05 September 2010

The Genesis of a Community Garden

A little over a month ago, I checked a local urban garden forum and saw a post from a woman seeking others to start a community garden in South Philadelphia. She set her sights on an overgrown lot owned by the city, which cleared out the tall weeds and gave her permission to use it gratis (until someone decides to buy it, anyway). I contacted her, and she immediately responded, asking if I would like to see the lot, which is about 7 blocks from my house.

The lot is a nice size -- I'd estimate 30' x 60' or so -- but, as most abandoned properties in Philadelphia, it was neglected and overrun with garbage. This weekend, she and I, along with several neighbors who also want to contribute to the garden, began clearing out the trash that littered the entire area. I also collected samples to send for heavy metal testing. I'd be surprised if there wasn't significant lead contamination, especially since the site once functioned as a parking lot and since we found 2 of these lovely canisters, labeled "test specimen."

(This does not bode well for the quality of the soil)

We'll construct raised beds, and the soil tests will give us a guideline about how deep they should be. I'm shooting for 18-24" if lead is a significant factor. We've also agreed to grow organically and to draft bylaws.

I'll post more as we get this garden started -- I really hope it all works out, as I'd love to have more room to grow vegetables. If you've been reading this blog, you know I have a container garden on my tiny cemented backyard (see here, here, or here). It does well, but I don't get the output that I'd like. Hopefully, by this time next year, I'll be posting pictures of bountiful tomato plants and runner beans. Until then, here are some photos of the lot in progress.

(The lot, after the city cleared out overgrowth. It's still full of wrappers, plastic detritus, broken glass, and other sundry items)

(Close-up of some of the garbage.)

(A pile comprising the cinder blocks, rocks, and stones that littered the lot. We're trying to determine whether these might be safe to line the raised beds. You can also see at least 5 garbage bags - although we had more - full of the trash that we spent 3 hours collecting.)

(It took 3 people to pull out a giant cast-iron beam embedded in the soil. We hope to sell it and put the profits into the garden.)

(Although you can't see them in this photo, scores of roaches and other insects quickly scattered once the beam was turned over. It was a pretty horrifying sight.)

(The roots of a long-dead tree.)


  1. Wow! Very exciting. We were lucky enough to get into Liberty Lands this year and had a plot for the first time. Good luck with all that work :)


  2. Thanks! I hope we can pull it off. :)

  3. Feels really good to know that you're out there putting your energy in the right place. Keep up the hard work.