Local auction 

La Cuisine du Peuple fights to save community gardens

Abandoned land in Southwest Philadelphia, where chiefs and community members grow produce to feed neighbors, is at risk of being auctioned off at a sheriff’s sale next month.

Driving the news: The People’s Kitchenwho sanitized and transformed 30 lots in the city into community gardens, flyers found on the fences outside some of their garden beds several weeks ago, informing them of a sheriff’s sale.

  • The organization is currently fundraising and working with the town and councilor Kendra Brooks to keep the land under community control.

Why is this important: According Feeding America 2019 Data. Advocates believe this rate has increased dramatically during the pandemic.

  • In Southwest Philadelphia, about 27% of residents live below the poverty line, according to US census data.
  • The People’s Kitchen says its gardens are revitalizing Southwest Philadelphia by growing produce for the community and using it to cook free meals.
Crops grow on one of the lots turned into a community garden. Photo courtesy of Kenny Chiu

State of play: The People’s Kitchen raised nearly $17,000 from a GoFundMe page set up in mid-June to help the association buy the land.

  • Several of the lots were up for auction at a July 7 sheriff’s sale, but the group worked with Brooks to get some off the list at the last minute, volunteer Kenny Chiu told Axios.
  • The rest has been postponed until August 5, when other lots used by the organization will go on sale.

The context: The land is held in trust by the U.S. Bank and is owned by bond insurance company MBIA, which purchased approximately 30,000 tax liens from the city of Philadelphia in 1997. The city had pooled the liens and sold them for the purpose to raise funds for the financing of schools. .

The big picture: The People’s Kitchen is among several community groups and city leaders who have lobbied for legislation to protect community gardens across Philadelphia.

  • Last May, Brooks, backed by several other council members, called on the city to buy out the liens and then prioritize selling the land to community groups.

Between the lines: Chiu told Axios that the group is particularly concerned now that the Sheriff’s sales are happening online, a change that happened last year that the organization says allows developers and people without local ties to bid more easily in the field. The People’s Kitchen believes that community members should have first access.

  • “Anyone outside of Philly, anyone around the world, across the country, can bid online,” Chiu said.

What they say : Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, the law firm representing US Bank, told Axios that they had “constantly worked with city leaders to slow, not stop, the sale” of plots used as community gardens” until until it is determined whether a resolution can be found between the City of Philadelphia and MBIA as the lien owner.”

  • The city did not respond to Axios’ request for comment.
A man pushes a wheelbarrow through one of Southwest Philadelphia's community gardens.
Photo courtesy of Kenny Chiu
Two young boys plant in a community garden in Southwest Philadelphia.
Photo courtesy of Kenny Chiu

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