Mayor Leppert & Honorable Council Members:
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 that we 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,
President, Community Gardens of Oak Cliff