With the current groundswell of interest in urban homesteading and super-local food production, it’s no surprise people are fired up about their right to garden! But it appears that the widespread, incredulous response to the case of the Michigan gardener who faced jail time for growing veggies last year wasn’t enough to convince local governments to update their urban agriculture policies.
The latest example? Adam Guerrero of Memphis, Tenn., received a citation last week for the “nuisance” caused by the raised vegetable beds and sunflower plants in his yard. This case has an especially ridiculous twist: Guerrero, a high school math teacher, uses the garden to pass his urban farming expertise on to local youth. So far this year, the after-school group has been shown how to make biodiesel, harvest honey, compost, and install solar power.
At a time when cities all over the country are so cash-strapped they’re doing things like dismantling local fire departments to stay afloat, some still find it worthwhile to go after a guy who donates his time helping kids who might otherwise spend their out-of-school hours in front of the TV. Not only have gardeners been reminded of the assault on urban farming that began earlier this summer, but the incident also harkens back to the attack on teachers and other public servants that was sparked in Wisconsin earlier this year, and adds insult to injury for one of more vilified groups among us (hint: teachers).
An Environmental court judge in Shelby County, Tenn, ordered Guerrero to appear in court on Sept. 23 to show that he’s gotten rid of the “debris and personal property” stored outside his home. Supposedly, a neighbor complained that Guerrero had violated city ordinances by failing to maintain “a clean and sanitary condition free from any accumulation of rubbish or garbage.” Pictures of the house sure don’t reveal any stinking trash piles. But then again, cases like these serve as perfect examples of the ways regulation and red tape can end up squashing well-intentioned efforts (witness the dismantling of Fordham Law School’s farm-share program for failing to secure catering permits for vegetable deliveries).
As the county should have predicted, news of the debacle spread like wild blackberry vines across the blogosphere, which is now primed to throw its weight behind any persecuted guerilla gardeners out there. Since the Memphis Flyer reported Guerrero’s story on Sept. 15, a Facebook page, blog, and Change.org petition have all sprung up. Guerrero has posted a comment on the original story urging the public to come by and take a look at his garden, adding, “I see many great problems in our city and society … I have taken it upon myself to make what little contribution I can. If I can provide a sense of stability for some young men, I will. It may not be ALL young men, but the [ones] I work with [are] enabled and empowered, and that’s the point.”
We can only hope he’ll be the last martyr for this unfortunate cause.
UPDATE: On Sept. 23, a county judge ruled that Guerrero can keep his garden, if he cleans it up a bit. Get the story here.