Garden Justice Legal Initiative (GJLI)


We shared testimony with City Council on the preservation of urban agriculture in Philadelphia

Philadelphia gardeners and farmers, who have turned neglected land into beloved community spaces, deserve our admiration and support. Yet despite providing a wealth of benefits to our city, most community gardens in Philadelphia are at risk.

In City Council testimony on urban agriculture hosted by councilmembers Kendra Brooks and Jamie Gauthier, the Law Center’s environmental justice organizer Ryan Gittler-Muñiz urged the city to provide more resources to growers and to ensure cooperation from city agencies like the Land Bank, so that their land can be preserved for years to come. 

Ryan Gittler Muniz testifying in city council
Ryan Gittler-Muñiz sharing testimony in Philadelphia city council

City Council testimony of environmental justice organizer Ryan Gittler-Muñiz

May 8, 2024

Dear Council and Committee:

Thank you, Chairwoman Gauthier, Vice Chairwoman Bass, and all the members of the Committee for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Ryan Gittler-Muñiz and I’m here as an Environmental Justice Organizer on behalf of The Public Interest Law Center. I am also a volunteer with Iglesias Gardens in Kensington and a Solidarity Member of the Food Policy Advisory Council. The Law Center is the only organization in Philadelphia that offers pro bono legal representation and community organizing to urban farmers and gardeners. Through our Garden Justice Legal Initiative, which began in 2011, we have played a role in the creation of the Philadelphia Land Bank and provided legal assistance, referrals, and advice to over 70 gardens. We use both law and advocacy to preserve Philadelphia greenspace, which is being lost due to development pressure. This work is part of our broader Environmental Justice practice, which seeks to ensure that residents have a healthy natural and built environment and a say in what happens in their neighborhoods.

“These valuable spaces reflect the work of community members who transformed neglected land around them, using their own labor and resources to make something beautiful for their neighborhood to enjoy. They deserve our admiration and support.”

Today is an exciting day to reaffirm our commitments to Philadelphians past, present, and future, who tend urban green spaces and make our city better as a result. Agriculture has been practiced here for thousands of years, first by the Lenni Lenape or “original people” of the Delaware Valley, and later by European settlers and descendants of enslaved Africans who brought their own ancestral growing practices. Today, urban agriculture can be found in every neighborhood of the city and is deeply rooted in our Black, Latinx, and AAPI communities. Philadelphia gardens and farms are places where people come together, express themselves freely, grow food for their families, revive connection with the land, practice culture, combat land-based oppression, heal from gun violence—the list goes on and on. These valuable spaces reflect the work of community members who transformed neglected land around them, using their own labor and resources to make something beautiful for their neighborhood to enjoy. They deserve our admiration and our support.

From the city’s Urban Agriculture Plan, we know that Philadelphia has roughly 450 growing spaces, and two-thirds are located in Racially Concentrated Areas of Poverty, meaning over 50% of residents are people of color and over 20% live below the poverty line.[1] The public health benefits of maintaining green space in these communities are well-documented and compelling. According to several peer-reviewed studies, urban gardens increase community access to fresh produce and improve residents’ mental and physical health. [2],[3],[4] They also bolster cities’ resilience to climate change by reducing flooding[5] and hot summer temperatures.[6] In Philadelphia specifically, a 2018 study found that cleaning and greening vacant lots significantly reduced neighborhood crime by 13%, gun violence by 29%, and burglary by 21%, while increasing residents’ feelings of safety and time spent outside.[7]

Urban agriculture has much to offer Philadelphia, yet we are at risk of losing many growing spaces throughout the city. According to the Philadelphia Garden Data Collaborative, we have lost at least 140 known gardens and farms since 2008, and more than half of the city’s garden land is insecure, meaning it is not owned by the garden or a trusted third-party, like a community land trust.[8] At the Law Center, we help gardens secure their land, ideally by gaining legal title but sometimes through long-term leases. That process is complicated because gardens often steward multiple parcels, each owned by different public or private entities. Sometimes, garden parcels are privately-owned by speculators or owners who may be deceased, even if residents have tended the land for many years. This makes the land vulnerable to development or, if it is tax-delinquent, to Sheriff’s Sale.

The majority of insecure garden parcels—almost three-quarters, according to the Urban Agriculture Plan—is owned by the City of Philadelphia.[9] These parcels may have pathways to land security, but community gardeners, farmers, and advocates have urged the city to improve its approach to green space preservation for more than a decade. Growers still face persistent roadblocks from city land-holding agencies like the Philadelphia Land Bank, including multi-year wait times on applications and a lack of staff dedicated to garden and green space preservation.

We are grateful to this Committee for giving urban agriculture practitioners and supporters a platform today, and we reiterate the need highlighted in other testimonies for increased material support. We ask that city council consider additional funding for the Philadelphia Food Justice Initiative, which provides grants to gardens combatting food apartheid, and agencies like Parks and Recreation, whose Farm Philly program supports 60 urban agriculture projects on city land and was integral in producing the 2023 Philadelphia Urban Agriculture Plan.

In addition, we want to stress the importance of ensuring city resources for urban agriculture are invested in land that is secure, meaning it is owned by growers or an entity that will preserve the land over time.[10] We urge city council to do more to facilitate land security for community green spaces, like funding Land Bank acquisitions for eligible gardens and farms on privately owned, tax-delinquent parcels. In holding the majority of threatened garden land, the city has the potential to champion the long-term success of urban agriculture in Philadelphia. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today, and I look forward to answering any questions you may have.

[1] Pg. 20, Philadelphia Urban Agriculture Plan,







[8] Pg. 51, Philadelphia Urban Agriculture Plan,

[9] Pg. 51, Philadelphia Urban Agriculture Plan,

[10] Pg. 51, Philadelphia Urban Agriculture Plan,