Veggies aren’t ‘blight’

Muriel Strand is a local advocate for ecological and social sustainability

Sacramento residents who are not dedicated to gardening or sustainability may not realize that some members of our City Council apparently believe that sustainable gardens containing too many edible plants are a form of urban blight. Some people seem to think that a front-yard garden filled with fruits and vegetables is unsightly.

This surprising belief comes from the urban myth that if someone’s front yard doesn’t look like the one on the cover of Better Homes & Gardens, then property values will be damaged, or gangs will think this means the whole neighborhood is apathetic and ripe for exploitation. I have no better explanation for the proposal, which goes to the Sacramento City Council on April 3, to put arbitrary cosmetic restrictions on the type of plants in a yard that are visible to the general public.

Particularly odd is that the plants designated as delinquent are precisely those that are nutritious—and thus most helpful in assuring personal, as well as societal, sustainability. If usefulness is considered ugly, as was alleged about traditional clotheslines during California’s recent energy-market crisis, then we may have even bigger problems than those described in the film An Inconvenient Truth, which was shown in its entirety at a recent council meeting.

And appearances can be very deceiving. Some Sacramentans may not be fully aware of the ecological blight caused by the typical “magazine-cover” garden, which requires regular doses of petroleum-based fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Lush lawns like those of Old or New England require, in our Mediterranean climate, large quantities of precious water. Moreover, such unsustainable lawns cover more acreage than agriculture. They also attract nuisances like leaf blowers.

Another kind of social blight unearthed by this controversy is the institution of the anonymous complaint, whereby those who are irritated, vindictive, or just extremely sensitive can play city staff off against other neighbors rather than having the honesty to talk to their neighbors directly. This kind of fearfulness and mistrust of our fellow citizens, who are really ordinary people just like us, doesn’t strike me as culturally sustainable, either.

In view of inconvenient likelihoods such as peak oil and global climate change, we must review our priorities. Food is more important than monetary property values.

As Midas discovered, you can’t eat gold.