Last month, Farmscape helped Los Feliz resident Abbie Zands create a raised bed vegetable garden in his parkway. We planted a selection of crops with an eye toward keeping the garden tidy – mostly herbs, peppers, and eggplants. In the following weeks, Abbie tended the plot with his wife and two daughters and it became a gathering point for neighborhood residents walking their dogs or returning from the grocery store. The produce was divvied up between Abbie’s family and neighbors, with neighbors sending along photos and recipes showing how they used the produce to be posted on a newly launched Parkway to Table blog.
The story should have ended there, as another example of home vegetable gardens improving lifestyles and building community. But it didn’t. Street Services cited the garden for obstructing the parkway. It’s not the first time that they have cited a parkway vegetable garden; Ron Finley was cited back in 2011, which inspired a profile by Steve Lopez and raised Ron’s profile as an urban agriculture activist. Following the citation and subsequent press coverage, the City of Los Angeles pledged to change the parkway ordnance. But, as Steve Lopez noted in an LA Times article today, “two years later, Wesson's ‘edible landscape’ motion is still stuck in the City Hall sausage machine, with several city agencies quibbling over details.”
Meanwhile, Abbie Zands has been ordered to appear in court on Wednesday, August 7th because he has refused to remove his parkway vegetable garden.
I understand the reason for parkway regulations and the role they serve in permitting foot traffic and maintaining visibility for drivers. However, these laws are not being consistently enforced with vegetable gardens too often being singled out for citation. For example, consider this parkway with an approximately 5’x10’ boxwood hedge just a block away from the cited garden. How is that not a bigger impediment to foot traffic than Abbie's raised beds with 2’ pathways on all sides?
City officials who I have spoken with remind me that it’s possible for a parkway project like Abbie’s to be permitted. However, in many cases the $400 cost to obtain such a permit is cost-prohibitive for households that are using their vegetable garden to deal with food insecurity. And, even if the resident can afford the permitting cost, why are we effectively taxing the creation of vegetable gardens in Los Angeles? While other cities are seeking out ways to promote urban agriculture, we are creating obstacles. When residents use their own time and money to create healthier and happier communities, we should be praising them and not dragging them into court to answer for their actions.
With a climate that allows year-round food production and a history of agriculture, Los Angeles has the potential to be the urban farming capital of the U.S. Let’s take advantage of it.