The $180,000 Vegetable Garden


Cheers to the rowdy folks at the San Francisco Bay Guardian blog for calling the Civic Center victory garden what it is:  a photo op for a slow food conference. Now, I was totally psyched about the idea of San Francisco mayor / major hottie / potential gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom showing up to do a little digging in front of City Hall, and I do love the idea of growing food in public urban spaces, but.

It’s not really a victory garden.

It’s a demonstration. Which will be pulled out after the conference. Here’s what our pals at SFBG had to say:

"Then I heard that they’re going to rip out the garden in a couple
months, in my mind reducing the garden to a mere photo op for our jolly
green would-be governor. Ick. Just what this country needs, another
hollow gesture toward environmental sustainability rather than the bold
collective action that we actually need to tackle serious problems like
climate change, resource depletion, and a wasteful, polluting, and
ineffective global food system."

Well said.  I mean, plant a victory garden. By all means. But don’t just put another pretty face in front of City Hall.

Not that there’s anything wrong with pretty faces.

Now for the really interesting part:  the spokesperson of Slow Food Nation, the group responsible for the garden, is quoted as  saying that she "sees value to even having a temporary garden in Civic Center Plaza, for
which her group is covering the roughly $180,000 in costs."

A hundred and eighty grand?  For a two-month garden? (And good luck getting a tomato to ripen in San Francisco by the end of August, by the way.) You can buy a house for that kind of money.  More to the point:  UNICEF distributes this amazing, nutrient-rich nut butter called Plumpy Nut that is easy to store, distribute, and feed to starving children. It literally saves lives. For the price of that victory garden, 26,470 starving children could have been fed for a month.

But, you know. This sounds like it’s important, too.

Any Friends of Rant in San Francisco want to keep an eye on that garden for us? I can’t wait to see what $180,000 worth of produce looks like come September.



  1. HEY AMY:

    Are you the new radical on here taking up my cause with the hard hitting critiques? Well someone had to carry on after I toned it down (LOL).
    Anyway I agree again with you (imagine that)on the phonies that are in this business making light of imporatnt issues. $180,000 would have been better spent eliminating SLOW TRAFFIC in San Fran than promoting slow food

    The (hates traffic lights) TROLL

  2. Yuck. Sounds like a good idea that became too compromised, political, and expensive and no one had the guts to pull the plug on the faux gardening. Thanks for the link for the Plumpy Nut!

  3. Newsome is the epitome of a phony politician. He claims he is powerless to turn over illegal imigrant drug dealers to federal authorities, breaks the law by marrying gays and has turned over the streets of San Francisco to homeless panhandlers.
    It is not surprising that he would spend $180,000 to pretend he is an environmentalist. After all it is not his money.
    I hope he gets the nod to run for governor representing Democrats. I don’t think he could win even in liberal California and even if he did his governorship would surely shock Californians back into reality.

  4. I don’t like empty gimmicks, either, but MAN, his civil disobedience in marrying gay people was EFFECTIVE. I credit him with some of the amazing (if long overdue) progress we’ve made as a country since then. Right now it’s still mostly in our attitudes but the laws are crumbling fast.

  5. Maybe it’s important, but the WASTE. It’s not only a waste of money that could be put to a much better use, as Amy points out, but it’s also a waste of growing plants. Ouch. Why not leave them there and let what they produce feed some of the SF poor?

  6. That’s unfortunate, I think the thought of the waste that this is is obscuring the message that they started out with. Why can’t it stay? Now I’m all sad. So they put the lawn back after the conference? What a stupid waste.

  7. If you look at it as an educational program that will be seen by probably a million or more people rather than just a garden, $180K is not that expensive. And buying a house with $180K? In the SF bay area? I’ll be laughing about that all day.

    As phony political gestures go, I think this is a good one. I’ll try to get over there to get some photos.

  8. The picture of Gavin Newsom walking around in a sports blazer with Alica Waters says it all. I am sure it was not intended that way but this garden is a symbol of what’s wrong with San Francisco. Having grown up there I can tell you that trying to grow tomatoes there is hard. We use to sell a variety called “San Francisco Fog” that had a REALLY short ripening season. It was about all you could grow when it came to tomatoes.

    The goals of the organizations are good, but it’s amazing they would tie their efforts to a “temporary” garden. Not very sustainable.

    My suggestion to both organizations is they will do a lot more for their cause if they eschew politicians and photo ops with politicians. It’s not the same as it use to be. I believe it will actually hurt their cause to be associated with such obvious self-promotion by the mayor.

  9. Newsom is the real deal.
    He’s a very good politician in the way that you have to be to get things done in this disfunctional corrupt government that we have.
    The rules have been in place for a couple hundred years, he’s just playing it like all his other cohorts.
    No different from the rest of them except his agenda and priorities reflect his constituents.

    In an ironic kind of way this project is not very different from the recent installations that Edible Estates is doing.
    It’s a social statement that is meant to provoke thought not provide food.

    Last year Gavin granted permission to another temporary educational ‘GREEN’ site installation (a sustainable working house ) in front of the City Hall by Michelle Kaufman and it was a tremendously effective educational tool .
    I learned a huge amount of new information about new efficient products and in many cases I have recently switched to these new green methods and products because of this temporary educational site installation.

    As a landscape construction estimator and construction administrator I can understand where just about every penny of the $ 180 K is going to be spent.
    This is a lot of money but this is not a typical residential garden location and it is a temporary installation which means restoration work had to be included in the proposal in order for the project to be consented to.

