On the corner of 300 North and 900 West in the Salt Lake City suburb of Fairpark, a billboard pictures a giant McDonald’s hamburger, the caption reads “hail to the beef.” Ironically, the billboard is nestled amid a charming community garden created by one Fairpark resident who believes strongly in the importance of local organic food.
Gina Zivkovik, began the “Urban Growth Community Garden” in 2004. She has photos of the lot, full of dead weeds, from those years before she lovingly began cultivating it with permission from Reagan National Advertising. Today, the contrast is striking. What was once an eyesore is now a neighborhood attraction. Gina tells the story of working in her garden one day when an elderly gentleman pulled up in his car waving a 20 dollar bill. “Don’t ever think that what you do goes unnoticed,” he told her. “My wife and I drive by this garden all the time and it gives us so much joy. I wanted to help.”
Unfortunately, everybody is not as fond of the garden. Urban Growth recently faced being obliterated and turned into a gravel lot by its owners. Reagan has been issued multiple citations by Salt Lake City related to the size, type and location of foliage. Each time a citation has been issued, Gina and other volunteers have worked hard to meet city standards, and Reagan has never been issued a fine. But it seems that the billboard company is losing patience with the process. Recently, Gina found a citation taped to one of the legs of the billboard. The citation gave 30 days to comply before the owner of the property would be fined. By the time she found the citation, she only had 11 days left. “I don’t like their process,” Gina says, “why can’t they come talk to me?”
After meeting with Reagan signs, who told her they were looking at a plan B for the property, Gina got proactive. She invited Salt Lake City’s Civil Enforcement Division and members of the City and Community Councils over to tour the garden to make sure that it was in compliance. She was given the thumbs up, or so she thought. “Despite the public message that the garden was in compliance, now the City insists I rip out all of the sunflowers in the park strip, anything else over four feet tall, and any foliage along the sidewalk.” Gina laments, “I’m ready for a melt down.” The park strips on her street are unusually large and often neglected. Gina has been working on a campaign to plant food in these spaces, turning 300 North into a “Caille De Comida,” a “Street Of Food.” She hopes that the ordinances can be revisited and rewritten to support this vision. But first, she must save her garden.
Gina has received support from City Council Member, Kyle LaMalfa, but the plight of her garden remains tenuous. If the garden goes, so does a “great community gathering space” in the words of Fairpark Community Council Chair, Gordon Storrs. The garden has been loved and well-used by residents. Urban Growth has hosted multiple weddings and community gatherings. On the first Friday of every month a celebration is held there with food and live music. Northeastern Services, TURN, and other organizations for children with disabilities regularly visit and hold work days at the garden. Gina gets choked up talking about the neighborhood kids who run through the labyrinth and play among the fruit trees, “Without the garden, where will all these people go?”
Gina plans to start a non-profit organization for the garden. “If Reagan signs can use the land as a write-off, it might make it worth their time and effort to deal with Salt Lake City,” Gina hopes, “They are a business after-all and have to meet the bottom line.”
Volunteers with experience setting up and working for non-profit organizations are needed. Get in touch with Urban Growth Community Garden through their facebook group.