The Shovel and the Fist

Fuego Nuevo at Cesar Andreu Iglesias community garden
by Willow Zef

Back in 2013, the Philly Socialists broke ground on a garden in North Philadelphia. Built on the principles of taking unproductive land, reinvigorating the abandoned earth, and building community relationships. What better way to grow roots than by digging into the land and planting seeds?

The years since have seen many hands working the gardens soil and many gatherings of neighbors. Fuego Nuevo, for example, a dance troupe led by Cesar Viveros (whose sculptures also grace the space) have been performing ritual dance in accordance with the Spring & Fall Equinox, both to welcome in the new planting season and to give thanks for the harvest. Cesar’s work is inspired by Toltec & Aztec culture; a statue of Quetzcoatl, the feathered serpent, proudly sits at the entrance of the garden.

Alongside Fuego Nuevo, the Philly Socialists have hosted a pig roast and mini-concerts. Most recently, there was a back-to-school party where they gave away school supplies to neighboring kids. The event gave everyone an opportunity to eat from the land. There was face painting and a blow-up jumpy castle too!

The garden itself is playfully alive, some might call it unruly, with a number of wild edibles & medicinals like red clover, dandelion, chicory, mugwort, lambs quarter, and plantain (not the cooking banana though, but the low growing plant used most often to soothe bug bites and prevent infection in minor cuts & speed up their healing). There are three mulberry trees on the outskirts of the garden that are abundant with juicy berries in the late Spring. This past season, they added to the tree collection by planting a tiny elderberry sapling dug up from La Finquita (a few blocks south at Lawrence & Master) as well as two pawpaws (a fruit tree native to the northeast region of the country). It will be a few years before they produce fruit, but in the meantime, they’ve grown everything from corn to watermelon to calendula.

Currently, because it’s winter time, the garden will rest without any of the hardier Fall & Winter greens like kale.

When Spring & Summer roll around, they look forward to planting anew and seeing what pops up (like the lima bean plants that travel from Miss Katty’s house next door), expanding the garden into the empty lots across the way, and continuing the community gatherings and workdays. Keep your ear to the ground for updates. Philly Socialists have a couple specific projects in the making, including a medicine crafting workshop and a cooking class for kids in the neighboring community. Ingredients for the garden will be utilized for both.

What better way to grow roots than by digging into the land and planting seeds?

If you’d like to volunteer or become more involved, the next clean up day for the garden is scheduled for Saturday, February 4th 2017. Feel free to email with any questions, and like the garden on Facebook @ Cesar Andreu Iglesias Community Garden, and perhaps most importantly, visit the garden whenever. It’s located on Lawrence & Arlington (right near Cousins on 5th).

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