Garden Justice Legal Initiative (GJLI)

Community gardens provide reliable sources of healthy food and income, and they help communities revitalize and reclaim their neighborhoods. But even established sites of urban food production face legal difficulties that can make them difficult to sustain – not the least of which is the difficulty faced by community groups and individuals seeking to grow food on public and private vacant and abandoned property.

The goal of the Garden Justice Legal Initiative (GJLI) is to provide pro bono legal support, policy research and advocacy, and community education to community gardeners and market farmers in the Philadelphia region.

Legal Support

Through GJLI, we provide direct representation to clients. The GJLI also connects community gardens with pro bono counsel. To expand the capacity of the Philadelphia legal community to represent community gardens and urban farms, we hold regular CLE trainings for lawyers to help them learn to navigate the issues that these gardeners regularly face, such as adverse possession claims.

Policy Research and Advocacy

The Garden Justice Legal Initiative has provided key policy research and analysis on urban agriculture, garden and open space policy in Philadelphia, rooted in the needs of current clients, as well as concerns raised by community leaders and city agencies. The director of GJLI serves as one of the co-chairs of Philadelphia’s Food Policy Advisory Council, which connects local stakeholders and City government agencies to create a more just food system, including urban agriculture.

Coalitions and Partners

GJLI has worked with numerous partners to successfully organize and grow a network of farmers, gardeners, and their neighbors, as well as community-based organizations and city officials, to build a strong, citywide voice for urban agriculture and garden and open space preservation. Soil Generation, a black and brown-led coalition of gardeners, farmers, individuals and community-based organizations working to ensure people of color regain community control of land and food, is a central part of this network. We have supported Soil Generation since its beginnings in 2012 and serve as the coalition’s fiscal sponsor. To learn more, visit their website.

Community Education

Through community education, we engage with more than 200 people each year, providing tools to advocate for the right to use vacant land and build community and green open space on land in their neighborhoods. Each year, GJLI and Soil Generation host several free public trainings, called Vacant Land 215, for community gardeners and others who seek to transform vacant land into green public space. These trainings bring together experts from a number of organizations and city agencies, such as the Philadelphia Land Bank and Neighborhood Gardens Trust. Attendees learn from a series of short presentations and are given time to approach experts with questions pertaining to their individual concerns.

GJLI has produced a guide to transforming vacant land in Philadelphia, the Vacant Land 215 toolkit.

We also provide an online resource ecosystem, Grounded in Philly, delivering access to data on vacant land throughout Philadelphia, community forums, and resources to individuals interested in starting or preserving community-based vacant land projects. This online tool includes interactive pathways for individuals to direct themselves to the resources and information that is most relevant to them by answering simple questions about their particular situation and needs.


Request Representation from the Garden Justice Legal Initiative

To request representation for a community garden or urban farm issue from the Law Center’s Garden Justice Legal Initiative, click here and follow the instructions on the form.

To complete the form:

  1. Save the form to your computer or print it
  2. Fill it out on the computer or by hand
  3. If completed on the computer, email to wburstein@pubintlaw.org
  4. If completed by hand, mail to the Law Center’s address listed above, Attn: Garden Justice Legal Initiative

If you have questions, you may contact the Law Center at 215-627-7100 ext. 252 or wburstein@pubintlaw.org.

NOTE: Requesting an appointment by phone or email will not establish an attorney client relationship. We are not agreeing to take your case. We do not represent you at this time. Therefore, you remain responsible for any and all deadlines.


Project Updates

October 2019
We review what Philadelphia's new public land policy means for community gardeners

August 2019
Our testimony on environmental justice and climate change, including the benefits of community gardens

June 2019
We share comments on the Philadelphia Land Bank's 2019 draft strategic plan

April 2019
New Jerusalem receives deed from the Philadelphia Land Bank

May 2018
In Positive Shift, Philadelphia City Agencies Transfer Land to Community Garden

April 2018
The Garden Justice Legal Initiative held a CLE and legal clinic to broaden their impact in Philadelphia

March 2018
While Community Gardeners Conclude Legal Actions to Secure Land, Promise of Philadelphia Land Bank Remains Unfulfilled

October 2016
Recursos 2015 Sobre Terrenos Desocupados

September 2016
Philadelphia City Council Urban Ag Hearing

November 2015
Garden Justice Legal Initiative Releases Vacant Land 215 Toolkit

March 2015
North Philly Peace Park

June 2014
Farm 51

April 2014
HIAS/Bhutanese Gardens

August 2013
Central Club for Boys & Girls

July 2013
The Village of Arts and Humanities and Norris Square Neighborhood Project

June 2013
Friends of Manton Park and Community Garden

September 2012
Viola Street Garden

July 2012
Pulaski Zeralda Garden

May 2012
Central Club Granted Six-Month Stay of Sheriff’s Sale

March 2012
Plotland

January 2011
GJLI, Gardeners & Fellow Advocates Weigh in on Proposed Vacant Land Policy