Dispatches From The War On Urban Gardens: At Last, Won't SOMEBODY Think Of The Kale?

That’s right, my friends, growing vegetables is not a suitable use of, uh, dirt.

Nov 21, 2013 at 3:00pm | Leave a comment

Y’all, I’ve been writing about a lot of very frivolous stuff lately, so I think it’s time to get serious about an issue that’s steadily growing across the United States: the war on urban gardens.

We must never forget, in our fight for autonomy, that just as these are our streets, these are our sidewalk gardens, our front yard veggie plots, our porch apiaries. If we don’t stand up to government schemes to slowly choke out urban gardening, before you know it, plants will have no rights altogether, and we’re going to be facing a terrifying world in which everything we eat comes from distant farms and massive industrial agriculture producers -- a world nothing like today, where the sources of our food are all well-known to us and everyone can safely and freely garden without fear of interference.

The ability to grow and source our own food is, after all, a basic human right, as is the right to use our land as we please. Today it may be gardens, and you may say nothing, but what about when you want to set up a backyard knitting circle and the fuzz come to bust it up, my friends? What happens when it’s your craft brewing club that’s forced to give up the fruits of its labors?

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Protect the right to fruit party!

Photo: Memphis CVB.

It’s common to hear conservatives arguing, of course, that there is no war on urban gardens. They’re simply passing legislation and making policy decisions aimed at protecting us, for our own good, and any resemblance between said decisions and benefits for lobbyists is merely coincidental. Just remember that incremental legislation of this nature may start with trees and shrubs, but before you know it, it’s going to extend to root vegetables, tomatoes, and even strawberries: by the end of next year, multiple states could be passing ultrasound requirements for growing potatoes.

You might think I’m exaggerating the problem, perhaps engaging in hyperbole to stir your sentiments, but I’d like to present some grim evidence of the war on urban gardening.

In Miami Shores, Hermine Ricketts and Tom Carroll have been growing produce in their front yard for 17 years, but they won’t be doing it for much longer: they’ve been ordered to uproot the garden or pay a daily fine of $50, which is kind of a lot for growing your own vegetables. Officials claim they’re violating zoning ordinances, and disturbing the planned “aesthetic character” of their community.

Because pink flamingoes are totally superior to kale.

What about Julie Bass, in Michigan? After her yard was dug up for utility work, she put in vegetable beds, and was told to take them out because they weren’t “suitable.” That’s right, my friends, growing vegetables is not a suitable use of, uh, dirt.

How about Adam Guerro, a high school teacher in Memphis who was also ordered to destroy his tidy urban garden? After nearly of two years of working on his garden and using it as a teaching school with his students, he was informed that he needed to get rid of the “debris” in his yard. Evidently teaching students how to make biodiesel and raising vegetables for the neighborhood is a nuisance.

Denise Morrison in Tulsa had to watch her urban garden being torn out by heavy earthmoving equipment before she even had a chance to go to court over the citation the city gave her to order her to clear out her yard. Tulsa’s entry in the war on urban gardens may come at a high cost for the city, because she’s suing, but like many innocent victims of this ruthless attack on freedom, Morrison is only one individual against The Man.

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Think you can grow your own herbs? Think again.

Photo: Alice Henneman.

Bulldozing claimed an urban garden in Harrisburg, PA after the city council decided it was filled with nefarious characters, like picklers and possible DIY garlic braiding enthusiasts. Despite the fact that destroying the garden constituted a violation of the lease between the city and the garden, city council members felt brazen when it came to ordering its destruction. Why? Because urban gardens are considered second class citizens in this country.

The South Central Farm, once one of the largest community gardens in the United States and an important source of food and education in a low-income part of Los Angeles, was put to the bulldozer in 2006, marking an early entry in the urban farming wars. Protests from residents, including civil disobedience, marked the destruction, but they were unable to save their community treasure.

One of the few victors facing a growing tide of anti-garden sentiment is Ron Finley, who took over an abandoned strip of Los Angeles sidewalk and turned it into a produce garden. Though the authorities tried to take him down, he got backing from friends and neighbors and his garden maintains its foothold...for now, at least.

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This blossom can only turn into glorious fruit if it's not cruelly cut from the branch by interfering city officials. 

Photo: Sergey Rodovnichenko.

As the slow march of progress against urban gardening persists, it’s time to ask the hard question: when will YOU stand up for chard?