Once again we have been reminded that there are people out there who don't think community gardens are a good idea. The news of two different threats this past week to community gardens in Philadelphia and Camden make us realize that community gardens, even ones that have been in existence for many years face threats from a variety of sources. In the Camden case it is the state of New Jersey. While not a typical community garden, the Camden Children's Garden, in existence since 1999, is run by the non- profit Camden Garden Club, has 100,000 visitors a year and runs environmental and nutritional programs on the site which started as a "horticultural playground". Aren't community gardens horticultural playgrounds?
The state wants to transfer the land to the private aquarium on the adjacent property, so there may be a monetary motive involved. The Camden Children's Garden has not had an agreement or a lease with the state even though there is a butterfly house and a gazebo on the property. What did the state of New Jersey think was going on here? In addition to the Children's garden, the Camden City Garden Club has been assisting Camden residents interested in starting community gardens with tools, seeds, plants and workshops since 1985.
This news came just days after a report that the Philadelphia City Council backed away from a plan to limit community gardens and urban agriculture in mixed use commercially zoned areas. Gardeners and urban farmers would have to get approval from the zoning board to operate in these mixed use areas. It took a campaign by Philadelphia community gardeners and garden supporters to fight this threat and convince the City Council to change their thinking. The fact that both cities have a surplus of vacant land makes these two stories seem even more unbelievable.
The situation in Philadelphia should never have gotten to the point that required gardeners to have to fight this threat. However there are are always politicians and bureaucrats that see community gardeners as a threat or as a cash cow. It seems like no amount of good will that community gardeners earn by providing volunteer time to clean up and bring a positive use to land abandoned or neglected by the city can convince some people of the benefits of community gardens. Thankfully most can be convinced as they were in Philadelphia by campaigns that win over public opinion. Hopefully the situation in Camden will be resolved like the one across the Delaware.