A hollow victory for urban gardening movement (Google / SFBG)

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A hollow victory for urban gardening movement

When I first heard about current plans to build a “Victory Garden” in Civic Center Plaza — which will be officially planted tomorrow at 10 a.m. in a ceremony featuring Mayor Gavin Newsom and Alice Waters, the pioneering restaurateur who founded Slow Food Nation — I thought it was a really cool idea. Here was the city of San Francisco giving some of its most prime and high profile real estate over to the urban gardening movement, which seeks alternatives to the fossil fuel dependent industrialized food system.  And the Victory Garden concept is great, conjuring up the collective commitment to our national interests that inspired patriotic citzens to plant gardens during the two world wars. Sure, the logistics of tending and securing the garden might be tough, but Newsom seemed to be making a commitment to put city resources behind this important symbolic statement.
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.

“While we would love for the garden to be permanent,it is true that the Victory Garden is temporary, and is being used as a demonstration and educational centerpiece for Slow Food Nation, taking place over Labor Day Weekend,” event spokesperson Naomi Starkman wrote to me when I asked about the temporary garden (the mayor’s press office still hasn’t responded to my inquiry). She said the Victory Garden project will seek out about 15 diverse households to plant more permanent gardens, something that it will be incorporate into the event in August. And 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.

“The goal and mission of the Victory Garden is to spur to action the future of urban food production. By having the support of the City, and presenting a garden in City Hall’s backyard, we intend to inform, educate and inspire citizens to learn to grow their own food and to get involved with local organizations doing just that. It is a huge civic statement that we hope translates into city-wide programs, indeed, into a national trend for cities to support this type of agriculture,” Starkman wrote.


Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.