The Garden Wars

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Does a community garden proposal put residents at risk? Or is it a healthy family activity that offers fun and organic vegetables to the community?

As the Green Dragon community garden thrives in Frazier Park and the Florence Cuddy Farm breaks ground in Lake of the Woods, conflict arose in the Pine Mountain clubhouse over a proposed organic vegetable and flower garden on PMC Property Owner Association property. Two voices debate each other in these letters. We’ve put their arguments together for you here.—Editor

Jerry Fossler: The safety of Pine Mountain residents and local wildlife is at stake if the proposed community vegetable garden is approved by the Pine Mountain Club Property Owners Association (PMCPOA).

It will have a negative impact on property values. The location for the garden has already been approved by the Environmental Control Committee. The worst part is that the location is directly in front of the Pine Mountain clubhouse entrance.

Because my family lives within 300 feet of this location I was notified that this proposal had been made. But the decision to use this area for agricultural purposes affects all PMCPOA members. All members should have been notified as the image of our community would change substantially and property values would be affected.

Susan Hirth: We have been attempting over the past 9 months to bring forth a community garden for Pine Mountain residents.

This would be a gardening activity where people of all ages could come together (not in separate plots), to create a beautifully landscaped edible garden with vegetables, edible flowers and herbs. Landscaping will be on the inside and outside of the perimeter.

Jason McClure and I have looked at four different sites as possibilities in the past. All three of the other sites were rejected. The current site that we are pursuing is a portion—about one-third— of the lot west of the Pine Mountain clubhouse parking area. It was suggested by PMC Board Member Stephen Bates, after the Fern’s Lake site was rejected at the November board meeting.

We thought at the time, “What a perfect idea. There is easy access to water, electricity, parking, bathrooms and even the security office is nearby.” We then took this idea to the Environmental Control Committee. We all went out to the site and looked at the location and agreed that this would be an acceptable location, and it was therefore approved by the EC committee.

Letters of intent were sent out by the EC office to residents who own property surrounding the site in question. We were told that this was the politically correct way to inform the residents and that it was not up to us to contact anyone. Then a letter of concern and a petition against this project was started.

Unfortunate misconceptions have now been sent out with fear and unloving thoughts, words and unattractive pictures.

We are very flexible with the location on this particular site (at one end or the other or the middle), the square footage allowed, the perimeter shape and the interior and exterior design, landscaping, fencing, raised beds, etc. With a location decided, we can move forward with specific attractive plans that meet everyone’s approval.


Fossler: This location is the highest foot traffic area in our community. This is the center for all community meetings, social activities and Association business. We would be encouraging bears, raccoons, deer and smaller animals to come in direct contact with our members that will ultimately lead to a lawsuit when a member is attacked by an animal that we knowingly enticed into this area. Our rules prohibit feeding of wildlife yet we propose to create a smorgasbord for them. Once a bear wants to enter any area be it a home or community garden they will break in. If an electrified fence does turn them away they will still be in the area and then go to the next closest buildings….the clubhouse and surrounding homes.

Hirth: There is a concern of animals coming into the site and harming children and/or adults and the possibility of lawsuits. It is my understanding that high traffic areas where there are a lot of people, cars, noise, lights, etc. would be the least likely location for animal, particularly bears, to bother humans, especially with an electrified fence around the perimeter. In my research on-line of what bears are attracted to in residential communities, I found the following items to be cited in multiple articles: Trash, BBQs with meat residue, birdseed, sugar water for hummingbirds, pet food and small pets, compost bins that contain meat or fish byproducts, eggs or eggshells, dairy and fruit byproducts.

Most of these items are things that are found on individual properties, not within a Community Garden area.

Liability Issues

Fossler: Even if the garden was operated and insured by a member or other organization, we could still be liable for injury to someone working the garden or to members and staff. …the Association has the deep pockets and would, without a doubt, be included in the lawsuit. If we won the lawsuit we would still lose tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs. We really need to think through other important issues such as product liability and compliance with federal, state and local regulations.

Hirth: I choose not to live in fear! Each member who desires to volunteer at the Community Garden will be required to sign a legal waiver. The particular wording of this document can be negotiated.


Fossler: Patrol cannot provide constant surveillance of this area 24 hours a day without adding additional staff. If animals became a problem, we would have no other choice but to call Fish and Game which would result in animals needlessly being destroyed.

Hirth: We are not asking patrol to do anything above and beyond what they are already required to do. If this project ever became a nuisance, we have been asked to make the Community Garden removable if necessary.

Property Values

Fossler: Community gardens, at best, are not visually appealing, even if they are maintained regularly. I have seen several gardens in the Hollywood Hills area that were supposed to be an asset to the community but turned out to be a gathering place for farm workers and others that just wanted to hang out, not an image we want directly in front of the clubhouse or any member residence. We purchased our home here because it is a mountain community not an agricultural community.

Hirth: In my research I ran across a working paper done by a New York University Law and Economics student, entitled “The Effect of Community Gardens on Neighboring Property Values.”

It said: “We find that the opening of a community garden has a statistically significant positive impact on residential properties within 1,000 feet of the garden, and that the impact increases over time. Higher quality gardens have the greatest positive impact. Finally, we find that the opening of a garden is associated with other changes in the neighborhood, such as increasing rates of home ownership, and thus may be serving as catalysts for economic redevelopment of the community.”

As to the question of agriculture within the Pine Mountain Community, the Kern County Planning Department now has specific guidelines for Community Gardens within a homeowners association and non-profit organization. Please see Section 19.04.148.

Supporting our Local Market

Fossler: If getting fresh or organic vegetables is the objective, we should first support our general store working with them on whatever is the best way to get fresh produce, such as a once-a-week farmers market which has been successful in many communities could be a viable solution. Or just finding another less visible location preferably not on PMCPOA property. Perhaps in Cuddy Valley where many members now get organic beef?

Hirth: This project is in no way meant to take away from our local market’s business. Our once-a-week market day, during the growing season, will only be for about three hours at the most. Not everyone in Pine Mountain is going to attend Market Day. There will always be a need for fresh produce in the local market, especially produce that is not possible to grow here in Pine Mountain and all produce during the non-growing season. In fact, my long-term goal of this project includes partnering with the local market, if required permits and certification could be obtained.

Summary Comments

Jerry Fossler: The financial and personal risk to our residents is not worth the benefits of growing a limited amount of produce that would not supply the full needs of our community. This proposal, especially the location, must be stopped. A petition against the proposal is being circulated to all residents both members and non-members as all community members will lose if the proposal is approved.

Susan Hirth: Anything is possible. Let us all open our hearts and minds to work together in this year of 2012 when many changes are taking place with the earth, our economics, politics, relationships, health and our individual spiritual consciousness. Please become informed about the benefits of community gardens, and join us.

This is part of the February 03, 2012 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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