For most neighborhoods in North Philadelphia, you would consider yourself lucky to have a tree on your block that provides shade during the hot summer months or a picturesque scene as leaves fall in autumn. At 18th and Glenwood, there’s not only trees, but a 4-acre community garden. For almost 40 years, Glenwood Green Acres has been a vital resource providing access to the land to grow food, build community, and pass on agricultural traditions and knowledge.
The garden sits on the former site of a whiskey barrel factory that was destroyed due to a fire. It soon became a dumping ground and eye sore for the neighborhood, especially for those who lived directly across the street, like James and Ruth Taylor. In 1983, the Taylors took the lead on ensuring the land was put to good use. The Taylors rallied the support of neighbors who became friends throughout the hard work of transforming the site into a large shared growing space. Many of the other gentleman brought their talents of plumbing and carpentry to maintain the garden. The group would clean it up, and continued to struggle against dumping, but they never gave up. They were determined to keep it.
Taylor’s passion for gardening dated back to his childhood spending time on his grandfather’s farm in North Carolina. He took pride in caring for his crops which included collard greens, string beans, tobacco, peanuts, and cotton. For 13 years Taylor would open the garden before sunrise and walk the land. One thing he enjoyed was hosting harvest parties that would bring the community together to celebrate the success of the growing season.
In 1996, all that excitement came to a halt when a bright orange Sheriff’s sale notice was placed on the garden’s gate. For months the gardeners were distraught and anxious over the thought of losing the garden they had started with their own hands. Taylor got in touch with the Neighborhood Gardens Association (now Neighborhood Gardens Trust). The Association attended countless Sheriff sales until Glenwood finally came up for bid, and the property was won with NGA’s $25,000 offer. Taylor was thrilled to hear they were able to save the garden for the community. During that time Glenwood became a part of the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society’s Philadelphia Green project which assisted gardens with technical and physical support and, encouragement.
The same year, James Taylor received a Certificate of Merit from the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society for his giving nature and commitment to his community. His philosophy for successful living was “Celebration and Commitment” to family, friends, community, and mother nature.
Thanks to the Taylors, there is a rich history at the garden that runs deep. Darlene Marcus, a gardener who learned across generations is proof of that. Her grandfather, Phillip Turner managed his plot for over a decade before falling ill and asking her to take it over. Darlene admits she had no idea what she was doing in the beginning but welcomed the knowledge of her grandfather and support from fellow gardeners. She remembers taking crops from the garden and showing them to her grandfather for approval, and planting seeds she found in his home unsure of what was to grow. One turned out to be a hubbard squash.
Darlene’s granddaughter Ashley understands the importance of keeping the tradition of gardening alive and passing down these practices, because for those that came before us this was their way of life. She says, “It starts with giving respect to the garden, the founders, and its predecessors. Just as seeds are planted, the roots from these families are growing into generational vines.” She also mentions how outside of the garden many communities may not always take the opportunity to get know each other,
When you speak with the gardeners you can hear the passion in their voices. Viery Ricketts-Thomas, a longtime gardener at Glenwood is from the Caribbean. Her parents were cultivators, everything her family ate was from the ground, so her hands were always in the dirt. She can be seen doing a happy dance when her crops start to come in.
There is a diverse group at Glenwood, including gardeners from Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, and Peru. Most are retired seniors, with some under the age of 50 but all are hard-working people. They make it very clear there is no separation among them. The first meeting is always a joyous day as everyone is happy to see each other and start the season. They all have a love for gardening and want to see Glenwood prosper.
James Taylor passed away in 2009 but his legacy lives on. The garden has a memorial space dedicated to James and his wife Ruth. Today’s Glenwood gardeners have big dreams for the future. There is a red train caboose in the back of the garden which has become a big attraction and they would like to renovate it into an office space. The group also wants to make the garden more accessible with raised beds and open lanes. They would love to have a youth garden for preteens and work with the neighborhood churches. They also discussed starting a food stand, planting a fruit orchard, and adding more sitting spaces.
Glenwood Green Acres is currently accepting new gardeners, with or without experience, all are welcome. Those who are interested in having a plot should send an email to email@example.com for more information.