Calgary’s heavy-handed response to guerrilla gardeners gave a Calgary Herald reporter the best headline quip: “Potato furor makes city hall seem half-baked.”
It seems Donna Clarke decided to turn a vacant lot next to her house into a potato patch. She said she planned to donate the harvest to the food bank. She recruited volunteers. They cleaned up the lot, painted tires for planters, painted the fence in rainbow colors, gathered potatoes, brought in some soil, and started turning the plot into a spud farm.
What the eager gardeners did not do was ask permission. That did not sit well with Alderman John Mar. He was offended to see intruders on private property. So he called the bylaw department.
The incident might have quietly disappeared, but Markham Hislop of Beacon News picked up the story when police and bylaw officers showed up with a warning: 24 hours to remove everything. Other media caught wind of the incident and weighed in.
Bylaw officials contacted the property owner, who was not pleased his weedy empty lot was being taken over without permission. City hall told Clarke to clear out the potato patch. The lot’s owner said the company has plans for the land, though not before the end of potato season. He would not have agreed to the temporary use anyway, which he deemed “inappropriate use of our site.”
The Calgary Herald probably got the best last word, as well as the best headline. In an editorial with the title, “Rooting for spud growers,” they wrote:
We think it wouldn’t have hurt anyone to simply turn a blind eye to the illegal spud farm, but that’s easy for us to say. We’re just common-taters.
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