    And $ 180 K would not buy you a car port in San Francisco never mind a studio apartment or 1 bedroom house.
    Multiply that $ 180 by at least 3 times.

  10. It’s sad that even a temporary garden can’t be given a sufficient life span to ripen. Also sad that it doesn’t seem from the post and comments that any arrangements are made to distribute what little harvest there will be. I hope those San Franciscans will pay attention to the progress of the garden and lobby for some use to be made of the harvest.

  11. I’ll be happy to report back — I’m going to be keeping an eye on it and probably even volunteering to help out with it. I can be a Garden Rant spy!

  12. Commonweeder, it is part of the plan that the harvest is absolutely going to be distributed to those who need it. I’m pretty sure that they have figured out what will grow and ripen within the time period they’re planning and are planting accordingly, probably by planting slightly more mature plants rather than young seedlings.

    Can I ask also why nobody considers a vegetable garden in Iowa or North Dakota or anywhere else that has a short growing season a “temporary garden”?

    As for the cost of housing, the problem with that reference is that it shows the disparity in how pricing is considered across the country. In places where you can buy a house for $180K, $180K probably seems like a lot more money than it does here. And as for how many starving children could have been fed with the money, I think this may fall under the “teach a man to fish…” adage. They could buy food and give it away or they can try to do something to show people how they can grow food themselves. Which would have the most lasting effect?

  13. Fast Garden/Slow Food. Damn. Every time I put aside my natural cynicism and come around to liking an idea/movement, my little spirit is crushed by ironic revelations such as the Fast Garden.

  14. This whole thing just made us sick to our stomaches. $180K for a temporary garden… sigh… when we know people who are struggling to feed their families right here in the US, it’s a tough pill to swallow to see this publicity stunt. The only thing we can think of to do is to exploit these exploiters and find a way to get the word out there about REAL, USEABLE, AFFORDABLE Victory Gardens. Maybe someone will actually find something helpful and will start their own Victory Garden. Sorry… don’t mean to get on a rant in the middle of your blog… going to head back over to our own blog and rant there for a while… thanks for the heads up! GGGRRRR…

  15. Newsom’s actions were anything but brave. His failed attempt at instituting gay marraige against the then existing state law and the statewide referendum that was agianst it was a disgrace.
    The judicial branch then exercised a non-existant right to make law instead of judicating it. This will surely give a push to California voters to pass the referendum this Fall to to reinforce the wishes of most people to keep marriage between a man and woman. Most people, even in a libreral state like California, do not accept gay marriages as they are not a normal lifestyle and pretending that they are by pretending it is equal to a hetrosexual marriage just flies in the face of reality.

    Most people realize that the thrust of the movement is to establish these relationships as equal with the goal of “educating” children” that this is just a different choice. It is not something that should certainly not be encouraged or discouraged. The vast majority of people don’t want it imposed on them and especially not on their children which is well exemplified by the willingness by liberals to have sexual orientation “taught” to grammar school age children and as early as kindergarten age children.

  16. Wow, Amy, I so respected your words in Flower Confidential in favor of fair practices surrounding the flower industry. Surely your expertise would have lent itself to the Victory Garden planting, which has involved hundreds of volunteers who believe that this is an activist movement toward spreading awareness, and ultimately inciting change toward an expansion of gardens on public lands throughout the country. What a shame that you sell yourself short in this rant by resorting to armchair activism and riding the snarky coattails of SFBG, rather than actually getting your hands dirty in the interest of seeding change. To set the record straight for you and your fellow ranters, I’d like to clarify the following facts about the Victory Garden:

    >Hundreds of volunteers from all over the Bay Area have participated in the Victory Garden project to date, including kids from youth gardening projects around the Bay Area.
    >PR project? In part, absolutely. The Victory Garden will serve as a major educational tool throughout Slow Food Nation, which is designed to rally the masses (# of estimated people?) around food-related issues. Keep in mind that most children in urban areas have never seen a garden (or similar stat around lack of access to fresh produce, etc). You of all people should understand the positive effect a person has from actually seeing, touching, smelling and being around fresh garden plants.
    >The Victory Garden will not actually be harvested until September 21st, giving adequate time to turn around the plethora of foods planted. So yes, we expect there will be fresh, gorgeous tomatoes harvested by then.
    > The resulting produce will be donated to SF Food Bank. The Victory Garden team estimates that the harvest will produce enough fresh vegetables to feed as many as # people.
    >As for the $180 price tag, most of that money was received through in-kind contributions. The city is NOT funding this.
    >As for your suggestion that the money could have gone to feeding children, that is actually the very objective behind this project: to initiate a movement toward growing local, community, backyard produce, which ultimately would lead toward greater self-sufficiency and less dependency on high energy, quick-fix energy foods. I know I’d personally much rather see kids learn to plant their own garden than scarf away a jar of nut butter. In your own extensive field research in Latin America, I’m saddened to see that your conclusion here steers toward aid, rather than sustainable development through self-sufficiency.
    >As for the temporary nature of the garden, the VG team is currently looking into ways to replace the garden in whole or in part and, at a bare minimum, the parts of the garden will be reused in the 15 other city-wide gardens being designed by Garden for the Environment.
    >In the meantime, you might consider petitioning Mayor Newsom to continue the life span of the Victory Garden! Keep in mind that this is an activist movement by the people. We who’ve been involved with the BG would love nothing more than to see GardenRant stop ranting, get away from their computers and actually incite positive change in the city!

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