefits of preservation would be maximized.They prioritize existing gardens in neighborhoods that do not have access to supermarkets, have little walkable or green spaces and higher concentrations of vacant land, those experiencing or at risk of gentrification, and communities that have lower-income residents. To be eligible for NGT’s assistance, the garden has to have been active for at least three years; must involve a large portion of the community as gardeners, and have clear rules or bylaws by which the garden operates. 

Once these gardens have been identified and selected for NGT assistance and protection, with help regarding funding and financing from several agencies and organizations, NGT works with gardeners and community members to acquire the property, or at least lease the plot of land for long-term use. Essentially, NGT helps the neighborhood to gain control of the land through legal means, so that there is reduced risk of redevelopment. Following this acquisition, NGT supports the procurement of other aspects associated with operating the garden, such as liability insurance, securing tax exemptions, setting up or reorganizing water services, and provides general troubleshooting and administrative assistance.

While NGT focuses much of their work on preserving existing gardens in disadvantaged communities throughout Philadelphia, they also provide services and resources for communities looking to introduce urban gardens into their areas. For example, they conduct seminars to help educate people about the benefits community gardens can bring to a neighborhood; they provide services that help make existing gardens become eligible for NGT’s full acquisition assistance; and they have created example bylaws gardens can implement that will assist in operating the garden efficiently and safely. All of this work – from their acquisition assistance to model rulemaking – is focused primarily on benefitting frontline and low-income communities throughout the Greater Philadelphia region.

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