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Urban Farms Are a Threat To Garden Hegemony

If you read some gardening blogs you may come away with the impression that the biggest gardening trend is vertical gardening or removing lawns and creating garden designs that are more sustainable.  Open a newspaper and you’ll read about how vegetable gardening continues to rise in popularity in 2011 due in large part to a fallow economy and our feelings of uncertainty. Stories of cities like Chicago, Detroit, and Decatur, Ga., embracing the trend of urban agriculture and rewriting laws to encourage and protect community gardens and urban farming are as common as orange daylilies.  People want to grow their own food and they want to grow it close to home; in their front yards and their backyards, side-by-side with their neighbors. Yet there’s this segment of the population that sees this progress and is deciding to double-down and fight back against the tide by legislating away expressions of urban agriculture.

The most famous example this year is that of Julie Bass of Michigan whose plight was made popular after Colleen Vanderlinden wrote about it for TreeHugger and the internet descended on the story forcing lawmakers to backdown. For this trailer park homesteader the possibility of the property manager ending up on the six o’clock news was enough to allow her to keep her garden going.

Urban farm Adam Guerrero
Photos Adam Guerrero's Facebook page.

This week Adam Guerrero, a math teacher at Raleigh-Egypt High School in Memphis, TN., along with three students became lawbreakers after they continued to tend to a garden after it was deemed a neighborhood nuisance. Guerrero was citied for violating city ordinances 48-38 and 48-97. His crime, as reported by the Memphis Flyer, consists of failure to maintain "a clean and sanitary condition free from any accumulation of rubbish or garbage" at his Nutbush home. The citation was upheld by Shelby County Environmental Court judge Larry Potter who ordered him to trim overgrown vegetation that includes 7-foot-tall sunflowers.

When Guerrero asked the judge to define what a nuisance was he was told that if it generates a complaint, it's a neighborhood nuisance. The Memphis Flyer reports that there's no visible trash or garbage and that plants are kept off the sidewalk and driveway. While the garden is on personal property  Guerrero  says he uses it as a school garden of sorts. A place where three neighborhood youths learn to make biodiesel; the glycerin by-product is used to make soap and the youths harvest honey from beehives behind the garage.

I can see how three young men learning to make soap, biodiesel, farming bees and learning to put math skills to use building worm bins, beehives and small greenhouses with recycled materials can be considered a nuisance. Instead of spending their time on the street three young men have a safe place to spend three to four days a week at when school is not in session.

"I don't understand why it's a problem if it's in the backyard," says one teen involved in the garden. "We like coming here. We don't want it to go away."

They’re a threat to hegemony. Isn’t there a nice, quiet street gang they can join instead of playing in a garden?

A group of concerned Memphis residents are planning to show their support for Guerrero and the three students by holding a peaceful protest on Saturday, September 17. You can find more information at this Facebook event including contact information for Judge Larry Potter where you can respectfully express your support for Guerrero and his teaching garden. If you don't like Facebook, or don't have an account, there's a petition you can sign.

Update:  Adam has responded in the comments of the Memphis Flyer and he's basically invited the community to go see the garden for themselves. The comment reads,
"Hey all, my name is Adam Guerrero. I would first like to thank everyone who shares a sense of disbelief, disillusionment, and frustration with me. I would invite anyone and everyone to come by and see for yourself the state of affairs. My address is 3713 Townes Ave. 38122. Please be kind and keep in mind that it is nearly the autumn of the year, and although my front yard garden is still lush, it is showing signs of slowing down. I have a deep respect for nature and its wisdom in handling its own affairs. The tomatoes in my yard, in fact, return year after year without me doing a single thing outside providing them a nurturing nutrient environment. I am not a native Memphis, although I have lived here for 10 years and have been a teacher for 6. I see many great problems in our city and society. I have set aside the talk and demands for "someone" to act and have taken it upon myself to do what little contribution I can. If I can provide a sense of stability for some young men, I will. It may not be ALL young men, but the one's I work with an enabled and empowered, and that's the point. Again, I am home around 4pm till bed, and am happy to entertain questions, concerns, opinions, etc. but please be kind and decent. Thanks."
Bravo! This is how it's done.

