Q. What steps do I need to go through to get permission to garden on a vacant lot?

I live in the Hawthorne neighborhood in Philadelphia near a vacant lot that I and several of my neighbors want to turn into a garden. I’ve done the title research and learned that the owner no longer lives in Philadelphia. How do I get permission to use this vacant lot and start a community garden?


In Philadelphia, the usual route to getting permission to use a piece of vacant land is to find the owner. You have done your homework and the lot is still listed under that owner's name; that means it has not been turned over to the city yet.

Here are a few next steps:

- Call the city  this is where you report the vacant lot and its condition.

- Contact the Councilperson’s office in that area:  District 1 is Mark Squilla  215-686-3458 ext 59 to let that office know you’re interested

- Check with the local Community Center - Hawthorne Empowerment Coalition contact Michael Athay, or Patricia Bullard

The local Center may have information on the lot and can help with next steps.

- PHS does host classes for new gardeners called Garden Tenders – checkout our classes

This process may take awhile but it's best to follow the steps. The hard work of starting a garden and being able to eat the fruits of your labor is worth the wait, knowing you have permission to use the land.

At some point, if you are growing food, it would be best to test the soil to know it’s safe.

We suggest a soil test from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.  It tests for heavy metals and lead.

And finally, check out our online resources in the links below. These are gardening subject guides on community gardening, vegetable gardening and basic horticulture. These and many more are avaible through our library. See the library's complete directory of Subject Guides.

  • Last Updated Jan 08, 2019
  • Views 175
  • Answered By Janet Evans

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  1. Hawthorne Empowerment Coalition has a new website with an easier contact form. Michael Athay will probably still reply, but Pat Bullard is "retired" from HEC. Also, Kenyatta Johnson is our new Council Rep with the new lines.

    by Tim on Oct 30, 2013.
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