Thursday, May 6, 2010

The green arm of the law

I have, historically, not been a fan of law enforcement. Some of this comes from an inherent distrust of "authority" and those wielding weapons. Some of it comes from my time living in Mexico, where it seemed I was the only one of my friends not shaken down by the local cops. I learned to blow right past the impromptu "security checkpoints" where folks were waved over on the side of the road by the policia. (Actually, one night on the drive home from Mexico City I got a flat tire at 2am and a cruiser stopped to help me put on a new one. When the two officers asked for payment, I pretended I didn't speak spanish and showed them my NYC drivers' license...rather than my Mexican license. "No speak-o spanish-o." Lo siento muchachos.) But along my current trip, law enforcement personnel have proven more helpful. The local police came to check on me at a campsite where I'd been harassed by a couple of drunk guys in central Iowa; I've been advised of safer, more bike-friendly routes in southern California by a state trooper; I was pointed toward a safe church lawn where I might camp in West Texas by the local sheriff's office. And there's the latest: greenthumbs at the sheriff's office. That I hadn't expected....

This past Tuesday, I had the pleasure of sitting in on a meeting at the sheriff's office in Lafayette, LA to discuss potential neighborhood garden projects. It was an idea initiated by the sheriff's daughter, who I learned is finishing up a degree in agricultural studies and who suggested that her dad contact folks at EarthShare to see about partnering on a few pilot projects. When you think about it, this actually makes total sense: community gardens help foster safer communities, so it's in the interest of the local lawmen to encourage them. (Have these guys read Seedfolks? Students, if you're reading this, you know what I mean.) It seems the sheriff's office and community watch folks agree.

So how will the whole thing work? Cops pulling weeds? Not exactly. The sheriff's office, as I understood things, would handle community outreach (something EarthShare has been short on staff to pursue), identify potential garden sites (largely housing projects and church properties in their jurisdiction), and provide the initial muscle to build the gardens. EarthShare, for its part, would help recruit volunteers and garden managers, act as a conduit for funds (it's an established 501(c)3), and extend its liability insurance to the sites as needed. The city planning department would help with site identification and planning -- Sanjay, who represented a local group of planners at the meeting, hopes that it will serve as a model for community action and empowerment. Stacey, over at the Nature Station, would draft the legal agreement and identify other possible stakeholders and their roles. Is this an exciting -- and unusual -- partnership, or what?

Lafayette is reclaiming its agricultural roots, building safer communities through neighborhood gardens. I hope to hear more about the progress of the project -- Community Roots -- in coming months. Gardening: bringing hippies and the law together at last.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry


  1. In Des Moines, IA the local police were involved in the latest community garden that went in downtown. The squad even had a plot. They helped spread the word about the garden, helped patrol the area, etc. I think they do realize the beneficial nature of increasing food security, in low income areas especially.

  2. Thanks, Jennie. Very cool. And it makes so much sense! I hope there continue to be these sorts of partnerships springing up around the country. :)


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