In January, Natural Lands transferred ownership of Old Tennis Court Farm, a community garden in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, to Neighborhood Gardens Trust. Though less than an acre, it includes more than 40 garden plots. Members care for their own plots and share in the upkeep of the garden as a whole, including a set of community benefit plots the harvest from which is donated to local organizations that provide food to those in need.
“Small spaces in urban areas can have a huge impact,” said Oliver Bass, president of Natural Lands. “This inspiring neighborhood worked together to create a place where gardeners can grow fresh food and the neighborhood can enjoy a vibrant green oasis. Natural Lands is delighted to be a part of the partnership between the community gardeners and Neighborhood Gardens Trust to preserve this important neighborhood resource.”
“Despite the many benefits that urban community gardens provide in Philadelphia, in many cases, these gardens are at-risk of being lost to development,” said Jenny Greenberg, executive director at Neighborhood Gardens Trust. “Old Tennis Court Farm is a great success story. As a result of the tremendous advocacy and commitment of the community, Natural Lands and Neighborhood Gardens Trust were able to work together to permanently preserve a half-acre of bountiful open space in Germantown.”
With the support of Germantown Friends School the community garden was installed in 2009 on the grounds of the school’s tennis courts, which had been unused since the 1980s. In 2015, Old Tennis Court Farm closed when the school decided it had to sell that tract of land. The Friends of Cloverly Park were concerned that the garden, which borders the park, might be developed. They turned to Natural Lands and Neighborhood Gardens Trust to help them save the garden.
“We wanted this to be productive green space,” said Mark Kearney, one of the community leaders who organized the efforts to save Old Tennis Court Farm. “It’s a great thing being supported by Natural Lands and Neighborhood Gardens Trust,” said Kearney. “They gave legitimacy to the process.”
On May 18, 2018, Natural Lands purchased Old Tennis Court Farm from Germantown Friends School on behalf of the Neighborhood Gardens Trust. The purchase was made possible by a grassroots effort organized by Germantown United CDC and funds contributed by individuals to meet the matching requirement of a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s Greenways, Trails and Recreation program.
Ellen Wert, one of the leaders of the Friends of Cloverly Park, explained, “We had credibility with our six-year success story of the garden and the Friends of Cloverly Park’s long-standing reputation as a neighborhood group that had, over three decades, successfully rehabilitated the adjacent two-acre park. The members of the community knew us and trusted us, and seeing that we had these three organizations working with us, they knew they could donate and be confident that the project would be realized. And so they were incredibly generous within their means, even if it was $5 or $10.”
On December 20, 2018, Natural Lands transferred the ownership of Old Tennis Court Farm to Neighborhood Gardens Trust. During the last growing season Old Tennis Court Farm was divided into plots for individual and community gardens. The community garden plots provided fresh food for the Whosoever Gospel Mission. “At the height of the season we donate about 30 pounds of produce at a time to the mission,” said Margaret Lea, a community gardener. “We grow winter squashes, sweet potatoes, beans, cabbages, carrots, tomatoes, green beans, and celery. Celery is actually a luxury for them—they can’t afford it, so we can grow it.” Looking at the community plots that she manages Lea said, “If I never do anything else good with my life, I know I’ve done this.”
New gardeners Bobby McCauley and Jenn Szerlag were excited to join Old Tennis Court Farm. “We knew we had to join up because plots go fast,” said McCauley.
“It’s been great to meet people. I love to contribute and help out with the community garden,” said Szerlag.