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Feeding the Soul and the Community: Lower Moyamensing’s Urban Oasis
Food

Feeding the Soul and the Community: Lower Moyamensing’s Urban Oasis

Neighbors revived the site at South Philadelphia High School in 2016. Today, there’s more food than they have hands to harvest.

Patti Tahan beckoned neighbors into the community garden she stewards on a muggy August morning in South Philadelphia. Bordered by bustling Broad Street, the green refuge is hidden in plain sight.

“You can come in if you’d like. Come in,” she said to a family of three watching from the sidewalk. “Do you want some figs? They’re delicious.”

The site’s two gardens (or so-called “food forests”) sit on opposite ends of South Philadelphia High School’s parking lot, between Snyder and Jackson. Three fig trees, berries, herbs, peaches, and plums are inside the north orchard. The south orchard grows tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, okra, garlic, eggplants, scallions, and melons. The site has raised beds, a community compost, and an irrigation system.

Jen and Andrew Raab, of South Philadelphia, came to pick figs at the community garden after seeing an Instagram post from the LoMo civic association. 
(Photo credit: Lauren Ingeno)
Jen and Andrew Raab, of South Philadelphia, came to pick figs at the community garden after seeing an Instagram post from the LoMo civic association. (Photo credit: Lauren Ingeno)

Both gardens’ fruits and vegetables are abundant at this time of year and always free. Members of the public are welcome to take their pickings on Saturday mornings from 9 to noon, drop their food scraps at the compost, or become regular garden volunteers.

“Everybody shares. We don’t have assigned plots,” Tahan said.

Tahan, of the Lower Moyamensing Civic Association (LoMo), has lived in the neighborhood since she moved to Philadelphia as a public school teacher in 1988. As the LoMo community garden’s neighborhood ambassador, she brought the site back to life in 2016. You can find her and a small band of dedicated volunteers there throughout the week and every Saturday morning.

Today, the garden’s success is a double-edged sword: too much produce and not enough hands to harvest it. Despite its freely available food, many locals don’t know the garden exists, Tahan said.

“Having enough volunteers is a challenge. The harvesting and the distribution is year-round, and it’s constant,” she said. “It’s horrible to see food wasted.”

Reaping and sowing

With more than 100 active community gardens associated with the Philadelphia Horticultural Society (PHS), Philadelphia has a long tradition of urban agriculture that dates back to the 1970s.

Not only do community gardens feed the individual passions of green-thumbed urban dwellers, but they also play vital roles in their communities. They promote sustainability, make fresh produce accessible, and connect neighbors to one another.

The story of the LoMo community garden is one of persistence and preservation.

In 2012, the LoMo civic association partnered with South Philadelphia High School to transform a formerly-vacant lot into what is now the site’s north orchard, Tahan said. According to Barbara Hague, a current garden volunteer who has lived in LoMo since the early ‘80s, school administrators later changed their minds about the partnership and ended SPHS ties with the civic association a few years after the initial union. Soon after, the garden was abandoned altogether.

In 2016, Hague met Tahan while volunteering at the high school on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The conversation quickly turned to both of their first loves — gardening — and Tahan said she had plans for the civic association to revive and steward the community garden once again.

“I said, ‘Oh, no. They’ll just break my heart again. They’ll let me in and kick me out.’ Patti told me, ‘They’re not going to do that. I swear they’re not going to do that,’” Hague said.

Tahan kept her word. That year, she, Hague, and a group of women began the arduous task of rehabilitating both gardens — cleaning, weeding, building, and mulching. LoMo then formed partnerships with PHS and the Philadelphia Orchard Project (POP), which have provided persimmon and pawpaw trees, berry bushes, pollinator plants, seeds, supplies, and other resources to keep the orchards cared for and abundant. Students from South Philadelphia High, which still owns the garden land, also volunteer their time at the garden.

Growing neighborhood partnerships

As the garden continues to grow, Tahan and LoMo are interested in forging more community partnerships, including a new relationship with the South Philly Food Co-op, 2031 S Juniper St.

This past May at a South Philly flea market, Eva Anner, the co-op’s assistant produce manager, walked up to a booth where LoMo volunteers were giving away produce from the garden.

“I was really impressed at the quality of the food, and realizing that the garden was just a few blocks away from the store got me thinking,” Anner said.

Soon, a partnership was born. The co-op, which opened in December 2020, now regularly harvests and sells chocolate mint from the LoMo garden, which is hardy and always sells quickly, Anner says.

All profits from the community garden produce sales go to the co-op’s Round Up program, which provides donations to a different community organization each month.

Anner said the mint sales are a way to raise awareness about the garden and also to encourage local food buying. She and Tahan said the two organizations have future plans to join forces in hosting educational workshops and community events.

“This is about as local as it gets. For the most part, our local products are grown outside of Philadelphia – Lancaster, mostly – and farms in the area,” Anner said. “This is the only produce we have that’s literally grown within a few-block radius.”

For anyone interested in volunteering at the garden, Tahan said they welcome all levels of expertise and interest, from lifelong gardeners to total novices.

“It brings peace of mind, and it’s beautiful to see things grow — it’s like therapy,” Tahan said. “…Even to see the insects and the birds that come in, because that’s a sign of a healthy garden. It’s fun to create things and to share with people.”

Community members and interested volunteers can visit the LoMo community garden at the corner of Jackson and Broad Streets on Saturday mornings between 9 a.m. and noon. Follow @LoMoPhilly on Instagram for updates, and contact Patti Tahan with questions: lomophilly@gmail.com.

Photos by Lauren Ingeno

Cover photo: As community ambassador for the LoMo community garden at South Philadelphia High School, Patti Tahan (left) keeps two fruit and vegetable orchards watered, mulched, and harvested with Brynne Orlando (right) and other neighborhood volunteers.


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Lauren Ingeno is a Philly-based freelance writer and editor who covers science, health, and humans. She is a mother to one mischievous tabby cat, and in her spare time enjoys dancing, finding the best sandwiches in Philadelphia, and being in and around water. Follow her on Twitter (@laureningeno) and subscribe to her newsletter: stopgap.substack.com. View all posts by Lauren Ingeno
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