Update #2: Here's a photo gallery of Adam Guerrero's garden.

Update #3: Here's a blog that's been set up by supporters and a way to donate to the cause.

Update #4: Today, September 23rd, Adam Guerrero appeared before Judge Larry Potter. Here is an update As reported by @Saylehan:

Court order stands but judge applauds Adam's progress made and advocated finding a larger space for him to compost, collect rainwater, and educate. Judge says pond can stay as long as bubbler is installed and mosquito-eating fish are introduced. Judge asked to cut back on the number of worm bins and rain barrels. Cover rain barrels with mesh to keep out mosquitors. The court says it never intended for garden to be destroyed, just kept up. It's concerns were rain barrels, worm bins, ponds, etc. The most promising quote "We're going to work this out," says Judge Potter.

Memphis Flyer Via @AliceTruong.


  1. MBT - this is the high school I graduated from! I am dying to know the address of this house so I can determine how close it is to where I grew up! From what I understand that area has changed quite a bit from when I lived there and has a lot more crime. I am really glad to see this teacher involving kids in this way because we all know that gardens cure all problems!

    Recently a person I'm connected with on FB who also lives in Memphis was complaining about her neighbor having chickens and how chickens belong on farms. I tried explaining to her that chickens are quite hip and trendy these days. Anyway, we need more teachers like this. Thanks for sharing the story.

  2. Gina, The article says the garden itself is in Nutbush.I too think it is great that he's using it as an educational tool so these kids (men really) are learning skills that they can apply to their lives and work in. I'm not surprised that your Facebook friend is complaining about chickens. The old guard will not go quietly.

  3. You are not going to believe this but I lived in Nutbush immediately prior to moving to Raleigh! I swear! When I saw the picture of the house the first thing I thought was that it didn't look like a Raleigh house. My grandmother owned 2 houses in Nutbush, one of which I lived in twice. One as a small child (before Raleigh) then later as an adult I rented it. It's the house I lived in when I moved to Chicgo. OK, now I'm just rambling...

  4. Gina, Next you're going to discover that you lived on that street or something or know someone related to one of the kids. I checked the teacher's FB wall and one of his friends is lending support and saying he should just get out of the area and go somewhere else. I hope he doesn't because teachers like him are rare and should be encouraged and not harassed because some neighborhood busybody doesn't like the garden. How freaking cool is it that he's teaching kids how to make biodiesel?!?!

  5. Hey, I'm just glad I'm finally at a place in life where I'm OK with admitting I lived in Nutbush! HA. I have a good friend who still lives that area. I wonder if she knows about this guy. She's a gardener, too. It's a ways away from the school he teaches at but it's safe to say that both areas would benefit greatly from this type of teaching.

  6. @Gina, The only experience I have with Nutbush is the Tina Turner song so I didn't know that there should be some kind of shame with admitting you were from there. LOL. If you had told me you were from there you I would've been mad impressed by the connection.

  7. Unbelievable. Am I correct in understanding that this is a back yard garden? I honestly don't understand what would give anyone the right to tell you what you can or can't do in your own backyard!If all it tales in this community to have a judge get involved in clearly private matters is a single complaint from a neighbour, then ALL the lawns and gardens of Nutbush must be immaculate. What? No? Really? Then why is this good guy getting pushed around? Thanks for writing about this! I'm going to share a link on FB.

  8. MBT - I don't think it's the same Nutbush as Tina Turner's song. I'm not exactly sure why they even call that area of Memphis, Nutbush. I don't even think it's listed like that on any proper documents. I always thought of it more like slang for that area than it's actual name. Now I'm all motivated to research why it's referred to like by that name.

  9. @Laura, It looks to be primarily in his backyard, but from the pics it looks like it might be some in front too. I don't understand how someone who is doing something to keep kids off the street it being bothere with this nonsense.

    @Gina, I just checked Wiki and it is about Nutbush Tennessee, the unincorporated community.

  10. MBT - this is the Nutbush this guy lives in...,_Memphis

  11. That explains why I couldn't find his garden on Google maps. Damn, TN, how many places called Nutbush do you need? Save some Nutbush for the rest of us.

