Philadelphia does Yardsharing: Part 1

By lawrence

Philadelphia does Yardsharing: Part 1

Earlier this (2014) growing season, MyCityGardens (MCG) was lucky enough to connect with a young woman, Talia Borofsky, who was excited to hear about our idea and wanted to have a short-term internship with us! 

Talia Borofsky (Portrait) <--- That's Talia!

Although there wasn't any money around to relocate Talia from her hometown, Philadelphia, to Boston for the month of her internship, we discussed a couple of projects and realized it would be great for her to research yardsharing activities right there in Philly. 

The bad news is that there didn't seem to be much MCG-style yardsharing happening in Philly, but the good news is that there is an incredible amount of gardening activity happening and some of it does involve sharing. Talia spent the month of May researching, interviewing, writing, and editing a short series of case studies and the MCG team is excited to share them here on our blog. While MCG doesn't have any plans to expand to Philadelphia (yet!), we are always looking to learn more about how people to share space. So, without further ado, here's part one (of four) of our intern blog series: Philadelphia does Yardsharing.

Preston’s Paradise

Background/History

Ryan and Suzanna moved into their home on North Preston Street, Philadelphia, in 2006. They arrived with a background in food justice work from Tennessee. At first, they only planned to build a backyard garden, but soon it was filled to bursting with vegetables, and still they wanted to grow more. They quickly discovered that many of the residents had once worked together to tend community gardens, but were now too old to hoe and weed by themselves. The couple decided to restart their neighborhood’s culture of community gardening, utilizing their elderly neighbors’ knowledge and the community’s land assets.

Taking advantage of Philadelphia’s incredible network of urban gardening programs, they soon received the assistance of the Philadelphia Horticultural Society’s (PHS) City Harvest program. Using the tools, seeds, and soil that City Harvest supplied, they started eleven gardens over four or five years. These gardens were behind houses, schools, and churches, and they even revived an old community garden. One day, as the neighbors were admiring their hard work, one said, “This is like paradise!” and that’s when Ryan and Suzanna decided to call the collection of gardens, “Preston’s Paradise.”

Current Status

Preston’s Paradise has lost three of the gardens they helped start. The first one was in the side yard of a woman who, always known to be mercurial, suddenly disappeared. Then they lost a church garden when the pastor moved away, though a small orchard still remains. The third garden was on an old community garden only tended by one elderly man, but when he died Suzanna and Ryan found that maintaining a garden on absentee private land was too much of a burden. In addition, they have tried to teach homeowners about gardening, but in order to simplify maintenance, Ryan and Suzanna converted many of the vegetable gardens to fruit orchards thanks with help from the Philadelphia Orchard Project.

Challenges/Opportunities

During my conversation with him, Ryan admitted that he and his wife had bitten off a little more than they could chew. They never had a volunteer corps to take care of all the scattered gardens, and between work and raising children, they had to find ways to decrease their own involvement. Originally, Ryan and Suzanna planned to start gardens in people’s backyards and then slowly transition ownership to land-owners. As they taught land-owners more about garden maintenance, theoretically, the land-owners would assume an increasing level of responsibility for each garden. However, vegetable gardening was too hard for a lot of people. Orchards have proven more successful (likely because they take less ongoing effort), so Ryan and Suzanna have replaced many of the old vegetable gardens with fruit trees. The gardens that still grow vegetables have easy to grow and maintain crops like sweet potatoes, kale, and garlic.
Ryan and Suzanna also used to run gardening workshops, but they found that people from other places in the city would come rather than community members. Ryan and Suzanna still provide resources, assistance, and knowledge to their neighbors, but they are much less involved in broad, organizing efforts.

Organization Structure

Preston’s Paradise is run by Ryan and Suzanna. It is more a collection of gardens that they helped neighbors start as opposed to an organization. They can be reached by phone, 215-531-0507, or by emailing ryan@prestonsparadise.org or suzanna@prestonsparadise.org

Img001 Edited <--- Talia's amazing drawing of a garden that is a part of Preston's Paradise.