Powelton's green thumb

Posted: July 06, 2014

IN THE MIDST of Powelton, pawpaws grow.

Nanking cherries are harvested and persimmons thrive as chickens lay eggs among the nearby vegetable gardens inside an oasis.

"Can we have all the pleasures that country people have and still be a five-minute bike ride to the theater? Yes, we can," said Joe Revlock.

Revlock, 63, is the co-founder of the Summer Winter Community Garden in Powelton, one of many community gardens that exist throughout the city under the protection of the newly restructured Neighborhood Gardens Trust, born out of the now defunct Neighborhood Gardens Association.

The NGT, which announced its new name in May, now operates as an independent nonprofit under the management of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. Currently it protects about 34 gardens across the city. The organization's purpose is to acquire, preserve and promote areas such as Summer Winter, near North Natrona and Race streets.

"Our goal is to get around 90 to 100 [gardens] by the end of 2016, which will be the 30-year anniversary [of the NGA],"said Margaret McCarvill, NGT board president.

Revlock, who also serves on the NGT board, came across the land for Summer Winter in 1976 when building development in the Powelton area was scarce. Today the garden has about 70 members.

"The land was just really awful. . . . It was just open land with weeds," he said. "A car was abandoned up in here and I'm like, 'Well that's kind of interesting. I guess we could do something with that before they develop it.' "

Every gardener in Summer Winter purchases their own plot for 15 cents per square foot per year, and a set of bylaws are in place to keep the facility running smoothly, Revlock said.

"You have to worry about the best practices; organic practices. No pesticides, no pesky fertilizers and all that stuff is the big change," Revlock said with a chuckle as birds splashed behind him in a birdbath.

Since its early days, the garden has blossomed through a partnership with nearby Drexel University, which has provided Summer Winter with lighting and fencing, Revlock said.

"This kind of model [operating with university assistance] is really successful," he said.

He added that that the benefits to community gardens are vast, ranging from increased property values to community togetherness.

"And I keep thinking, well that's all the Middle East needs - all we need is a little community gardening to get us back on track," Revlock joked. "We have people here from different races and different dogmas, they're not fighting amongst each other - they might disagree on what to plant, though."

The land for Summer Winter is currently leased by the NGT from the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, but eventually land ownership will be transferred to the city's Department of Parks and Recreation.

"It's the Redevelopment Authority's job to redevelop city land, where Parks and Rec is more interested in maintaining - it makes more sense for it to be under their umbrella," said Jeff Barg, associate director of planning and external policy relations at PHS.

Since the NGT relaunched its intake process, about 10 additional community gardens have applied for its assistance, Barg said.

"Generally we are all after the same thing. We are not trying to do this so we can accumulate land and sell it to the highest bidder," said Revlock. "This is about having parcels of land to create the William Penn green country town, if you will. It's the idea that this little green country town thing works and is working well."

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