Many students were casually strolling by the McPherson Library on their way to class when they stumbled upon one of the most colourful and dirty displays of the year.
Whether you call it the day that the hippies dug up the lawn and wasted everyone’s time, or the day that food security issues overflowed on a campus that is more green-washed than green, Wednesday, March 24, 2010, will go down in UVic history.
That day, autonomous members of the Food Not Lawns Collective, Guerilla Gardeners, sustainability activists, food security activists, Resistance is Fertile, Youth Protecting Yams, professors, faculty, First Nations, community members and students took matters of sustainability into their own hands and broke ground in front of the McPherson Library to a chorus of marching bands, security and police.
“It was the strongest sense of co-operation and solidarity I’ve ever experienced on campus,” said art and geography student Hilary Todhunter to the Martlet last year.
“Students have been trying to negotiate for years to get some kind of sustainable food production on campus, and have been frustrated with endless meetings and analyses and reports that never see any action from the administration,” said garden participant and UVic student Clementine O’Farrell.
March 24 is just around the corner and murmurs, mutterings and mentions of what might transpire this year have people talking. At the very least, plans are in the works for a small-scale symposium or academic panel to discuss issues around food security, colonialism, privilege, space making, resistance and the events that transpired last year.
Resistance is Fertile plans to celebrate spring with a reflection on, and commemoration of, last year’s actions.
“I was one of those who participated in last year’s action,” said UVic student Matt Loewen. “Though I can’t speak for everyone in the network — the reasons why they participated, their goals and aims, were multiple — I can speak to the joy and urgency with which they participated. There was a need to break from abstraction and discussion, a drive to engage with the land on which our academic lives are lived. This provoked serious questions about our daily participation in a globalized industrial agricultural foodway associated with exacerbating climate change and biodiversity loss and exploitation of workers worldwide; about the necessity and legitimacy and immediacy of civil disobedience and its role in politics given all of these problems, and about privilege in its various forms.”
Last year, 10 beds were planted and 10 individuals were eventually charged with mischief under $5,000 and vandalism, though hundreds participated in the impromptu gardens.
Though two individuals laid their bodies in front of the machines, the gardens — containing strawberries, kale, peas, berries and native plant species including camas gifted to the gardens by members of the Songhees and listed as a protected plant — were eventually plowed. One of the individuals was arrested for assault by trespassing, and the other accompanied in the police cruiser.
For days after the gardens were flattened, “RIP Food Security” signs littered the site.
The collective opted to return the gesture the following week by replanting the gardens, extending the beds, hosting speakers and camping out overnight in order to make sure midnight bulldozing missions wouldn’t go without opposition.
Saanich Police were called in for the second round of gardening, and autonomous community legal observers arrived to mitigate, and bear witness. Scores of people received letters from the UVic administration.
At least one individual who wasn’t present the day of gardening was amongst those charged by the administration.
The debates, conversations, fights and dialogues that ensued in the weeks after the first garden initiative were rich with academic and activist vernacular.
Many were brought to tears, and filled with joy inspired by direct action, while many waged counter-campaigns vocalizing the gardening as vandalism that brought about more problems and costs than meaningful change.
Nick Montgomery acted as the ‘mock’ administrator, pretending to be an upset administrator at the gardens events.
“I think that the garden stepped over all kinds of lines, and that’s worth talking about,” he said. “It broke rules, disrupted university routines, and contravened policies. This was ‘too much’ for a lot of people, especially university administrators. However, by stepping over these lines, it allowed us to have a conversation about them: who draws the lines, for what purposes, and how is it that most people are left out of the line-drawing process?”
Montgomery played it coy as to whether or not gardening will take place again this year.
“There are some other activities planned as well,” he said. “As for actual gardening, we’ll have to wait and see.”