The Most Radish Column Ever
- Category: June/July 2012
- Published on Friday, 25 May 2012 19:26
by Jacob Kearey-Moreland
On Tuesday May 1st at 2 pm sharp Occupy Gardens hosted a Garden Party Picnic Potluck on the south lawn of Queen’s Park. We arrived to see police barricades blocking off the entrance of the legislature and a swarm of media. We began laying down our signs, seeds, plants, food and other gardening paraphernalia and sang songs and painted giant banners. “Beet back the corporate attack”, “Inspire SOILidarity”, “Squash the State”, “Give peas a chance”, “Food tastes best when we feed each other” “Lettuce grow so we can feed ourselves.”
I had been envisioning this action for six months, but the seeds were sown much sooner. Queen’s Park is in the middle of the University of Toronto campus, where I go to school and work growing a network of urban agriculture projects. I’ve walked through the park for years salivating over the potential of turning it into a free food forest. The gardeners have slowly but surely advanced, planting gardens in surrounding buildings, and were nearly encircling the park; “McGuinty, we have you surrounded,” I thought to myself. I imagined every nook, cranny, balcony, rooftop of the campus bursting with fruits and vegetables for all to enjoy. To this end, I began guerilla gardening everywhere– primarily edible kale. I planted dozens of kale in forgotten flowerbeds, and for the past four months have been harvesting and sharing fresh kale nearly every day at school. In the fall I served fresh kale, basil and cherry tomato wraps to my fellow students and professors – not a bad way to make friends.
Having time to plan this action I spent hours walking around the park to pick the perfect location, as well as talk with many folks about potential implications or responses. I learned in the late 1990s a group of forty anti-poverty activists planted a food garden directly under the Premier’s window, a handful were arrested, detained overnight, charged with criminal mischief and ultimately acquitted. The judge dismissed the case because he said they left the place healthier than when they found it. Despite this, the garden was quickly removed. Poverty and food injustice go hand in hand. Marginalized communities are more often food insecure compared to their wealthy counterparts, and a sickening number of children go underfed or malnourished. Our action, to have the strongest and long lasting impact, must be strategic and tactical.
I had nearly ruled out planting the garden on the very contentious south lawn, unless we could bring in a dump truck of compost and topsoil. Under the grass, irrigation and electrical wires are buried which would be a big mess if we were to hit them. I located a perfect site in the north lawn, where a big tree was recently cut down and uprooted; the soil was still loose, filled with woodchips, with full sun and water. The Garden Party Potluck Picnic was planned as a ruse. About an hour prior to the action, a special team toured around the campus and dug up vegetable plants that we seeded this spring, during the warmth in March, such as peas, lettuce, kale, etc… The previous night we delivered a bunch of bags of soil to a neighbouring building.
During the picnic the special ops team left the party to move the soil, plants and water into place. When the time came we walked north with a police escort. We formed a big circle over the new garden. We gave respect to the earth, and to the people who came before and who will come after us. I had the pleasure of announcing “It’s thyme, lettuce Occupy Gardens, dig in!”
With so many hands, the garden was quickly planted full of veggies. We sang “all we are saying is give peas a chance” and “this little garden of mine, I’m going let it shine/grow”. A couple of 24 hour news stations broadcasted the gardening live across the city as their reporters were digging with us, while police looked on.
The rest of the May Day actions were beautiful, including a giant rally and march at City Hall throughout the city for human rights, and a diverse cultural event with music, food and arts. Later we held a one day re-occupation and demonstration in the heart of the beast - Simcoe Park – surrounded by CBC headquarters, the CN tower, Ritz Carlton and Metro Convention Centre. We were there to protest injustices perpetrated by Barrick Gold, the world’s largest gold mining company and the owner Peter Munk – poster boy for the 1%.
Sleep deprived, from the police who forbade us from sleeping or erecting any structures, that morning I was overjoyed and embarrassed by all the different newspapers with my face and words all over them. This was my fifteen minutes of fame. I was being stopped on the street and subway by people offering congratulations and thanks. For a brief moment we were able to capture the attention of millions of Canadians and inject a message of justice, peas, love and hope. To this day the garden remains, as the police said they have no good reason to remove it. Hopefully the garden will continue to grow, inspire many more, and will serve as a daily, visual and edible reminder that another world is possible!