At the height of the Occupy Wall Street movement few people had made the connection between the movement and how it dovetailed perfectly with gardening. Colleen wrote about it here, and my own thoughts on Radical Gardening and #OccupyGardens from my last fall have since been picked up and republished on the Occupy Wall Street website.
The people behind Occupy Gardens Toronto similarly made the same connection and took the meme birthed on Twitter one step further. On May 1st they planted the People’s Peas Garden in Queen’s Park. For just under five months, hundreds of volunteers have tended to the public vegetable garden to raise awareness about the global food security crisis, the increase in food prices, the value of gardens over lawns, and the need for more spaces for people to participate in growing their own food.
For nearly five months the free food garden has grown and flourished without incident. Then last Friday, two days before Occupy Gardens Toronto’s 'Autumn Jam: A Harvest Party and celebration of sharing, community and free local food' event, the City of Toronto Parks Forestry and Recreation went in and trashed the garden. Herbs, vegetables and flowers that would have been harvested and distributed suddenly found themselves in the dumpster.
The area where the garden had grown has been replaced with sod.
According to Occupy Gardens Toronto, the reason given for the destruction of the vegetable garden is that they didn't have permission to grow a vegetable garden in the park.
It seems impossible that nobody noticed the garden and gardeners tending to these heirloom plants for almost five months. That the garden was allowed to grow for all this time without being removed can be construed as permission. The destruction of the garden and the waste of food right before it was to be harvested is nothing short of malicious.
Vegetable Gardens and Public Parks can Coexist
I've never visited Toronto but I often speak to tourists in Chicago who mention that the cities share a similar vibe. In one way we seem to differ is how our officials feel about vegetable gardens on public land. For years Growing Power has worked with officials to operate an urban farm in the middle of Grant Park. Food grown in the park is harvested and sold by Growing Power at farmers markets. The garden has served as a model for similar projects across the country.
There was a real opportunity for Toronto to work with the People’s Peas Garden and set it up to address the issues of hunger, self-sustainability, biodiversity and come out smelling like roses. Instead they opted to treat the garden with the same disrespect for gardens that we've documented here at TreeHugger countless times. A real opportunity to create change when we need it most has been squandered.
Occupy Gardens Toronto is planning a “peasful” demonstration at City Hall to respond to the destruction of the garden. On October 1st from 12-1pm EDT they’re holding the ‘Right to Food Rally-No Garden is Illegal!’ and asking supporters to bring food to share, signage, soil, seeds, and live plants. From their use of the emoticon after the request for live plants, it sounds like Occupy Gardens Toronto is planning to occupy Queen’s Park again.