Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

April 6, 2012

Garden-Variety Repression

The planting season hasn’t yet peaked, and government agencies are already busily kicking gardeners’ asses in the name of law and order. In the City of Flint, the Genesee County Land Bank sold property out from under Peace Mob Gardens’ lease, to a private owner, having apparently lost Peace Mob’s paperwork. In Oakland, California, multiple Federal agencies raided Oaksterdam University, the nation’s foremost school for medical marijuana workers and patients (a group which includes some of the world’s most sophisticated gardeners.) It’s business as usual in the Land of the Free, just your garden-variety repression.

Peace Mob Gardens

The Genesee County Land Bank is an entity created by state law, to return foreclosed-upon property to the tax base. Flint is a hollowed-out, deindustrialized city not unlike Detroit or Gary, in need of redevelopment as the only alternative to blight. GCLB is supposed to provide a community development function, since they are entrusted with so much land and can have a big effect. Peace Mob Gardens converts abandoned properties into livable, owned homes and/or community gardens. They offer the community educational opportunities from classes and work days to demonstration greenhouses built from recovered materials. Thus, GCLB should be eager to sell / lease land to Peace Mob, with its five-year track record of rehabbing properties.

Peace Mob tore down the dilapidated house at 1425 Illinois Street, but rehabbed the garage and planted on the property. They used the shed to store materials for gardens covering four residential plots on the block. The Peace Mobsters believed that they were leasing all four of those properties from the GCLB, although the GCLB held the only copies of the leases. Then, neighbor Larry Young purchased 1425 Illinois from GCLB for about $200.

According to Mobster Phillip Jacks, “Although we have offered to purchase the land many many times from our local land bank, for up to twice what Mr. Young has just paid, they have refused sale to us and sold it to him. Last year he also tried to purchase our land, and we made a verbal agreement to let him have a lot next to him, if he stopped trying to buy our land. I guess we should have got that in writing.” Larry Young allowed the community-based Peace Mob to rehab the property, then bought it for himself from the Land Bank which supposedly exists to facilitate community development and property rehabilitation! Peace Mob lost the property on March 30, and was moved out by April 4.

Why would GCLB not sell to Peace Mob, possibly even pretending to lose the paperwork? I think that community gardens, especially those built along organic lines, are an unpleasant reminder of the unsustainability of suburban life. Take away imports of petroleum-based products, and the two most sustainable places in Flint are the scattered Mob Gardens and the Occupy camp. “Damned dirty nonconformists!” think the developers. “Urban properties are for growing topiary and grass from synthetic fertilizer. Your obsession with a livable ecology is degrading the appearance of normality around here! Drive your SUV to the grocery store if you want to eat.”

You can petition Larry Young to not steal the property.

Oaksterdam University

Oaksterdam U was founded in 2007 by medical marijuana activist Richard Lee (he started California’s Prop 19, the first medical marijuana law in the country to stick). This is the best place in the nation to learn cannabis growing and medical use. There is a building with a large classroom and a grow lab, and a student union across the street. Besides Richard Lee, legendary medical grower Ed Rosenthal and hemp advocate Chris Conrad teach classes — national figures of the marijuana movement.

Many say that Oaksterdam U and a cluster of loosely associated dispensaries helped rehabilitate their Oakland neighborhood. Medical marijuana has rehabilitated many people — one patient I know was confined to a wheelchair and diaper for years, despite all the care he could get through conventional doctors and hospitals, until he started using medical marijuana. He now walks and uses the bathroom like anyone else.

To the Federal government, all marijuana use is criminal, and Oaksterdam U is not place of healing and learning, but a threat, a crime school. The Drug Enforcement Agency, U.S. Marshals and IRS descended on the school, taking computers, records, plants and other evidence. (The IRS participated in a raid to shut down a tax paying business?) The school is still operating, with a slimmer selection of classes available. The nursery service is gone, as all of the mother plants were destroyed along with their precious genes.

At the same time Federal agents were gathering evidence to lock away teachers and healers at Oaksterdam, a student named One L. Goh opened fire in a building at Oikos University, about half a mile away. Goh killed seven people and injured three more. Oakland’s local SWAT team rushed to the scene, but could only secure the area and locate victims, because Goh had quickly fled. An hour later, Goh admitted the shooting to a security guard working at a Safeway. Where were the U.S. Marshals during the manhunt? They were half a mile away, engaged with the important work of investigating teachers and ripping plants up by the root, of course!

The raid on Oaksterdam, flagship of the medical marijuana armada, has galvanized medical pot supporters. Lawmakers from five states have written the Obama administration, demanding it live up to its campaign promise to leave medical marijuana to the states.

Why all of this repression against planters? Because plants put power in the hands of people — the power to feed ourselves, the power to provide our own medicine, the power to make friends and allies in our communities. Governments instinctively want to keep us dependent, and will often display passive aggression to community gardens, or irrational and violent hostility to marijuana grows. The death suburb of today will still become the community garden of tomorrow, because there will simply not be enough fossil fuel energy to keep up a massive police state, nor the appearance of Apollonian order on every front lawn.

Go ahead and spray Roundup on that dandelion today, but tomorrow you may be jackhammering the entire sidewalk out, looking for more area to cultivate.



  1. Great title!

    It’s insanity to spray cancer-inducing chemicals onto a medicinal & food crop (dandelions) in order to preserve a useless invasive “biological pavement” (fescue or whatever). I finally stopped giving a shit when our dandelion seeds blow over onto our neighbors’ lawns because it’s simply so illogical to prefer grass to dandelions.

    Interesting point about why gardens aren’t welcome in urban / suburban areas. I wonder if another component is that vegetable plots are associated with the poor, with peasants, and with migrant workers.

    Comment by freelearner — April 7, 2012 @ 4:04 am

    • You should patent your dandelions, then sue any neighbor who complains about them! ;)
      I don’t really understand the classist sneer against vegetable gardens, but it does seem to exist.

      Comment by paragardener — April 7, 2012 @ 12:24 pm

  2. Phillip Jacks left this update:

    “Here’s a follow up on whats going on at PeaceMob Gardens. The 1425 lot is gone. Because of the public support, we now have signed, notorized, stamped copies of our leases on the rest of our land in our possession. We have been approved for purchase on a few of our lots and are raising funds to make those purchases. Heres a link

    Despite this setback (1425) we are still truckin on. We only get wiser as we progress.”

    Comment by paragardener — April 30, 2012 @ 12:12 am

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