  12. Anonymous7:03 PM

    It could be worse. It could be in Atlanta where everything is named Peachtree something or other.
    Mary P.

  13. You all know that this is the kind of project that we need thousands of... and should be encouraging. One has to wonder how much race has to do with the opposition.

    Have to say, tho, that I would not be happy with chickens next door. Don't know why. Maybe this city girl needs to get out a bit more! And, maybe that's that sort of uninformed knee-jerk reaction that the Memphis neighbors are having?

    Hope your post helps raise the needed awareness.

  14. Very sad, especially in an age where the government is supposedly encouraging citizens to be healthier, to garden and to grow their communities.

    Personally, I think many government officials don't want people growing their own because it empowers people. Empowered people seem to want to change the status quo and that's a very dangerous thing for those in power.

  15. I live in London, in a terrace house. My tiny front garden is part herb garden and part man-made wildflower meadow. The local children love it, fascinated by the scents and tastes and by the insects it attracts.

    Part of my back garden is dedicated to my chickens. There have been no complaints. In fact, there have been many complimentary comments, including that their calls make a change from barking dogs and motorbikes.

    Considering the US likes to portray itself as the epitome of personal freedom, these local ordinances and the unreasonable reaction to anyone wanting to live outside the aspiration sanitised norm, make these claims laughable.

  16. Anonymous2:48 PM

    Where would we be without small-minded bureaucracy?!

    Good luck to Adam Guerrero fighting off these ignorant, petty officials. He's clearly providing a fantastic service to the community, to the kids and to the environment.

  17. Thanks for spreading the word on this MBT. Kudos to Mr. Guerrero and to those young men who are growing and nurturing, and learning lessons far beyond tending a garden. May common sense and justice prevail.

  18. Thank you so much for sharing this story. I have signed the petition and posted it to facebook. What a great teacher. How could anyone complain about something so hopeful.

  19. Once again you do us all a service by spreading the world about the lunacy in this community, with bureaucrats and butthurt whackadoodles seeking to destroy something that is excellent. Thank you (and Colleen, and Gina) for bringing this to the attention of many, including me.

  20. MBT - I posted this on the treehugger article but wanted to make sure it was here, too. Check this out. The paper Adam's garden was written about in is a very small one that not that many people read. The link below is from the Commercial Appeal, the major newspaper in Memphis. It's in praise of a woman who is growing food in her front yard. It was just written in July! Her garden might be cute but I don't see her teaching anybody how to grow their own food, keep bees, make soap and BD! It's just not right.

  21. "When Guerrero asked the judge to define what a nuisance was he was told that if it generates a complaint, it's a neighborhood nuisance."

    How about Mr. Guerrero complaining about his neighbors grass. After all if it only takes "a complaint" then Adam has just as much a right to complain about grass as someone else does about Tomato's in his yard.

  22. Anonymous11:38 AM

    Another example of what happens when government employed idiot cousins and relatives of self important dumb fuck politicians are given any kind of power! They use it and almost ALWAYS to the detriment of positive outcomes!!!!

  23. Wow and wow. Why would some people consider this a nuisance? I don't get it all! Where do these people think their food comes from? I mean seriously. Wow! What they are doing is amazing and I hope they continue to do what their doing without being cited for more ordinances. Really, so ridiculous. Wow.

  24. I live in Memphis, not far from Nutbush. It's not a nice, pretty, clean, upwardly-reaching area, unfortunately. There's a lot of crime, a lot of unemployment, a lot of elderly people who wish they had more neighbors like Adam Guerrero. Part of his garden is in his front yard (as is mine, but I live in the funky hipster part of town where chickens- which are legal- and gardens are "in"), and today's CA article was helpful to people who are concerned about this issue, and more importantly, points the finger of blame squarely at his neighbor.

  25. I have a plant which I don't know the name and everyone asks me what kind of plant it is and I can't tell them anything except I think it's tropical. Can you help me please. I have a photo. Thank you


    For those that were wondering at the address, the person posted it on this particular blog...I think it's a great idea and am glad they are coming up with some kind of solution.

  27. Thanks everyone for the comments and for sharing the post across the web. I'm hoping things turn out for the best for Adam, the kids and the garden.



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