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Calgary Digs Out Potato People

Calgary Digs Out Potato People

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.”

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he saw no harm in a temporary garden but stressed it was important to ask permission first. Calgarians weighed in on both sides of the issue on the “Calgary Puck” forum.

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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64 comments

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8:22AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

Sounds quite aMaizing, an urban guerrilla illicit potato patch! A real hill of beans or a beet up vacant lot being renovated and sur-planted to make a point that the local food bank needs some help. While it is a good idea to get permission first, who knows what the lot was used for decades before as Aunt Matilda could have buried her six ex husbands underneath the oak tree...or some toxins could have seeped into the fertile (?) soil from an old leaky propane/oil storage tank. Prior research is best. Soil in the proper a tires!

Not a bad idea though, hearts were certainly in the right place. Maybe with all the oil money floating around in Calgary some can legally purchase a huge area where urban/volunteer gardeners can plant veggies to their heart's content and donate the tasty harvest to the local food bank. The Oil Patch meets the Veggie Patch, toxin free and organic of course!

8:40PM PDT on Jun 3, 2012

Did anyone notice that it was Not the property owner who found the sqatting potatoes? I don't know Canada law but in the USA the owner is responsible to have knowledge of their property and not leave it in an "abandoned" state. Mar would not have had standing to report this, and the owner of the lot would have had to pay the the people for the clean up of his property and the value of the crop since his "plans" would not be carried out before the crop could be harvested. This did not say how long the lot had been in an undesirable state of upkeep.

2:27AM PDT on May 31, 2012

kudo's laura p., i agree!

10:54AM PDT on May 30, 2012

good idea, but you definitely need to ask permission first !

9:20AM PDT on May 30, 2012

Perhaps the community was tired of looking at this person's nasty lot which I'm sure had a deleterious effect on surrounding properties.
If the owner were presented with the choice of paying fines and being forced to fence the area to reduce neighborhood blight or allowing the community to use it in this manner until whatever project that was to be done was begun, I'm guessing he would have gone for the latter.

I love the idea of community property and private property. But I also like the ideas of communities taking care of their own. If this person decides to own property in a societal area, he must also conform to the area's rules regarding his property.
This is the reason I will NEVER live in a gated community.

9:20AM PDT on May 30, 2012

Perhaps the community was tired of looking at this person's nasty lot which I'm sure had a deleterious effect on surrounding properties.
If the owner were presented with the choice of paying fines and being forced to fence the area to reduce neighborhood blight or allowing the community to use it in this manner until whatever project that was to be done was begun, I'm guessing he would have gone for the latter.

I love the idea of community property and private property. But I also like the ideas of communities taking care of their own. If this person decides to own property in a societal area, he must also conform to the area's rules regarding his property.
This is the reason I will NEVER live in a gated community.

1:46PM PDT on May 29, 2012

thanks a lot!!

2:45AM PDT on May 29, 2012

Maybe they didn't ask because they had a feeling the answer would be no and that would have been the end of the story.

12:02AM PDT on May 29, 2012

Thanks. Odd they didn't consider asking permission 1st.

5:54AM PDT on May 27, 2012

absurd

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Lindsay Spangler Lindsay Spangler is a Web Editor and Producer for Care2 Causes. A recent UCLA graduate, she lives in... more
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