North Philly Peace Park tries to start over

At the North Philly Peace Park, which takes up two formerly vacant parcels off 22nd and Jefferson, tomato and pepper plants bud in two planters, while four young fruit trees have been placed nearby.

They’ve been sowing seeds since May, and while it’s a nice start, it’s a modest showing compared to the original park, where organizers estimate that some three tons of produce were harvested in three years.

But this year, the organizers aren’t sure how much they’ll yield.

The original North Philly Peace Park was located on a vacant lot that the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) seized and fenced up in April to begin development of a new housing project. In return, the PHA gave the Park’s organizers a new lot- but the transition hasn’t been easy.

“Our growing season and our production has been disrupted by being displaced by PHA,” said Pili X, community outreach coordinator at the Peace Park. “Right now they haven’t lived up to their verbal agreements… as far as giving us a permanent spot.”

According to the USDA, the area surrounding the park is a food desert, or lacking in healthful food options within walking distance.

The nearest supermarkets are a Fresh Grocer by Temple’s campusand a Whole Foods in Fairmount, which are one mile and 1.5 miles away respectively.

X said the Peace Park was an alternative to the “papi stores” in the area, where someone could pick up not just produce, but fresh herbs and spices.

“I don’t think they [PHA] know how serious this is as far as food security for this community,” X said.

Weeds have overgrown at the old fenced-off park. It used to host neighborhood days, Saturday school, fairs and fireside chats, among other activities.

Farm coordinator Amia Jackson said that with sorting out their new space, this year’s programming has come to standstill.

In return for giving up their original garden, the PHA offered the North Philly Peace Park gardeners green space just blocks awaywithin the plan for the Sharswood-Blumberg Housing Project.

According to Jackson, PHA offered them a standard, one-year gardening lease that would have run from April to November. Organizers were hoping to see a longer term and an agreement to cover possible soil remediation, Jackson explained, as elder neighbors recalled that a garage was once located on the new garden’ssite.

“PHA said they couldn’t afford that,” said Jackson. “We haven’t gotten anything since.”

PHA is tentatively set to break ground on their new 57-unit complex towards the end of this month. The project is the first piece of PHA’s massive 10-year redevelopment plan for the area. PHA, with City Council’s approval, plans to seize 1,300 lots in Sharswood and build 1,200 units, roughly 80 percent of which would be affordable housing.

PHA did not say when an official land transfer of the new garden to the Peace Park organizers would happen, but in a statement to Metro explained, “PHA understands the importance of green space for a neighborhood. Therefore, PHA will continue to work with the Peace Park. The Peace Park has moved to a new location that is designated for green space in the overall Sharswood/Blumberg Transformation Plan. This is the agency’s most transformative and important plan in over a decade.”

Jackson said as they wait to hear back, they’re also looking elsewhere. The original Peace Park went off an honor system— neighbors were welcome to stop by get food at no cost, on the premise that they would return and help out later. Jackson explained that they’d prefer an open space to continue to encourage that, which limits them to lots that remain ungated.

“We’re trying to get another semi-permanent location where we can do educational programming for the community,” said Jackson. “But it’s been difficult.”