philadelphia community garden
An urban community garden on Locust Street in Philadelphia. (Photo: Getty Images)

Philly officials are developing an urban agriculture plan to encourage the city's booming farming and gardening culture, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

The city has about 500 urban gardens, many of which have been started by African Americans, immigrants and refugees on abandoned lots. Officials aim to encourage the trend by ensuring that residents have permission to farm on vacant land (which may be owned by others) and on soil that is free of contamination.

“This isn’t about regulations," said Christine Knapp, director of the city’s Office of Sustainability. "Rather, it’s more a matter of coordinating or supporting the appropriate ways these gardens and farms should exist and could exist and serve a role in the city."

“We want to have a deep community engagement process,” Knapp added. “If you want to garden or farm, let us help you figure out how to do that in the long term. Do you want to buy the land? Do you want it tested? So it’s not an attempt to clamp down on the practice."

 

To that end, the city's Urban Agriculture Plan is launching with a $125,000 grant made by the William Penn Foundation to the nonprofit Mayor's Fund. The city will hire a consultant to research the issue, ask residents for suggestions and map out a strategy. The Mayor's Fund has called for potential consultants to submit proposals for the gig by April 30.

Philadelphia has a lot of room to work with: According to Land Bank data, there are 43,000 vacant or abandoned lots in the city that could be turned into urban farms, the Inquirer reported.

As of 2016, there were 470 farms or gardens already in operation, spread across 600 lots. But about half were on publicly owned lots and a third were on private land, meaning the gardeners are at risk of being uprooted from their investments.

The Urban Agriculture Plan will determine which spaces are best suited for farming and gardening and are not likely to be sold. It will also help connect urban farmers with markets to sell their produce. The Neighborhood Gardens Trust has given the city's initiative a thumbs-up, citing its concern that resident-created green spaces are being lost to redevelopment.

Officials are holding a Q&A session for those interested in helping create the plan on April 2, from 6 to 9 p.m., at One Parkway Building.

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