POP wants to highlight our partner sites and the neighborhood groups that help keep them cared for and serving a vital role in the community. In this post, we will be covering the Lower Moyamensing (LoMo) Civic Association’s partnership with the South Philadelphia High School (SPHS) garden and orchard. 

About LoMo, SPHS, and POP’s Partnership

Lower Moyamensing Civic Association was founded in 2007 and shortly thereafter connected with the Principal of South Philadelphia High School. LoMo then hired garden manager Molly Devinney to create programming for students, teachers, and neighborhood daycares at SPHS, according to Patti Tahan, current chair of the LoMo Environmental Committee, who was interviewed for this piece. 

In 2012, LoMo and SPHS created fruit and vegetable gardens in two formerly vacant lots adjacent to the school’s parking lots. The site features raised beds, a very active community compost site, an orchard, and serves as a space for outdoor classroom learning for a variety of subjects. The produce grown in the garden is shared with SPHS students and staff, their families, neighbors, and school district families who visit the school for food distribution or Chromebook support.

Volunteers inspecting a fig tree at South Philly High School during Fig Fest in 2018 (Image Credit: POP)

POP became involved in the site in early 2017, and provided educational information, resources, and support to expand the existing school gardens, adding orchard plants including persimmon and pawpaw trees, berry bushes, understory, and pollinator plants to create a “food forest”. POP’s involvement in the site continues even through the recent COVID-19 pandemic (including producing a POPHarvestEd video on grape leaves), with the “Fig Festival” event being the most popular with Philadelphia gardeners, providing clippings from the numerous variety of the garden’s fig trees from which residents can grow into their own full-sized tree. 

The garden’s larger impact

Since helping to construct the garden in 2012, LoMo has remained a vital partner in the gardens; caring for it weekly, with about twelve total hours of volunteer work from LoMo members throughout the week and more on Saturday mornings. Patti highlighted this consistent presence at the site as one of the keys to its success in integrating gardening and SPHS into the community. She recalls that they have acquired volunteers simply by them walking along the sidewalk and becoming curious about the garden, and that the garden’s composting bin has also proved to be a conduit for growing environmentalism in the community. Volunteers simply love to garden, meet neighbors and new people, and feel close to nature, and currently LoMo has six regular volunteers and five occasional participants. 

Students have remained engaged with the site as well. In 2016 four students worked in the gardens over the summer as a part of the PYN Program (where students receive a salary for their work), and in 2020 before the COVID pandemic lockdowns, monthly programming was in place between POP and LoMo to engage students in the garden. Patti does hope that the gardens can soon be equipped with better benches and picnic tables to further create a sense of community and foster even more engagement with SPHS students, staff, and families. 

Volunteers sheet mulching part of the SPHS garden in 2017 (Image Credit: POP)

Patti further spoke to the importance of constantly keeping in communication with officials and teachers at SPHS to keep relationships strong despite some turnover at the school and changing educational requirements. She recognizes the barriers of educational standards to further engagement with the gardens, but is passionate about using them as a site of creative learning for a variety of subjects, and hopes that the school will further integrate the garden itself into more aspects of coursework. 

When talking to Patti, the most apparent thing is how the benefits of the garden extended beyond the intrinsic joy she and LoMo’s other volunteers find in gardening. They enjoyed sharing the harvest with the school and Lower Moyamensing community and valued the educational opportunities in the garden and its ability to strengthen the area. POP hopes that the partnership between LoMo and SPHS can serve as an inspiration for other school partners in how to engage students and the surrounding community in use and enjoyment of school orchards year-round.

Learn More!

If you have enjoyed this article and want to learn more about LoMo or SPHS, please click the embedded links!

This POP Blog Post was written by POP Intern Joe Dizenhuz

SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia: phillyorchards.org/donate