This is a callout to anyone who believes that food is a human right, and that nobody has the right to stand in the way of growing food and living as we choose.
As I found out today, Vancouver has something called the “Untidy Premises Bylaw” which unequivocally says that if you do something different in your yard than your neighbours do, your neighbours can make the city make you do what they do. Wait, what?
That’s right. Look it up, like I did, and you’ll find that the words “standard of maintenance prevailing in the neighbourhood” are used more than once to describe what you are and are not allowed to do in your yard. There’s no definition given, no standard except “do what everyone else does.” Woe to the person who wants to innovate, experiment, or try something different. If you want to get out of the trunk, to follow David Suzuki’s metaphor, too bad… here in Vancouver, the people who are driving us all to ecological destruction have the power to make you come along for the leather-upholstered ride, as long as there’s more of them than there are of you. And here in my neighbourhood, there are definitely more lawns than farms.
As of yet, I don’t know what this will mean for the Farmhouse Farm. The person I talked to refused to tell me what, exactly, he’s ordering me to do. I have to wait for him to pester my landlord about it (my supportive, awesome landlord who respects that this is our home and we should be allowed to treat it as such), who will then pass along to me whatever ludicrous orders some bureaucrat who may have never held a shovel in his life has about the work I do.
So I’m putting out a call for letters of support, short or long, outlining why this kind of NIMBY-coddling bylaw has no place in a democracy. Send them here, send them to your neighbours, send them to newspapers and to the mayor and council. Let’s let them know that we have a right not to ecologically shoot ourselves in the head if we don’t want to. Growing food is a human right, and we’re going to fight for it.
Below is an open letter on this subject, which I’ve also forwarded to city lawmakers. Feel free to check it out, do some research, and form your own conclusions.
Yours in Love, Solidarity, and Dirt.
To Whom It May Concern,
I am writing this letter to draw attention to ways in which Vancouver city bylaws are applied in a discriminatory manner due to specific wording in what is called the “Untidy Premises Bylaw.”
In this bylaw, the wording “standard of maintenance prevailing in the neighbourhood” is used to describe the standard to which a person should be held when they make choices about how to use their yard. This means that if someone chooses to do something different than their neighbours, their neighbours can decide that what they are doing is illegal. By making a complaint against a person doing something different, the person complaining therefor makes the act illegal by pointing out that it is different than what the neighbours do. This paves the way for discrimination against anyone who doesn’t do what their neighbours do, and has no bearing on public safety or security and simply is a means for neighbours to enforce conformity, even when that conformity means enforcing ecological and social irresponsibility: green lawns in the middle of a drought, weed whackers at seven in the morning on a saturday, and visible clouds of white chemical powder floating over the neighbourhood from peoples’ front yard golf courses.
In my neighbourhood, there is only one house on the block that doesn’t have a front lawn — mine. I grow food for my house and five other houses, and have been and continue to be deeply involved in the urban agriculture movement in Vancouver. But apparently, I have a neighbour who doesn’t like what I do and had decided that because I make different choices than they do, they are empowered to stop me. Sounds like a classic case of someone’s discrimination against another person’s perspective that they don’t understand, right? Except that in this case, the city’s bylaws seem to be written specifically to empower just that kind of discrimination.
The Property Use Inspector that I spoke with told me that the only reason there’s a problem with what I do is beause nobody else on my street does it. “You go down to Commercial Drive and everybody does this and it’s not a big deal,” he said. So my crime is that I can’t afford to live on Commercial Drive, where rents are twice what I pay? I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, since Vancouver seems to be adept at finding new and innovative ways to criminalize the poor, but to have the person responsible for enforcing it tell me flat out that I’m being discriminated against is quite astounding.
In an era of peak oil, the 100-mile diet, and a much-touted food garden on city hall’s lawns, being the only person on my street to stop wasting resources on a lawn and grow food to feed to people should be winning me honours, one would think. I certainly don’t expect to be punished because my neighbour doesn’t know that dandelion is food. I’m happy to meet people in the middle — if someone has a concern, they can address it to me and we can work something out that makes everyone happy, because we’re all equals. But I refuse to live in the reality that what I do is wrong if it’s different than what others do and someone is empowered to order me to stop doing it just because they don’t do it. If you jump off a bridge, am I supposed to follow you? The society of lawns and SUV’s is jumping off an ecological bridge, committing slow collective suicide. It makes me sad, but I’m not going to try and stop them if that’s their wish. What they don’t have a right to do is demand that I jump with them.
A law that makes an action legal if your neighbours like you and illegal if they don’t is no kind of law to have in a democracy. If Vancouver is serious about sustainability and not just greenwashing, city lawmakers need to take steps to protect people who grow food instead of lawns from the predjudices of those who are afraid of diversity and afraid of change. We all make different choices, and that’s what makes a society strong. I moved to Vancouver because I thought it was a place that did everything to foster and support diversity. It would be nice if I was right.
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