Community Gardeners Pledge To Keep Growing Despite "Disappointing" City Regulations

mgriggs.jpg
Photo By Mark Graham
Mariana Griggs vows to continue her renegade gardening.
The City's slow move against community gardening continues, as evidenced by the latest set of do's-and-don'ts -- the sixth try at this -- given the green-thumbs-up by the council's Transportation and Environment Committee on Monday. The so-called Option 6 will now take root at the Zoning Ordinance Committee. To summarize the presentation made to the council by Kris Sweckard, managing director of the Office of Environmental Quality, allow me to return to the liveblog:
Those recs are: Gardeners must get written permission of the lot's owner, and pay, each year, a $215 fee to obtain and maintain a permit. If they want to hook up water to the lot, that's about $2,025, and electricity's $60, though there's a possibility that might go up to $100. No on-site sales of the garden's produce are allowed, and no farm animals, either. Overhead lighting is outlawed, and you can only build, at max, a 10 foot by 10 foot structure on the back 30 percent of the property. A little sign is allowed. But it can't be illuminated.
Mariana Griggs, activist and president of Community Gardens of Oak Cliff, was in attendance, and she is none too happy about the "disappointing but not surprising" Option 6, as she writes in an open letter to Mayor Tom Leppert and the council. Griggs copied me on the letter, which sent yesterday at noon. In it, she chides the committee for not even having a good grasp on how many gardens exist in the city, and touts the social benefits of community gardens that are allowed to flourish without city interference. But don't take her word for it, she says -- come share the fruits (and vegetables) of her labor and see for yourselves. The letter's after the jump. So dig in.
Mayor Leppert & Honorable Councilmembers:

Yesterday's decision by the Environmental Quality and Transportation Committee to move forward on Option 6 for Community Gardens on vacant property was disappointing but not surprising.

It was clear that the members of the committee were ready to move forward with some kind of plan, but still obvious that this is not the Option everyone was hoping for. Option 6 carries an annual permitting fee of $215 to cover the cost of city staff examining a required site plan and contains provisions against sales and livestock. This is an issue of community, not one to be policed by recommendations made without a single bit of research and presented with photos from other cities.

If Option 6 manages to reach general council and become part of our development code we will lose, as a city, the opportunity to bring our communities together through food production. The inevitable truth is thatwe are all facing hard times. Our city needs to reexamine our plans for undeveloped vacant lots and an underutilized workforce. These lots are often tucked between two single family homes or near apartment complexes. Having the right to garden or farm these lots without added fees and regulations is the best way to encourage community revitalization, reduce crime and educate our next generation about environmental and social justice issues.

The field of Urban Agriculture including: School, Community and Church Gardens, Urban Farms and Microfarms and Agritourism is experiencing a reawakening. It has been estimated that much of our food travels an average of 1,500 miles from its source to our plates. By reusing vacant spaces to grow food we decrease our energy consumption. The idea of using a vacant lot to grow food is not a new one. In Dallas victory gardens once numbered in the thousands.

As Councilman Kadane pointed out during the briefing, a Community Garden is not for everyone but everyone should have the opportunity to be a part of one. To date there has only been a single instance in our city where neighbors were so divided on this topic and it happened to be in Councilman Kadane's district. Typically Urban Agricultural spaces grow organically from the surrounding community. Few gardeners want a long commute to garden. Here in Oak Cliff we have some gardeners that come from Highland Park. We welcome them and in turn they take their experiences back to their own communities.

Also during the briefing, Councilwoman Medrano questioned staff as to the amount of gardens in existence within the city. At that point the room got so quiet that I could hear a cricket chirp. Staff did not know the answer. One of the reasons the number of gardens is unknown is because they do not create code complaints. Gardeners and Farmers are hard workers. Piles of dirt and mulch are needed for planting and are mostly used before anyone knows they are even around. Also, trash has no place in a garden. It is quickly cleaned up so as not to attract urban fauna. Nothing is worse for crops than a band of rowdy raccoons attracted by trash.

I invite you to visit our Community Gardens of Oak Cliff. Come and have some homegrown pesto in the garden. We won't be selling it, but we are more than willing to share. Also, once you taste one of our sun warmed and ripened watermelons the one from the grocery store might not taste the same. If we were allowed chickens and bees, we might even share eggs and honey with you.

We look forward to your response.

Very truly yours,
Mariana Griggs
President, Community Gardens of Oak Cliff
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