Eager Green Thumbs Face Years-Long Wait at Fitler Square’s Premier Community Garden
By James Young
The Schuylkill River Park Community Garden (SPRCG), located just off S 25th Street on the park’s Northeast corner, is one of Philadelphia’s most popular and well-maintained community gardens.
But with a staggering waitlist nearing 80 names, snagging a spot in this urban paradise requires a hefty dose of patience.
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It is the largest of the three community gardens in the Center City area, comprising 70 plots of various sizes. Despite its size, those toward the end of the waitlist will likely wait about three years before securing a plot, says Cerie Goldberg, a member of the SRPCG steering committee. Goldberg said that the waitlist is currently the longest it has ever been.
Goldberg noted that the waitlist increased dramatically during the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic; with a lack of available options for socialization, the community garden became a way of “staying in touch with nature, as well as supporting mental health.” She believes that the garden is also popular in part due to its well-maintained and beautiful appearance.
In order to get a plot, one must be a resident of the area under the purview of the Center City Residents’ Association (CCRA), which includes the area North of South St, West of Broad St, South of JFK Blvd, and East of the Schuylkill River.
If one is a resident, there are two methods for obtaining a plot.
The first involves becoming a dues-paying member of the CCRA, which costs a minimum of $35 per year; the member must then add their name to the waitlist. Plots obtained through this method are leased for six years, and gardeners must maintain their CCRA membership from the time they join the waitlist until their six-year lease ends.
For the second method, membership with the CCRA is not needed, and plots are awarded through a lottery system. However, these plots are leased for a one-year period, and there are only five available. In order to join the lottery pool, one must contact the SPRCG steering committee between the months of January and March; according to Goldberg, there are currently six people in the pool.
The steering committee has also recently added a number of smaller plots that are offered to those near the top of the waitlist; these plots are two to three square feet, in comparison to the main plots, which range from ten to twenty square feet. According to Goldberg, these micro-plots have also become popular with elderly and disabled gardeners who may have lower mobility and may find a larger plot difficult to manage.
The SRPCG, which was started in 1982, is owned jointly by the Department of Parks & Recreation and the Fairmount Park Commission and is leased to the CCRA. Its steering committee is made up of current plot-holders.
Part of the garden’s appeal is its participation in the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s City Harvest program, which supplies produce to local food cupboards. The SRPCG donates hundreds of pounds of food per year to those in need through this program. Some of the organizations that the program donates to include Saint John’s Hospice and the Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion.
Goldberg also shared her appreciation for the social aspect of the garden; she says that members use the SRPCG as a way to connect with members of their community. Gardeners will often schedule their work days in tandem, adding a social layer to the gardening experience. They are also eager to collaborate, exchanging gardening tips and lending a hand with others’ plots.
Despite the long wait, the SRPCG is still more accessible than some other community gardens in the city. Many community gardens do not have term limits on garden plots, allowing members to retain their space indefinitely. The six-year terms at the SRPCG ensure that all Center City residents have a fair chance to access the garden.