What is it about politicians and dirt? Youâ€™d think theyâ€™d feel right at home, but at least in Buffalo (and I canâ€™t believe weâ€™re alone) the reigning powers in City Hall have a tough time wrapping their minds around the idea of using land for food in the city
First, it was Monique and her chickens. Hopeful news on that front: a â€śchicken task forceâ€ť has been set up and lawmakers are figuring out how best to change the law that made chickens illegal here in 2004. Meanwhile, the chickens are safely waiting in sort of a witness protection program.
Now the problem is a couple, Mark and Janice Stevens, who want to buy 2 already-vacant acres on the East Side of Buffalo, where they would build raised beds and grow vegetables. The land belongs to the city, and it might require a zoning change. City Hall says no; they have another purpose for this land, which has been sitting empty for years (itâ€™s actually 27 city-owned lots). After the mayorâ€™s office said that Habitat for Humanity was planning to build on the property, the Habitat people said theyâ€™d be happy to step aside and find other vacant property (of which there is plenty in this area). No deal, said the city; building houses hereâ€”at some point in the futureâ€”is part of a planning strategy from which there can be no deviation.
There has been an outpouring of support for the Stevenses from both unaffiliated citizens and those who are already practicing urban farming in Buffalo. We have 2 on the other side of town and one in the planning stages. These projects have been started and successfully managed by local activists and non-profits. I havenâ€™t noticed a lot of buy-in from the planners in City Hallâ€”maybe some pats on the head now and then.
As far as I can tell, politicians get excited about buildings: stadiums, courthouses, casinos, shopping malls. The bigger the better. Iâ€™ve never seen a politician turn up for the ribbon cutting or the first shovel of dirt for a garden or a farm (aside from all the brouhaha over the White House veggies). But cities have changed, especially in the Northeast. We canâ€™t bring back everybody who left for the suburbs, but we can create livable, sustainable urban neighborhoods. And, as weâ€™ve sporadically reported here, urban farms and community gardens are becoming a big part of that.
It seems like all my life, Iâ€™ve been affiliated with areas that other people consider â€śfrills:â€ť art, gardeningâ€”things that are considered nice or pretty, but not necessarily important. Iâ€™ve always disagreed with that; hereâ€™s an example where food gardening could turn a neighborhood around or at least make it many times more productive, and once again, it is not being taken seriously. When are these guys going to get a clue?