On Victory Gardens in San Francisco and what’s wrong with the American Green Movement

When I first read about San Francisco’s Victory Garden, I was elated. Victory gardens were first planted in North America during World War I and World War II to reduce the pressure on the public food supply brought on by the war effort. In addition to indirectly aiding the war effort these gardens were also considered a civic morale booster where community gardeners could feel empowered by their contribution of labor and rewarded by the produce grown.

San Francisco’s Victory garden was started this summer in front of the City Hall as part of the privately sponsored “Slow Food Nation” festival. Once the food fest ended in late August, however, the mayor decided to keep the garden going as part of his drive to turn the Civic Center into a model of green sustainability.

Here is where dear ol’ Gavin Newsom lost the plot:

Pricey security’s at S.F. ‘Victory Garden’

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is paying thousands of dollars a week in city money for private security guards to play scarecrow over the “Victory Garden” growing in Civic Center Plaza.

Only in this case, it’s not birds that are being shooed away, but the homeless people and the drunks who drift into the plaza once the sun goes down.

The garden is a collection of veggies and herbs planted over the summer as part of the privately sponsored “Slow Food Nation” festival. At first, it was protected at night by volunteers.

It’s amazing how quick we are to adopt “models of sustainability” but fail to encourage the community to build upon the initiative. Rather than spend thousands to keep the homeless away, the city should encourage all residents of that neighborhood, including the homeless to adopt the gardens. It has been done before in places like inner city Detroit an Kibera in Kenya. Detroit’s gardens have no fences and greed has not been a problem as people take only what they need; many of the regular gardeners come from rehabilitation programs linked to the county jail; and offenders say they have earned self-respect, as well as local thanks, for literally doing the spade-work.

I had the privilege to work a block away from the San Francisco City hall for 3 good years; I have known some of the less fortunate who line those streets; and have seen them struggle to maintain the little dignity they can salvage in these harsh streets — I appreciate all that the Mayor’s office has done to highlight their plight but when it comes to the victory gardens, Newsom needs to rethink his stance.

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