Lehigh County Community Gardens Have New Rules
Lehigh County Agricultural Land Preservation takes over South Whitehall Township plots management.
For years, Lehigh County’s community garden plots in South Whitehall Township have been evolving, limited only by the imagination and ingenuity of their gardeners. Some have patio areas with tables and chairs; many have rain barrels. Some fixtures, however, will have to go.
A new county office has taken over management of the plots and rules and regulations have been updated as well. “There are just some changes that need to occur,” says Cathy Borger, the new garden plot program administrator with the Lehigh County Bureau of Agricultural Land Preservation.
A meeting May 16 at the gardens off Parkway Road brought about 40 gardeners together with Borger and two other preservation employees, including Jeff Zehr, director of farmland preservation, and Beverly Weaver, conservation specialist.
Their goal: making sure the gardens are attractive and in compliance with zoning ordinances.
Before the meeting, two gardeners gazed with mixed feelings at a neat and sturdy porch-like structure built to collect rainwater and drain it from a slanted roof into covered barrels.
“This building might have to come down,” said Steve Butz, a gardener who lives nearby in South Whitehall Township and who helped build the structure for a fellow gardener. “It collects a lot of water but they won’t allow catchment systems.”
“We want to comply with them,” said Jose Rivera, an Allentown resident who has rented a plot “since they opened.”
According to the new rules, rain catchment structures are not allowed, but Borger admitted the program is new to her office and the rules may continue to evolve and could be modified.
The following items are no longer allowed at Cedarbrook Community Gardens, as well as the county’s other community garden in Jordan Creek Parkway:
* Vertical structures such as sheds, shelters and tool lockers
* Shelves and horizontal tool lockers more than 30 inches high
* File cabinets or office furniture
* Solid fencing and any fencing over 6 feet high
* Car seats, tires, trash and trash bags
* Bathtubs, sinks and toilet planters
* New trees may not be planted, but trees already growing within the plots may stay.
* A dumpster will be available for disposal of items from May 18 through June 1.
Also banned from garden plots: weeds. “Offenders will get letters,” said Borger. “Fences have to be neat and tidy,” she added, and water barrels must have fitted lids, to cut down on risks from mosquitos and West Nile Virus. But she also admitted that most of the 95 plots in South Whitehall are well maintained.
Zehr thanked all community gardeners “for what you do.” He announced that the portable toilet would return to the garden area, loose stone will be spread on the roadways, and compost will continue to be available for the gardens.
Gardeners expressed concern about several abandoned plots and the speed at which they could be turned over to new gardeners on the waiting list. Gardeners also said there was not enough water available for all the gardens. County employees used to weed whack areas beyond the garden plots, they said, but don’t anymore.
Zehr said that concerns about water and maintenance of areas outside of the gardens would be taken up with Glen Solt, county director of general services.
Zehr explained the oversight of the garden plot program was transferred from the Lehigh County Solid Waste Management Department when the county decided to turn its compost facility over to a private company. “The people who did most of the work on the garden plots before are no longer county employees,” he said.
The change in oversight seems appropriate, he added, “because the land preservation office deals with local food production as well as farmland preservation.”
Lehigh County’s garden plots are available to any county resident for a rental fee of $20 per year, although there is a waiting list. Call 610-391-9583, ext. 17 for more information.