A Tennessee judge has ordered math teacher Adam Guerrero to dismantle his urban garden on the grounds that it is in violation of city codes and contains “personal property” that is “unsightly” and a “nuisance.” For the past two years, Guerrero, who teaches math at Raleigh-Egypt High School in Shelby County, has been creating an urban homestead that also provides a continuing education in math, biology and engineering for three students, Jovantae, Jarvis and Shaquielle. But for growing 7-foot sunflowers and keeping beehives, Guerrero is being cited for violating city ordinances for not removing “debris” and maintaining “a clean and sanitary condition free from any accumulation of rubbish or garbage.”
Guerrero, a member of the Grow Memphis board, says that Shelby County Environmental Court judge Larry Potter has told him his garden is a “neighborhood nuisance.”
Photos of Guerrero’s garden posted on the Memphis Flyer show a well-maintained and frankly impressive operation, with rows of worm bins and sunflowers and bee hives that Jovantae, Jarvis and Shaquielle tend to while wearing protective gear. There’s more:
…eggplant, tomato, and pepper plants grow in the front yard; the backyard is lined with rows of wooden worm bins; barrels for collecting and storing rainwater are stationed next to his backdoor; his garage is stocked with equipment for making biodiesel and soap; and behind his garage are beehives quietly humming with industry. Elsewhere, passionflowers, butterflies, elderberry bushes, and sunflowers fill out the garden.
The students have learned to use the glycerin by-product from the biodiesel to make soap; they’ve also installed solar panels at the Midtown North Community Garden. Jovantae and Jarvis attend the Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering (MASE) while Shaquielle is a former student of Guerrero’s. The garden not only reinforces lessons in math and science from the classroom, but is teaching them skills:
Jovantae, a junior at MASE, estimates that he and his friends spend three or four days at the garden when school is out and at least one day a week during the school year. They are none too pleased with the judge’s decision.
“I don’t understand why it’s a problem if it’s in the backyard,” says Shaquielle, a senior at Kingsbury [High School]. “We like coming here. We don’t want it to go away.”
Guerrero was supposed to start dismantling his urban garden last week and is to report on September 23 to court to show that he has complied with the judge’s orders. It’s a sad case of how “ regulation and red tape can end up squashing well-intentioned efforts,” just as Fordham Law School in New York City recently put a stop to its farm-share program because the organizers were unable to secure catering permits to allow vegetables to be delivered to its Manhattan campus.
A Facebook page and blog have arisen to save Guerrero’s garden, along with a Care2 petition below. Do Memphis authorities really think it’s in the public interest to eliminate a garden full of growing things and, even more, a garden providing an educational and rewarding after-school activity for students in an inner-city neighborhood?
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Photo by ilovememphis