It’s been a good while since I’ve reported on a story of the bureaucratic powers that be clashing with homeowners over “unsightly” edible gardens (or angel statues, flower beds, or backyard birdfeeders).
It would be nice to think that these always aggravating, disheartening tales of embattled greenthumbs have quieted down because they’re happening with less frequency. Sadly, that’s not the case as all. Today, a particularly cruel instance, ripe with misconstrued Libertarian outrage, involving a young South Dakotan whose much-needed vegetable garden recently came under threat from the property management brass.
Four-year-old girl Rosie lives with her severely disabled single mother Mary (their names have been changed to protect their identities) in an eight-unit subsidized housing complex in an undisclosed area of South Dakota. As reported by The Healthy Home Economist, the two survive off of Mary’s monthly disability payments of $628, which isn’t much even in rural South Dakota. To help supplement and take the sting out of grocery costs, the two started up a small vegetable patch to the rear of their apartment unit, which, since planted, has been lovingly tended to by pint-sized Rosie.
Only a couple of months after it was planted, the property management company, allegedly under orders from the USDA Office of Rural Development which denies having any explicit rules permitting or forbidding gardens at subsidized housing developments, ordered Mary and Rosie to get rid of the garden so they could carry out landscaping work. The management subsequently moved the garden from its original spot to an area where it would most likely falter.
Explains Roger Doiron of Kitchen Gardeners International, the Maine-based nonprofit which launched – and then retired – a 10,000 signature-strong petition in order to help save Rosie and Mary’s sustenance-proving garden:
Despite our best efforts, though, the future of Rosie's garden remains very uncertain. Since writing to you last, the garden (consisting mostly of tender greens) has already been removed from its very close and convenient location to one where it's not likely to thrive: to a large concrete slab out in direct sun and out of easy watering range (see the attached photo). The garden was moved in order to carry out landscaping work around the building with no plan to move it back. At this point, it is unclear what the final solution will be but the campaign has motivated the property management company and the USDA to find one with the property owner. As an act of our good faith and as a way of recognizing theirs, we're retiring our petition to give them an opportunity to focus on finding a better long-term solution for Rosie, Mary and the other tenants in their building wishing to grow a garden.
In a perfect world, we would have been able to announce a quick and complete victory in this case but the real world is messier and more complicated than that. On that point, our campaign may have created some unintended messiness of its own in that some bloggers twisted the facts of the case to try to serve a different, non-gardening agenda about the USDA and the role of government in general. While the USDA has not been as responsive and proactive as we would have liked in this case, it is patently untrue to say that it or its employees are ‘anti-gardens’ or ‘anti-children’ as some bloggers have outrageously reported. Although the property management company claimed that the garden needed to be removed per USDA instructions, the USDA has clarified that it has neither a policy against gardens at subsidized housing buildings nor an explicit policy for them either. Hopefully, our little effort will have encouraged them to consider the latter in a more urgent and energetic way.
I just spoke with the property management company handling the 8-unit rental property where Rosie and Mary live and the property owner has agreed to build a new raised bed vegetable garden for them and the other tenants next spring. It's a small victory, but hopefully one that will motivate local and federal decision-makers to make sure that others living in subsidized housing can enjoy the benefits of home-grown foods too.
Via [Healthy Home Economist], [Causes.com] via [Grist]
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