Garden Reclamation


Have you been following the news surrounding Occupy the Farm? If you haven’t here’s the really high level summary:

At the end of May, legal proceedings began between the University of California and the Gill Tract Farmers Collective — a group of “radical” farmers who decided to enter, occupy, and farm the last five acres of arable land in the East Bay. Since the land is owned by a public college, the defense argues that the people who began the occupation:

…which began during an Earth Day parade on April 22, came to a close on May 14 when 100 riot police from eight UC campuses and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department descended on the land, evicted and arrested the occupiers, and destroyed much of the planting that had been done during the three week civil disobedience.

had every right to be there — that no irreparable harm has been done. A fair amount of money is being spent to secure the land from the public it’s meant to serve. 

In other words, yet another example of the government stepping in to “protect” the public that doesn’t want or need the protection and a lot of resources being spent on said protection, rather than on things that will actually work toward the public good.

I’m thrilled to know that this occupation has occurred and that it’s gaining additional attention. I’m interested to know where the lawsuit goes, and how people will react if the lawsuit goes in favor of the UC system. Certainly the reclaiming of barren lots has grown in popularity — but why not an actual small area to farm, especially in an area with a large population and the opportunity to make an impact on an urban center? Why are the people who participated in this “radical?”

In Philly, people are moving to “Occupy Vacant Lots.” In Detroit, urban gardens are springing up–and have been before it was cool to occupy. Urban gardening is becoming a trendy word and urban farming is working its way up the ranks — in fact, it’s become such a popular idea that Atlantic Records is sponsoring an urban farming non-profit as its charity. Urban farms and urban gardening are about an opportunity to reclaim brownfields and empty lots, to do something about food accessibility issues, particularly in food deserts.

Why am I writing about this, if I’m removed from all these examples (and I am)? Because a co-worker and I decided to reclaim a garden area where we work. We’re on-site Wednesday through Sunday and recently designated Sundays as garden-work days. The garden space we’re reclaiming was actually once a garden — probably nicely landscaped, based on the stone walkway we found under 10+ years of leaves turned to rich soil. There’s a butterfly bush, a few daylilies, and a lot of weeds & invasive species. We’ve spent a collective 24 hours at this point, removing weeds and invasive species, and probably have another 12 hours or so to go before we can begin removing the rich topsoil from the paving stones, and then begin planting. The most-senior person, who’s been at the site for 10 years, knew that there was a stone walkway, or a man-made stream leading to a small man-made pond. 

It’s a well-shaded area, due to a couple of now-large trees that have grown up in the space and we’re hoping to get most of our plants donated, so I’m not sure what will go in as we get to that point, but I’m going to push for perennials & edibles, such as herbs and food-plants that tolerate shade. In other words, I’d like for it to become, if not a community garden, at the very least a garden that provides food for staff — and for the animals that wander through. If we have lots of pretty flowers (pollinator garden) that will serve our local colony of bees well, and provide another reason to support a few mason bee (a native bee) nests next spring.

The process of reclaiming even this small area is empowering and it fits nicely within my “food not lawns” view on whatever property I might live on in the future. It’s satisfying to turn unused property (that was overgrown & untended) into something productive, and as part of that process, to connect more with the place I’m living. My co-worker and I are documenting the changes to the land as we go — I’ll post pictures at some point in the next few weeks, to help you understand the progress, but here’s an image from the end of the first day, after we’d both weeded for six hours. That pathway you see definitely wasn’t there before.Image

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