Across the city, urban farmers are clearing their raised beds, picking up the litter from their lots and sowing the seeds for a summertime bounty. It's a time of rebirth, of hope — and of frustration.
The city administration is preparing to reveal its long-awaited plan for selling and leasing its massive inventory of vacant land for a variety of uses — among them growing vegetables.
The problem is that Philly's urban farmers don't know what those policies will be, exactly — and what they've seen so far hasn't exactly impressed. In December, a draft of the vacant-land policy was circulated on the Philadelphia Urban Farming Network listserv. To farmers' unpleasant surprise, the document made no mention of "farming" per se, and instead referred only to leasing city land for "gardens," which would be "non-commercial" or for "sale that is incidental in nature."
Worse still, in their eyes, was language asserting that "Urban Garden Agreements" would last only a year at a time and could be terminated "at any time, with or without cause" — though the city would use "reasonable efforts" to avoid terminating an agreement mid-season. "You're investing in a whole list of things, from soil testing to temporary or permanent structures," says Amy Laura Cahn, of the Public Interest Law Center's Garden Justice Legal Initiative, "but the city could at any time take [the land] back."
Following online discussions and meetings, representatives of the city's farming community signed a series of letters to the city's Managing Director's Office and Redevelopment Authority, outlining their concerns — but they haven't heard back. The Managing Director's Office emphasized that City Paper had seen only an early draft copy — but wouldn't comment on whether or how the language around farming may have changed since.