Not Paving Paradise Today

Today I heard someone describe Ann Arbor as the city Austin used to be.  As compared to the Austin that's now overdeveloped sprawl.  And I heard a friend originally from another state describe Ann Arbor as a place that has all these world famous amazing things that the people who live here don't even know about - like the Janice Bluestein Longone Culinary Archive (with a new exhibit on Charity Cookbooks) at the Clements Library and the heirloom vegetable and seed saving work at Project Grow , recently written up That crazy quilt of things that get Ann Arbor into lists of Best Places to Live, like the Longone Collection and Project Grow, don't have marketing strategists and big budgets. Instead, these sorts of cultural riches tend to be fueled by an individual's ongoing passion, not to mention sweat and tears. 

Even though I get frustrated with the yahoos who had rather complain than do anything useful people who have nothing better to do than whinge about Ann Arbor, I know I get complacent about enjoying the things that make this a great place to live.  And I tend to find out about visiting collections, or performances or events mainly by accident.  I know I make the mistake of assuming that all the things I love here are just going to keep getting better; and worse, that it's not up to me to try to affect the future of what I care about. Um, is that a classic case of taking something for granted or what?  

Project Grow has been in that category of things that make Ann Arbor a great place to live that I didn't need to think about.  Along with a lot of my friends in family housing, I loved having a Project Grow garden for several years when I was an impoverished college student and young parent.  Now that I have a house and garden of my own, I've hardly thought about the wonderful  at Project Grow except to get excited about the fantastic heirloom vegetable project they've been doing (including their work with the Co-op and the chefs at Zingerman's Roadhouse). 

So what all does Project Grow do anyways?  The main things I'm aware of are managing 10 community gardens and renting (on a sliding scale) space for growing food. In addition, Project Grow provides wheelchair accessible gardens and demonstration gardens for children; gardening classes for low-vision gardeners; classes on organic gardening and lawn care; and classes on growing heirlooms, saving seeds and plant breeding.  And, Project Grow holds community events like the Heirloom Tomato Tasting and Salsa Contest, from which they posted their list of Top 10 Tomato Tasting Favorites.  What a great organization to have in our community.  Especially now, when the 2007 Blueprint to End Hunger in Michigan says 1 out of 10 Michigan residents relies on emergency food services and people are growing gardens to keep from going hungry this year. 

Because of the research on budget issues that Vivienne Armentrout has been doing, I learned that the City has been reducing Project Grow's funding over the last several years and that, unbeknownst to Project Grow, the remainder of their City funding went away this year.  

It seems like a common thing to get initiatives like Project Grow (which the City started and fully funded in the 1970s) out of the City's budget and into self-sufficiency.  Perhaps it makes business sense to get Project Grow to raise its own funds.  Even though it's an important percentage of the Project Grow budget,  the $7000 contribution from the City is a darn paltry amount for the significant benefit Project Grow provides.  Especially relative to all the big-ticket items that happen without a blink - like the $605K that was spent last night to buy the Tio's building or the $97K to connect sewer lines in a new development the same evening. 

Still, the way the City's budget is allocated is a statement about our priorities. How many people living here even know what those priorities are?  

I want to live in a city that cares about community gardens and that funds them.  As initiatives in cities like Ypsilanti and Detroit demonstrate, community gardening strengthens neighborhoods and revitalizes economies.  Community gardens are a piece of the food security puzzle; they're places to meet your neighbors and show your kids how a potato grows.  There would have to be something wrong with a city that cares so little about the ongoing quality of life of its residents that it couldn't invest $7000 in community gardens.  And I do mean invest.

So, I was very happy after Monday's meeting when, in a surprising reversal, City Council re-instated $7000 in funding for Project Grow for next year. Project Grow is still missing that $7000 in funding for this year, but they'll make it. In addition to supporters like Vivienne and council member Mike Anglin, perhaps other people will start contacting the mayor and their city council representatives to let them know that community gardening is something important in this community.  And perhaps more people will start asking why Project Grow isn't the cornerstone of a truly green city that prioritizes food security and funds it. How about asking the City to make sure that the $30M we've already spent to have a Greenbelt is actually growing food for the people who live here?

Big Yellow Taxi - Joni Mitchell 

They paved paradise and put up a parkin' lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique, and a swingin' hot spot
Don't it always seem to go 
That you don't know what you got till it's gone
They paved paradise and put up a parkin' lot

They took all the trees, and put em in a tree museum
And they charged the people a dollar and a half to see them
No, no, no, don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got till it's gone
They paved paradise, and put up a parkin' lot

Hey farmer, farmer, put away your DDT
I don't care about spots on my apples,
Leave me the birds and the bees - please
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you got till it's gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
Hey now, they've paved paradise to put up a parking lot
Why not?

Listen, late last night, I heard the screen door swing,
And a big yellow taxi took my girl away
Now don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you got till it's gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
Hey now now, don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you got till it's gone
They paved paradise to put up a parking lot
Why not, they paved paradise
They put up a parking lot
Hey hey hey, paved paradise and put up a parking lot

I don't wanna give it
Why you wanna give it
Why you wanna givin it all away
Hey, hey, hey
Now you wanna give it
I should wanna give it
Cuz you're givin it all away, no no

I don't wanna give it
Why you wanna give it
Why you wanna givin it all away
Cuz you're givin it all givin it all away yeah yeah
Cuz You're givin it all away hey, hey, hey

Hey, paved paradise, to put up a parking lot
la,la, la, la, la, la, la ,la ,la ,la ,la
Paved paradise, and put up a parking lot 

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