July 2023 Spotlight: Neighborhood Gardens Trust

Member SpotlightThe Neighborhood Gardens Trust (NGT) is Philadelphia’s neighborhood garden protector.
“We are a land trust dedicated to preserving and supporting community gardens and other shared open spaces across the city. NGT’s work is grounded in the belief that an equitable and sustainable city is one in which all neighborhoods have vibrant green spaces for residents to cultivate food, flowers, and community.NGT works with self-organized gardeners, community organizations, property owners, and the City of Philadelphia to secure ownership or long-term leases for community-managed open spaces to prevent the threat of development or other reuse.NGT provides community gardeners with peace of mind that the open spaces they care for will protected for their continued use and for future generations.NGT receives administrative and support services from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) and together we provide ongoing technical assistance and capital improvements to preserved gardens.”
Tell us about how you got your start at NGT:Thousands of Philadelphians across the city have worked with neighbors to transform vacant and neglected land into thriving community gardens . The gardeners do not have control over the land they care for and after years of cultivating the land, those parcels may be targeted for real estate development or other uses. Previously known as the Neighborhood Gardens Association (NGA), Neighborhood Gardens Trust (NGT) was established in 1986 to address this problem by securing ownership and preserving community gardens across the city. We’ve protected 52 community managed green spaces since that time.
What do you love most about the work you and your colleagues do?We love to see how community gardens serve as an essential component of a healthy, equitable, and resilient city, and provide an array of real benefits to Philadelphia neighborhoods. They offer access to fresh produce, opportunities for exercise, and time in nature, resulting in overall improved health and wellness. Community gardens are a safe common space to bring neighbors of all ages together. They serve as a center for local culture that can be passed from one family and one generation to the next.
What would you like young people and others in the community to know about this program?NGT is Philadelphia’s land trust for the protection of community-managed green spaces. Our work is grounded in the belief that community gardens should not be considered an interim use until real development comes but should be protected as vital elements of a healthy city’s infrastructure. Every neighborhood needs green spaces for residents to cultivate food, flowers, and community.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to enter the type of work and programming you do?It’s important to listen first and foremost to the members of the communities where you are working to understand their experiences and priorities. This is the foundation of building trusting and reciprocal relationships. You must be resilient and a visionary to achieve your goals. Start by researching the organizations involved in community greening and land conservation work and connecting with leaders in those fields.

What’s on the horizon for NGT? What are you excited about in the future?This growing season, NGT launched the Gaining Ground Campaign to raise $1 million to secure land at more threatened gardens citywide. This will allow us to respond quickly to secure garden land through purchase and to support the day-to-day work of protecting threatened gardens now and into the future. We’re excited to reach our goal of 70 gardens by 2026.  “Thinking about losing the garden was heartbreaking. With NGT as an advocate we can ensure a future for the garden, and they can help us maintain it in perpetuity.”— Vita Litvak, Pastorius Community Garden“We are neighbors and gardeners, not lawyers – if NGT didn’t help us preserve our garden, the land would have likely gone to the highest bidder. The play garden is an invaluable part of many neighborhood children’s childhood experiences. NGT has helped to us to make a small community garden into a beautiful, safe, and useful space for neighbors and visitors to enjoy.” — Julius Rivera, Collins Smith Barrick Play Garden