Urban Farms Are a Threat To Garden Hegemony

If you read some gardening blogs you may come away with the impression that the biggest gardening trend is vertical gardening or removing lawns and creating garden designs that are more sustainable.  Open a newspaper and you’ll read about how vegetable gardening continues to rise in popularity in 2011 due in large part to a fallow economy and our feelings of uncertainty. Stories of cities like Chicago, Detroit, and Decatur, Ga., embracing the trend of urban agriculture and rewriting laws to encourage and protect community gardens and urban farming are as common as orange daylilies.  People want to grow their own food and they want to grow it close to home; in their front yards and their backyards, side-by-side with their neighbors. Yet there’s this segment of the population that sees this progress and is deciding to double-down and fight back against the tide by legislating away expressions of urban agriculture.

The most famous example this year is that of Julie Bass of Michigan whose plight was made popular after Colleen Vanderlinden wrote about it for TreeHugger and the internet descended on the story forcing lawmakers to backdown. For this trailer park homesteader the possibility of the property manager ending up on the six o’clock news was enough to allow her to keep her garden going.

Urban farm Adam Guerrero
Photos Adam Guerrero’s Facebook page.


This week Adam Guerrero, a math teacher at Raleigh-Egypt High School in Memphis, TN., along with three students became lawbreakers after they continued to tend to a garden after it was deemed a neighborhood nuisance. Guerrero was citied for violating city ordinances 48-38 and 48-97. His crime, as reported by the Memphis Flyer, consists of failure to maintain “a clean and sanitary condition free from any accumulation of rubbish or garbage” at his Nutbush home. The citation was upheld by Shelby County Environmental Court judge Larry Potter who ordered him to trim overgrown vegetation that includes 7-foot-tall sunflowers.

When Guerrero asked the judge to define what a nuisance was he was told that if it generates a complaint, it’s a neighborhood nuisance. The Memphis Flyer reports that there’s no visible trash or garbage and that plants are kept off the sidewalk and driveway. While the garden is on personal property  Guerrero  says he uses it as a school garden of sorts. A place where three neighborhood youths learn to make biodiesel; the glycerin by-product is used to make soap and the youths harvest honey from beehives behind the garage.

I can see how three young men learning to make soap, biodiesel, farming bees and learning to put math skills to use building worm bins, beehives and small greenhouses with recycled materials can be considered a nuisance. Instead of spending their time on the street three young men have a safe place to spend three to four days a week at when school is not in session.

“I don’t understand why it’s a problem if it’s in the backyard,” says one teen involved in the garden. “We like coming here. We don’t want it to go away.”

They’re a threat to hegemony. Isn’t there a nice, quiet street gang they can join instead of playing in a garden?

A group of concerned Memphis residents are planning to show their support for Guerrero and the three students by holding a peaceful protest on Saturday, September 17. You can find more information at this Facebook event including contact information for Judge Larry Potter where you can respectfully express your support for Guerrero and his teaching garden. If you don’t like Facebook, or don’t have an account, there’s a Change.org petition you can sign.

Update:  Adam has responded in the comments of the Memphis Flyer and he’s basically invited the community to go see the garden for themselves. The comment reads,

“Hey all, my name is Adam Guerrero. I would first like to thank everyone who shares a sense of disbelief, disillusionment, and frustration with me. I would invite anyone and everyone to come by and see for yourself the state of affairs. My address is 3713 Townes Ave. 38122. Please be kind and keep in mind that it is nearly the autumn of the year, and although my front yard garden is still lush, it is showing signs of slowing down. I have a deep respect for nature and its wisdom in handling its own affairs. The tomatoes in my yard, in fact, return year after year without me doing a single thing outside providing them a nurturing nutrient environment. I am not a native Memphis, although I have lived here for 10 years and have been a teacher for 6. I see many great problems in our city and society. I have set aside the talk and demands for “someone” to act and have taken it upon myself to do what little contribution I can. If I can provide a sense of stability for some young men, I will. It may not be ALL young men, but the one’s I work with an enabled and empowered, and that’s the point. Again, I am home around 4pm till bed, and am happy to entertain questions, concerns, opinions, etc. but please be kind and decent. Thanks.”

Bravo! This is how it’s done.

Update #2: Here’s a photo gallery of Adam Guerrero’s garden.

Update #3: Here’s a blog that’s been set up by supporters and a way to donate to the cause.

Update #4: Today, September 23rd, Adam Guerrero appeared before Judge Larry Potter. Here is an update As reported by @Saylehan:

Court order stands but judge applauds Adam’s progress made and advocated finding a larger space for him to compost, collect rainwater, and educate. Judge says pond can stay as long as bubbler is installed and mosquito-eating fish are introduced. Judge asked to cut back on the number of worm bins and rain barrels. Cover rain barrels with mesh to keep out mosquitors. The court says it never intended for garden to be destroyed, just kept up. It’s concerns were rain barrels, worm bins, ponds, etc. The most promising quote “We’re going to work this out,” says Judge Potter.

Memphis Flyer Via @AliceTruong.

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