25 March 2010

Guerrillas on Campus

Regular readers know I am not one who loves lawns. They are great if you have kids or pets who need somewhere to run but in a city like ours, there are far better uses for land and I don't mean houses with bigger footprints. And don't get me started on golf courses.

I mean gardens. Food is ideal. Landscaping with native plants is good too. Hell, even reclaiming one's yard as a Garry Oak ecosystem would make me happy. That said, I'm not about to go ripping up someone else's lawn to make my point.

That's exactly what a Facebook group called "Urban Agriculture at UVic" did yesterday:

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They started over the lunch hour and inside two hours, they had built an impressive little garden. Campus Security officers watched from a distance and called the Saanich Police who also observed before returning to other duties. Gardening continued. When I left work at 4 there were still people working at the details but the musicians had packed up and the crowds had long since dispersed. A coworker noted that when she left a lab at 9 pm the garden was still in place. On arriving this morning, it was all gone; it had been leveled before the janitorial staff arrived around 6 am:

Might as well be paved.

The event was called Resistance is Fertile: a Food Democracy Teach-Out. Planning for the guerrilla garden/flash mob looks like it started last fall. The activists brought shovels, plants, musical instruments and a soundsystem. It's not clear where the dirt came from but the buckets I saw being used were the smokers' ashtrays (wonder where they dumped the butts?) and the rocks were removed from the retaining pond on the other side of the library.

I don't think it is a coincidence that this event was timed in the same week as a Campus Food Forum, hosted by the Campus Urban Agriculture Collective, part of the UVic Sustainability Project (which is student run and not affiliated with the Office of Campus Planning and Sustainability though they do work together on some fronts) and the Food Matters! Regional forum on food security, hosted by Capital Region -Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable.

I do think it is unfortunate that all of this takes away from the very real issue of the relocation of the existing Campus Community Garden -- an issue which, coincidentally, prompted Hubby to suggest exactly this location as an option for the relocation; others have suggested the Cedar Hill Corner (aka CJVI lands).

While Twitter was a-buzz with the goings-on yesterday and my co-workers kept an eye on things out their office windows, the media was largely silent. Nothing was reported on either local evening newscast -- the only UVic story was about the rabbit problem on campus. However, this morning I did find a brief piece in the Times-Colonist: "Budding Gardeners Spring into Action at UVic."

So, what's next? This morning, as we sipped our coffee in the Bibliocafe, we watched a small subset of yesterday's guerrilla gardeners gather at the scene. Will they try again? Possibly. Will the University administration remove it again? Most definitely. Everything on campus needs to happen according to a plan -- it's not all about bureaucracy, either. Issues such as access, safety, maintenance and much more all have to be considered before any project begins whether it's a warehouse or a greenhouse.

To plant a garden is one thing, to maintain it is quite another. Even the most laissez-faire gardener like me has to devote a certain amount of time to weeding, thinning, watering, fertilizing, and general care. A lot happens between seed and harvest and I suspect that the enthusiasm these gardeners showed at the outset would wane long before the first carrot was ready to be plucked.

If you want to support urban agriculture on campus, please write a letter in support of the Campus Community Gardens. They've been growing food on campus since 1996 and any extra food is donated to the student food bank. There is currently a waiting list for plots -- tell Campus Planning and Sustainability that local food matters.

EDIT to ADD: At 1:00 today, a small group planted makeshift gravemarkers and three signs in the remains of yesterday's garden. They stood in a circle and held a memorial, leaving the signage behind.

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