Norris Square Neighborhood Project’s Sustainability through Gardening
Norris Square Neighborhood Project's urban garden projects in West Kensington, Philadelphia and their significance to urban agriculture and sustainability.
Norris Square Neighborhood Profit (NSNP) is a non-profit organization in the Norris Square neighborhood in North Philadelphia giving community residents and youth a place to “explore culture and social-justice issues, create art, and develop their sustainable-agriculture skills” through gardening. They maintain six urban gardens that are Puerto Rican/Latinx culturally-themed to promote sustainability within the community. This article will highlight a few of their gardens and how they contribute to sustainable lifestyles within the community.
Raíces is the Spanish word for “roots,” and this garden provides a space for local youth and community members to nurture their culture. The garden is home to NSNP’s community farm stand and a large mural depicting the rich and complex Puerto Rican history through “Taíno Natives, horse-mounted conquistadors, exotic wildlife, and present-day people.” At the farm stand, the youth that are a part of NSNP’s Raíces de Cambio program harvest the produce from NSNP’s gardens to sell at an affordable price to community members. When the produce from NSNP’s gardens is not enough to meet the demand, NSNP purchases produce from small local stores. This generates a sustainable consumption and production practice within Norris Square as they are buying, selling, and using products that are locally grown and harvested. This completely eliminates carbon emissions from overseas imports and large corporations.
Another significant garden is Villa Africána Colobó that was created in 2006 to explore the West African diaspora in Puerto Rican culture and ancestry. This garden is known for their extravagant decor with three African huts, an outdoor kitchen custom to Puerto Rico, and a story telling room to share Puerto Rican “traditions and cultural practices connected to the African heritage in the island.” While the garden itself is impressive, the purpose behind it and sustainable practices within the garden are understated. Iris Brown is the woman who designed Colobó, and she still maintains the garden to serve its purpose. During events that NSNP holds, she often shares the significance of her garden’s designs in relation to the West African diaspora in Puerto Rico to share long-standing sustainable agricultural practices. Another less mentioned sustainable practice within this garden is a compost toilet. This turns human waste into compost that can be used within the gardens.
The last garden to discuss is Las Parcelas, the largest of the Norris Square gardens. Las Parcelas features La Casita de Abuela (the grandmother’s small house), replicating a traditional home in rural Puerto Rico. It is also home to rows of garden plots, an event space, a chicken coop, and a mural dedicated to community members, specifically the women of Grupo Motivos (local Puerto Rico women who created and maintained the gardens). This garden is the primary garden used for community events and meetings, but it also offers community members a place to grow their own produce within the city. The community members who garden in Las Parcelas are responsible for gardening and harvesting their own spaces. This offers community members a space to practice sustainable lifestyles in regards to food. Another feature of this garden is the compost bins, where community members and NSNP staff can place plant waste to become compost for the garden. These bins are used more frequently than the compost toilet in Colobó.
The NSNP gardens are offering their community several opportunities to practice and enhance sustainable lifestyles. Through growing, eating, and selling their locally grown produce they are reducing emissions and benefiting their community. But beyond that, each garden has their own understated ways that contribute to local sustainability through Puerto Rican history and culture.