For the past 60 years or more, residents of Cheltenham’s La Mott neighborhood have been tending to their plots within the 1.8-acre La Mott Community Garden. For the past three years, though, the garden has been the source of not only a substantial harvest, but also growing frustration with Temple University. That’s because Temple owns the land — having picked up the deed for $1 back in 1933 — and now wants to sell it off for development.
Last weekend, the gardeners and supporters gathered at the African American Museum to view the premiere of Sacred Soil, a documentary — and advocacy piece — on their conundrum. The filmmaker, Stephen McWilliams, has been following the 65 gardeners’ attempts to win the property, alternately by donation, sale or conservation easement. The film centers on gardener-activist Diane Williams, a solid choice for protagonist. After all, Williams is the type of person who can put a positive spin on anything — even Temple’s unyielding denials, which she views as “progress” toward an eventual victory. “We really do feel as though we’ll get the garden; it’s only a matter of time. It will take time, though!”
Fortunately, Williams and her fellow gardeners are used to adversity. “The most amazing thing about this entire garden effort is we have no running water. People bring the water from home, in jugs. … When you look at how green it is in here, the life in here, it’s just amazing.”