Earlier this week a woman in Calgary looked next door to the vacant lot beside her house and decided something needed to change. What that lot needed was some colour. Or potatoes.
So she (and some friends) prettied up some old tires and planted potatoes in the vacant lot. They also hung a pretty sign that said “Potatoes for the People”. Cool, right? Altruistic … helpful … good.
The local alderman lived nearby and he complained. As well he should have.
See this rogue potato farmer didn’t actually ask anyone’s permission. According to the Calgary Herald, she had just moved into the neighbourhood in January and didn’t realize that previously a derelict old house had sat on the lot but had been demolished last August (you know, the tail end of construction season in Calgary). They were now in a holding pattern with the owners – presumably there will be development there at some point, but no one seems to be in such a hurry. I dunno, maybe it’s the economy, or planning… (if it were in my community, I’d simply go to the community association and ask, they always know what’s going on… I knew plans for a local vacant lot 3 years ahead of when actual construction began… all you need to do is ask.)
So she put up tires and a sign and made all the motions like she was a champion for hungry people.
Except she never called the food bank to say she was donating any food. She didn’t call the property owners to ask permission. And according to the Herald article, it’s not all about food.
“He spoke to Clarke late Monday and suggested he get her charity potato project into an existing community garden. She declined, saying the point of her project was to reclaim an empty lot, and not just grow food in an existing plot.”
Right. So you just want to do something with the land. Anything you think is right, and nevermind if it’s considered wrong or irresponsible to others. You’ve lived there 5 months. You know what’s best.
Maybe you think I’m being overly critical when I say that she’s being irresponsible… but let’s think about this:
Do you have any idea what old, derelict buildings can leach into the soil? Lead, Arsenic, Cadmium for starters. That’s not what the food bank needs.
If you didn’t even know a building had been there, how did you know if the soil was safe? It’s boggling my mind at the moment with the thought of the nasty things in that soil.
Where did the old tires come from? There is some evidence to suggest that they are unsafe to plant foodstuff in – flowers, yes… potatoes, no.
Rather than just take up shovel and tire and spray paint … why not get involved in the community and lobby the city, find out what’s really going on. Find out who owns the property, write them, call them… do something legally before you begin your own plant-protest.
If it were really about food, then there would options. First, your own backyard is an option. Even when I lived in an apartment building there was a community garden plot to claim. Calgary has many resources for gardeners so they don’t have to go rogue. Now I live in a house and just a block away is my garden plot:
We have 40 beds (16 feet long by 4 feet wide, 2.5 feet high) and every year between 1 and 4 beds are planted specifically for the local food bank or veteran’s food bank. The wood is non-toxic, the soil has never seen anything other than organic fertilizer (I helped shovel in the first 20 beds) and even our local schools maintain a plot to donate. It took work, writing applications, gathering volunteers, lobbying for funding… surely not as sexy and quick as some painted tires and a bright sign.
But it claimed space. And it brings community together. It doesn’t ostracize, it doesn’t stand out as a garish protest. And the food is safe. And instead of teaching the kids in the community that the land is ours to do with what we like, we’ve taught them that you can work hard for something, grow food for your family, and feed those who don’t have enough.
What did this teach the kids in your neighbourhood?
(I mean other than how to pose for the photographer looking Really Super Sad While You Put On Your Crusader Face.)