Our Mission Statement
Southwark/Queen Village Community Garden (SWQVCG), created in 1976, is a space for public gardening, creating and connecting communities and nurturing bio-diversity. Southwark/Queen Village Community Garden is managed as a gardening park by the Neighborhood Gardens Association / A Philadelphia Land Trust and by the gardeners.
A Little History
by Libby J. Goldstein
In 1976, the community garden committee of the Queen Village Neighbors Association began turning the vacant lot at 311-33 Christian Street (formerly the Henry Berk Elementary School) into a garden as part of the neighborhood's celebration of the Bicentennial. We have been cultivating our "interim use" garden, celebrated by Isaiah Zagar's largest mural so far, for 25 years!
In 1977 the garden became one of Penn State Urban Gardening Program's demonstration sites, a locale for recycling, food production and preservation and nutrition programs.
At the behest of the Hon. H.J. Cianfrani, Jr., the Philadelphia Housing Authority removed yards of concrete from the back and sides of the garden making room for twenty more families and for the first community orchard (we think) in the whole United States. Seventy-four Queen Villagers -- kids, seniors and families from all walks of life -- now garden on the site.
At about the same time, Conrad Weiler, then president of QVNA, suggested that we begin looking into permanent site acquisition. We called in the Trust for Public Land, a contact that led to an on-going relationship among TPL, the gardeners, the Urban Gardening Program and Philadelphia Green which resulted in the formation of the Neighborhood Gardens Association / A Philadelphia Land Trust in 1986.
In 1983, ownership of the site reverted to the Federal Government and it became 'excess property'. The gardeners and QVNA met with various federal agencies in the Hon. Thomas Foglietta's Washington office to determine how best to preserve the garden. As a result, the Urban Gardening Program, the gardeners and the City of Philadelphia began working with the National Park Service to have the site turned over to the city as a park and recreation area "in perpetuity." In 1985, the city leased the garden from National Park Service for ten years. It was a compromise between the Reagan Administration, which preferred to sell surplus sites, and the intense interest in acquiring the site by Mayor Goode, the Hon. James J. Tayoun, the Hon. Arlen Specter, Mr. Foglietta and Governor Thornburgh among others. Mayor Goode announced his acceptance and support of a Municipal Food and Agriculture Policy, developed by the Food & Agriculture Task Force at the Southwark/Queen Village Garden during the lease signing ceremony in 1985.
In 1991, Mayor Goode decided to ask that the garden be given to the city for permanent use as a gardening park. His request was supported by Governor Casey, Senator Wofford, Senator Specter, Mr. Foglietta and Council members Cohen, Ortiz and Specter among others. General Services Administration and National Park Service decided to deed the garden to the city under P.L. 450 in view of the "excellent stewardship" exhibited by the city and the gardeners. It will be used for recreation (and gardening) in perpetuity. The park is managed as a gardening park by the Neighborhood Gardens Association / A Philadelphia Land Trust and the gardeners.
Mark Wolfson's cat, Maxine, joined the garden in 1989. She loved gardeners, beans and hanging out. She died in July 1997 and lies beneath the fig trees.
Southwark/Queen Village Garden: A Few Facts
Southwark/Queen Village Community Garden is special. Queen Village has experienced substantial rehabilitation and gentrification since the late 1960's. The garden is one of the first places where older African American and ethnic residents worked side by side with the new 'young professionals' and remains a focus for the love and work of all the neighborhood. It provides not only food, but spiritual nourishment to all of us. It is one of the finest jewels in the Queen's green crown. It will remain as long as Queen Villagers want to garden.
Southwark/Queen Village gardeners produced nearly $29,000 worth of vegetables, herbs and fruit in 2000 according to a formula provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The average gardener produced $414 worth of food for family and neighbors. Some 91% of Philadelphia's gardeners, including those at Southwark/Queen Village, gave surplus food and flowers to friends, neighbors and groups that feed hungry people. At Southwark/Queen Village, we estimate that 255 families in the neighborhood share our harvest. We've also donated our surplus to Philabundance.
In addition to 67 garden plots worked by 74 gardeners, the garden has flower beds, a wide variety of irises, an herb garden, a grape arbor, an orchard and berry patches.
The Garden has 168 feet of frontage on Christian Street, one of Philadelphia's major east-west thoroughfares and a gateway to the Waterfront Development District. It is the last open space of its size (over 18,000 square feet) in the neighborhood. Howard Silver Construction, Inc. built a wood lattice fence with both a truck gate and people gate along this frontage. Climbing roses and iris were planted inside the fence. The project was made possible by financial contributions from the gardeners, Mellon Bank, Core States Bank, the QVNA recycling fund, the Urban Gardening Program and Philadelphia Green.
The gardeners, themselves, built (and rebuilt) the grape arbor.
In 1993, we installed a new storage shed with assistance from Mellon Bank, Queen Village Recycling fund, Philadelphia Green and the Hon. Babette Josephs, our state legislator.
Summerhouse construction began in 1991 and was topped off in July 1992. All of the lumber is recycled . Nails, etc. were provided by Liberty Lumber. The remaining decorative work, designed by gardener and landscape architect Richard Newton, was completed in August 1994. It is once again "under construction" with assistance from Home Depot.
Isaiah Zagar, renowned muralist and one of the originators of the SOUTH STREET RENAISSANCE, helped us celebrate our 20th YEAR with a commemorative wall on the west side of the garden. The first sections were finished in October, 1996. We raised over $2300 from friends like PNC Bank, Essene Natural Foods Store, David Haas and Mellon Bank so Isaiah could finish the wall (all 5 stories) before the first frost of 1997.