Rahul Coutinho - Photographer | About The Garden Project @ SPOAC

The South Philadelphia Older Adults Center (SPOAC) sits on the corner of Dickinson Street and East Passyunk Avenue, the site of the former Moyamensing Prison razed in 1969. Passyunk Avenue is the oldest contiguous commercial corridor in the country going back some 400 years when Native Americans traveled it to trade with Swedish settlers.

Today, The Garden Project @ SPOAC along Passyunk Avenue represents one of only two substantial green spaces for several miles of heavily developed urban highway. The front “yard”, at the south east corner of the property, was formerly an unofficial dog park surrounded by an orange cyclone fence. The soil was so degraded even crab grass struggled to grow there and neighbors constantly complained about the dust and smell.

In 2008 this area was planted as a large pocket park to emphasize the visual break of green space along the streetscape. It features a substantial perennial garden and shade trees and is open during business hours.

The “back yard” of SPOAC, along the west of the property, had formally consisted of a bocce court, grass, and a donated gazebo. It was a no-man’s land that was rarely frequented by the seniors or anyone else. In 2011, after much discussion, SPOAC decided to convert the back of the property to an edible food garden based loosely on Permaculture principles. Designed as a useful and productive public space for the 21st century, the garden is a complex ecosystem of fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, insectary plants, and, in the summer, an incalculable number of bees. Both seniors and community members have signed up and manage some fifteen raised beds.

The Garden Project @ SPOAC has been a herculean effort involving many volunteers and community leaders. It was designed and mostly funded by Jeff Goldman. SPOAC received an additional grant of $3,000 from State Representative Bill Keller as well. The front yard garden was installed by Jeff Goldman, Katie Briggs, Marj Rosenbaum, Angela Fleegle, and help from Bill Keller’s crew. The back yard was installed by the many plot holders of the future community garden, Jeff Goldman, and significant help from Penny Gile’s crew from the Francisville NDC. Tim Lidiak, Susan Patrone, Peter Verrecchia, and Renee Gillinger donated boat loads of planning support on various subprojects such as bicycle racks, planning, and bureaucratic navigation. Thanks to Rebecca Harclerode for all the help with never-ending garden maintenance. Here also a shout out to Phil Forsyth of the Philadelphia Orchard Project (POP) for procuring many of the productive plants in the garden. Arborist support came from Mike Helsen and Ben Stanko, District Arborists, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation. Lori Hayes of Parks and Recreation was able to get us some 50 yards of wood chips and compost to sheet compost the back yard prior to planting, no small accomplishment! Special thanks as always go to Lynn Spiro, Executive Director of Senior Recreation Centers, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation; Lynn Sieruc, Former Director, SPOAC; and Barbara Gillette, current SPOAC Director.

Future plans include the expansion of both gardens as well as a larger shed. We also hope to enlist more volunteers who are interested in learning more about perennials, annual gardening, and maintaining fruit and nut trees. -Written by Jeff Goldman.
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